The 1990s were a time of widespread global prosperity and optimism. And while there are many metrics we can base that statement on, the one I tend to go with is the number of sports cars that have been made, and the many others who almost it’s done.
The “almost” category is unsurprisingly the most fascinating, as it features a truly ambitious cast of vehicles from the most unlikely sources. There was the mid-engine, rally-inspired Nissan MID4 – a testbed for the ATTESA all-wheel-drive system later made famous in the R32 GT-R. Ford and Mitsubishi delivered enigmatic otherworldly oddities in the form of the GT90 and HSR-II, respectively. Even companies that had almost no business building production supercars, like Yamaha and Dome motorsport companythrew hats.
On that note, today we’re talking about Tommykaira, the Japanese tuning company that made a name for itself modifying Nissan and Subarus in the late 1980s. had come to try his own sports car: the featherweight, rival of the Lotus Elise ZZ, which would sell some 200 copies.
A true supercar sequel, the all-wheel-drive, RB26-powered ZZII, was in the works, but development never progressed beyond a single prototype. Tommykaira’s car manufacturing business was taken over by Japanese auto parts giant Autobacs in the early 2000s and renamed Autobacs Sportscar Laboratories – from where we got the Garaiya with the strange windows – before that too, it disappeared.
If you played Gran Turismo, you may already know Tommykaira; the three cars I just mentioned were featured in the PlayStation racing series, although only the original ZZ was made in numbers. However, the years 1999 Gran Turismo 2 included another Tommykaira product with an even more nebulous existence: the ZZIII.
As far as I know – and believe me, I searched – there is not a single photo of a real ZZIII on the Internet. And while Gran Turismo has a the story of invent cars, this was not one of those cases. The description of the ZZIII in GT2 suggests a vehicle that Tommykaira fully intended to manufacture. Courtesy of the Gran Turismo Wiki:
Contrary to the “pure sport racing” image of the ZZ-II, the ZZ-III offers a more familiar concept that one might call “pure sport lite”.
The result is a two-door GT sports car. In tune with the times, it’s a real sports car, but it’s also respectful of the environment. It can be used for motorsport, but in many ways it’s a new type of sports car for the 21st century, embodying new technology developed jointly with another automaker.
What other automaker has Tommykaira attempted to partner with to achieve this ambiguous “new technology”? We’ll never know for sure, but my hunch is Nissan. Tommykaira planned to offer a “hyper CVT” as an option in the ZZIII according to this, and only Nissan was optimistic enough to deem its CVTs “hyper”. Here is more of the game description:
This machine features a strong yet lightweight steel and aluminum frame and a mid-mounted, high-performance gasoline engine with a displacement of 1.6 to 2.0 litres. Two types of transmission are offered: five-speed manual or hyper CVT (continuously variable transmission).
The ZZ-III chassis features double-wishbone suspension front and rear, with pushrod-type inboard shock absorbers and springs. Ventilated disc brakes are installed on all four wheels.
The target weight for this car was only 700 kg (1,540 lb), making the ZZ-III one of the lightest in its class. Combine that with a powerful engine and an ideal chassis and you have one of the lightest sports cars ever.
The cost is also not very heavy – around 4 million yen (US$36,000). Of course, the car is not only sporty but comfortable, with air conditioning and other expected amenities. No wonder ZZ fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ZZ-III.
Gran Turismo quoted 184 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque, all in a car that theoretically would have weighed about 650 pounds less than a stock Miata. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Alas, the ZZIII exists exclusively in the world of video games, and the only images of the car I could locate from the outside GT2 were these design sketches on the Minkara Japanese Enthusiasts Forum.
In all likelihood, Tommykaira probably had his plan for ZZIII, just like ZZII, but the realities of this cruel industry got in the way. Or maybe this transformed into Garaiya. As plausible as either theory may seem, they’re not good enough for me; I need closure. My research continues and I have contacted experts from the Tommykaira International Club for insight. In the meantime, I couldn’t let the fading memory of the ZZIII completely evaporate.