At any point in time, it seems, there are a few automakers leading the way in design. Hyundai’s arguably setting the tone these days with its application of dramatic, bold shapes to the cars it sells in typically conservatively styled segments. Cover up the badges, and no one would guess the 2021 Elantra’s Z-slashed flanks live on a vehicle produced by the same company that built the dowdy 2006-2010 Elantra a decade prior. Nissan, in the late 1970s, was not the Hyundai of the 2020s, but the 1977 Nissan AD-2 concept shows a company that was trying hard to set itself apart from the Japanese sedan crowd. The AD-2 was bold, adventurous, and very, very blocky.
Just a year before the AD-2 hit the scene, the Aston Martin Lagonda Series 2 bridged the gap between the extremely wedgy supercar trend and the luxury sedan genre with an arresting, controversial design. And it wasn’t penned by an edgy Italian design house, but rather a homegrown designer: William Towns who’d joined Aston a few years earlier.
The AD-2 is no clone, nor even a copy of the Lagonda, but it’s hard to imagine the hard-edged British sedan didn’t have an impact on the Nissan concept’s design. After all, the Lagonda had exploded onto the scene. If a company wanted to make a design statement, taking a page out of Aston Martin’s Lagonda playbook would be smart.
The AD-2 was noticeably more upright than the Lagonda, with thin, swept-back pillars. The car’s triple glassed-in headlights on each side of an upper fascia sans grille look like an early shot at the later “Iron Mask” Skyline treatment. The flush taillights are rather generic.
But look closer and you’ll spot some wild details. The rear window wraps around with a sharp crease, something that a few General Motors production cars of the era toyed with. There’s a fair bit of tumblehome to the slabby flanks, the door handles nestle under the side windows (at the top edge of the door), and the side mirrors … Well, they’re tucked into strange cowl arches that flow back from the front edge of the hood, leaving something like a reverse power bulge in the middle.
If you really nerd out on strange Japanese cars, those wing mirrors might tickle some corner of your brain. Yes, they are a bit like the ones found on the Nissan Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1—a weird, wonderful oddball Nissan built a few years later on the Leopard platform (sold here as the Infiniti M30). Meanwhile, the AD-2 was built on a predecessor to the Leopard, the Laurel, and featured the company’s L28 I-6.
While it appears that some AD-2 influences trickled down into the company’s sporty and unusual offerings, it seems the car’s design cues were left off of Nissan’s future bread-and-butter models. The early Maxima was blocky but more traditional in its styling, while the designs of the funky little NX and the sporty 200SX went completely different directions.
The AD-2 is an interesting window into an era wherein the more baroque trends of the 1970s were giving way to a more wedge-like look. By 1985, even the plain-jane Honda Accord adopted a doorstop profile and Prelude-esque pop-up headlights.
The AD-2 explored some interesting ideas, even if its design wasn’t necessarily successful as a whole. But even as we appreciate it (or certain aspects of it, at least), we’re sad to report that Nissan says this concept no longer exists.