Autech was originally started as a subsidiary of Nissan Motor Co. in 1986 producing limited run models and various other specialty cars (including driving aids for disabled people) and has since created a certain mystique amongst Nissan enthusiasts, not least because of Autech’s various Skyline and Silvia variants. At the time in the late 1980’s, Autech was trying to make a big impression on the extremely lucrative Japanese car market by launching it’s first ‘handmade car’ – the Autech Zagato Stelvio – with the help of Carozzeria (Zagato in Italy) and Alfa Romeo.
The Autech Zagato Stelvio is a true handmade car. Based on the F31 Nissan Leopard, the Stelvio came equipped with an Autech tuned VG30DET V6 3000cc quad-cam turbo engine producing over 280ps… as the only part of the car that wasn’t extensively rebulit. An agreement between Japanese car manufacturers at that time cuased many to list ‘280ps’ as the maximum horsepower of all their top performance cars, where in actual fact they produced 30 – 40hp more than that. Autech tuned the engine and the suspension, then the base frame, engine and suspension were sent off to Italy for the bodywork.
Zagato in Milan took the base F31 Leopard frame and created all the bodywork, most striking of which would have to be the rear-view mirrors incorporated into the front fenders. Some would say that this is the ugliest part of the car, but at the same time is the cars most memorable aspect. The two ‘bulges’ in the roof line also point to the ‘handmade’ catchphrase, as this feature could’ve easily been omitted… but retained to further increase it’s individuality.
The interior boasts specially selected leathers and wood, with about every electrical gadget available in 1989. In fact, Autech originally wanted to incorporate a small hatch on the drivers side just behind the front door so that a briefcase could easily be stowed behind the front seat (not big enough for a passenger), but was left out as costs for the car spiraled upwards. The interior is finished in true Italian style, and is a statement of luxury, in contrast to the almost ‘cool because it isn’t’ 1980’s hard-edged chic styling of the exterior.
As you can see, the base frame delivered to Zagato was completely bare, requiring all panels to be hand made from aluminium. Even so, due to the long list of standard features,the copious use of wood and leather and the 4-speed electronically controlled automatic gearbox, the total weight of the car still broke the 1500kg limit. Once the car was completed, it was given a coating of Zagato’s original Red paint with no other colours available. The alloy wheels were also designed by Zagato. The final price that the Autech Stelvio commanded? An incredible 17,500,000 yen!
I was lucky enough to catch an Autech Zagato Stelvio in the metal in Kobe (west of Osaka) back in 2003. (mobile phone pic.)
It has been said that to see a Stelvio nowadays, you’d have to be very lucky indeed, and that they could probably be had for about 4million yen at auction… less than a quarter of it’s original sell price. To have a Stelvio in Japan in the late 1980’s would’ve given you instant status amongst the rich, with a car that used Japanese know how and reliability, with the very best Italian hand made attributes.
The Autech Zagato Stelvio was limited to 200 cars with 3 test cars.
Total length×width×height: 4370×1800×1345 mm
Wheelbase: 2615 mm
Unladen weight: 1560kg
Max power: over 280PS /6000rpm
Max torque: 41.0kgm/2800rpm
Transmission: Electronically controlled four-speed automatic
Front suspension: Independent struts
Rear suspension: Semi-trailing arms
Tires: 225/50R16 92V
Text: Justin Karow
Photos: Nissan Japan, Koji Kuwamoto, Justin Karow