Zagato of Milan is not a nameplate one normally associates with Nissan. Alfas, Ferraris, and Lancias perhaps, and more recently the likes of Aston Martin and Lamborghini. But with storied clients like those, why – with the greatest respect – would it spend any time working on a Nissan?
Simple: it was good business. An Autech Gavia Zagato, offered at auction by Bonhams during the upcoming Beaulieu Autojumble, was the last of a limited-run series of cars brokered during a 1987 deal. The two firms involved were Autech – Nissan’s in-house customisers – and, of course, Zagato.
The Gavia, launched in 1991, was a continuation of the themes established in the better-known Autech Stelvio Zagato AZ-1, unveiled in 1989. Both used the-then current Nissan Leopard luxury car as their base, and both used engines familiar to us in the West – the 3.0-litre VG30 V6 otherwise found in the ‘Z32’ 300ZX sports car, albeit tuned by Autech.
The Stelvio used a single turbo variant dubbed the VG30DET, whereas the Gavia used the later VG30DETT – a twin-turbo unit sold to us in the aforementioned 300ZX, driving through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Nissan quoted 280bhp for both, typical of the country’s performance cars of the time, and likely something of an understatement for the twin-turbo.
In addition to the new styling, the Gavia retained the dashboard of the donor Leopard, but with an Autech-supplied leather interior. Only sixteen buyers got to enjoy such a sumptuous cabin (compared to 104 Stelvios), as the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy led to slow sales and cost-cutting at previously flush Japanese automakers.
Zagato had a long history of hand-formed aluminium panels, and the technique made it onto the Gavia too. Compared to the offputting zaniness of the Stelvio AZ-1 it was somewhat toned down, and lacked some of the wilder and more interesting details, but it’s difficult not to argue the end result was both less divisive and more cohesive.
Little is known of the earlier history of Bonhams’ Gavia, owned by the vendor for ten years. It’s said to be running, but the driver’s seat needs a repair. Once cream over bronze, it was resprayed in mint green over silver two-tone, making it possible that this Gavia was the same example that appeared in 1993 publicity photos.
By the standards of most Zagato-bodied cars, the Gavia may prove something of a bargain with its £30k-£50k estimate. One of the coachbuilder’s more traditional offerings, in the shape of a 1961 Aston DB4GT Zagato, managed $9.5 million (approx. £8.1m) last year with RM Sotheby’s.
That’s despite the Gavia’s relative scarcity when compared to the Stelvio, too. The last one of those sold for $44,800 at Monterey Car Week in 2019, so at the lower end there’s little premium for the rarer car.
To be honest though you’re losing neither in a car park, and as limited run cars go, the prospect of proven Nissan running gear may reassure some. Would you take the plunge?