The ’90s were a time of widespread global prosperity and optimism. And while there are many metrics on which we can base this claim, the one I tend to opt for is the sheer number of sports cars that were made, and the many more that almost got made.
The “almost” category is unsurprisingly the most fascinating, because it includes a cast of some truly ambitious vehicles from the unlikeliest of sources. There was the mid-engined, 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 some cryptic, 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 motorsport company Domethrew hats.
On that note, today we’re talking about Tommykaira — the Japanese tuning firm that made a name for itself modifying Nissans and Subarus in the late 1980s. By the middle of the following decade, the company decided the time was right to try its hand at its own sports car: the featherweight, Lotus Elise-rivaling ZZ, which would go on to sell some 200 examples.
A bona fide supercar sequel, the all-wheel-drive, RB26-powered ZZII, was in the works, but development never progressed beyond a single prototype. Tommykaira’s car-making operations were snapped up by Japanese auto parts giant Autobacs in the early aughts and rechristened as Autobacs Sportscar Laboratories — from which we got the oddly-windowed Garaiya — before that, too, vanished.
If you’ve played Gran Turismo, you may already be familiar with Tommykaira; All three of those cars I just mentioned have been featured in the PlayStation racing series, even though only the original ZZ was ever manufactured in numbers. However, 1999’s Gran Turismo 2 included one more Tommykaira product with an even more nebulous existence: the ZZIII.
As far as I can tell — and believe me, I’ve been looking — there is not a single photo of a real ZZIII to be found anywhere on the internet. And while Gran Turismo does have a history of inventing cars, this was not one of those cases. The ZZIII’s description in GT2 suggests a vehicle that Tommykaira fully intended to make. Courtesy of the Gran Turismo Wiki:
In contrast to the “pure sports racing” image of the ZZ-II, the ZZ-III offers a more familiar sort of concept that might be called “pure sports lite.”
The result is a two-door sports GT car. In keeping with the times, it is a true sports car but it is also environmentally friendly. It can be used for motor sports, but in many ways it is a new kind of sports car for the 21st century, one that embodies new technology that was jointly developed with another automaker.
What other automaker did Tommykaira attempt to partner with to realize this ambiguous “new technology?” We’ll never know for sure, but my hunch is Nissan. Tommykaira was planning to offer a “hyper CVT” as an option in the ZZIII according to this, and only Nissan was bullish enough to deem its CVTs “hyper.” Here’s more from the game description:
This machine boasts a tough but light weight steel and aluminum frame and a mid-mounted high-performance gasoline engine of 1.6 to 2.0 liters displacement. There is a choice of two transmission types: five-speed manual or hyper CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
The ZZ-III’s chassis features double wishbone suspension in both front and rear, with inboard push rod-type shocks and springs. Ventilated disc brakes are installed on all four wheels.
The target weight for this car was a mere 700 kg (1,540 lbs), making the ZZ-III one of the lightest of its type. Combine that with a powerful engine and an ideal chassis and what you get is one of the lightest sports cars ever.
The cost is also not very heavy-about 4 million Yen (US$36,000) Of course, the car is not only sporty but comfortable, complete with air conditioning and other expected amenities. No wonder ZZ fans are anxiously 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 some 650 pounds less than an original 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 outside GT2 were these design sketches on Japanese enthusiast forum Minkara.
In all likelihood, Tommykaira probably had its plan for the ZZIII, just like it did for the ZZII, but the realities of this cruel industry got in the way. Or, maybe it morphed into the Garaiya. As plausible as either theory sounds, they’re not good enough for me; I need closure. My search for it continues, and I’ve reached out to experts at the International Tommykaira Club for insight. In the meantime, I couldn’t let the fading memory of the ZZIII completely evaporate.