The 1984-1989 Nissan 300ZX replaced a 280ZX that was starting to show its age despite strong sales. The traditional style was becoming dated and its basic engine design originated in the 1960s. Plus, other Japanese manufacturers were introducing fresh competition, such as the Mitsubishi Starion, the Mazda RX-7, and the Toyota Supra.
The 1984 Nissan 300ZX was about as different from its predecessor as it could be. The original rounded contours and scoop headlamps were replaced by a wedge profile with semi-concealed headlamps. A potent 3.0-liter V-6 replaced the classic inline-6.
But continuing a trend dating back at least as far as the 260Z, the new Nissan 300ZX was more luxurious as well, more grand tourer and less pure sports car. However, sales had climbed with every model change, and from that standpoint, Nissan was doing the right thing.
The styling was undiluted 1980s, chiseled and italianate. It was still available as a two-seater or a 2+2; the two-seater continued as a fastback, the backlight reaching almost to the tail. The 2+2 had a flatter roof with a steeper backlight. Both body styles were quantifiably more-efficient shapes than earlier Zs.
Compared to the previous inline-6 engine, the Nissan 300ZX's V-6 was shorter front to back, not as tall, and only slightly wider, all of which allowed a lower hoodline.
In contrast to the 280ZX's 0.38 drag coefficient (Cd), the standard Nissan 300ZX had a Cd of 0.31 and, thanks to a chin spoiler and small rear wing, 0.30 for the inevitable Turbo. The Nissan 300ZX also produced more power than its predecessor: 160 horsepower.
The Turbo's Garrett AiResearch T-5 turbocharger helped boost output to 200 horsepower. A choice of 5-speed manual or either 3-speed or 4-speed overdrive automatic transmissions was offered.
The suspension was still strut-front and semi-trailing arm-rear, but with better geometry and improved bushings for better handling and ride. Standard on the Turbo were driver-adjustable shocks.
Another novelty was an optional digital instrument panel, a technological tour de force, but unfortunately hard to read. A specially equipped model celebrating the company's 50th anniversary was priced at a company-record $25,999, while the base 1984 Z listed for $15,799.
Overall, testers found the new Nissan 300ZX faster and better-handling than what had come before. And dealers had customers standing in line. The 1984 version of the Nissan 300ZX was the most popular ever, and at 73,101 sold, the top-selling sports car in America.
The Nissan 300ZX received "freshened" styling for 1986, but prices continued to rise, and competition from a host of sports and GT cars resulted in sales slipping to 52,936. Another "freshening" would follow for 1987, with more horsepower for both nonturbo and turbo models in 1988.
Motor Trend top-speed-tested a 300ZX Limited Edition at 153 mph, making it the fastest Japanese car in America. Sales, however, sagged to 19,357.
This design's final year was 1989. It was a carryover model, and word on the street was, "Wait for the new one." Sales dropped to 1,300 per month ... at least until April, when the next Z arrived.
1984 NISSAN 300ZX TURBO SPECIFICATIONS
Base price: $23,360
Layout: rear-wheel drive
Curb weight: 3,080 pounds
Wheelbase: 91.3 inches
Length: 170.7 inches
Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts
Rear suspension: Semi-trailing arms
Engine: single-overhead-cam turbocharged V-6
Displacement: 2960 cubic centimeters
Compression ratio: 7.8:1
Horsepower: 200 @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 227 pound-feet @ 3600 rpm
Fuel supply: Bosch L-Jetronic
Transmission: 5-speed manual (4-speed automatic optional)
Quarter-mile: 15.7 seconds @ 86.0 mph