In the early 1990s, other major Japanese manufacturers pursued Nissan's successful first-generation 300ZX with sports coupes of their own. But Nissan was ready with an all-new model, which would become the 1990-1996 Nissan 300ZX.
Better yet, Nissan executives announced a heady goal. Not only did they want to build the best Japanese sports car, "We want the 300ZX to be the world's number-one sports car," they announced.
And not "sports-luxury" or "luxury-sports," but a sports car. Internally the project was called 901, a designation that stood for "1990" and No. 1 in sports cars, a goal that would be realized with its introduction.
It looked the part with a completely new contour, and its 2960-cubic-centimeter double-overhead-cam V-6 made 222 horsepower, so it went like a sports car as well. With racecar-like multi-link suspension, it had the handling, monster brakes, wide tires and 16-inch wheels to make the goal no idle boast. "No more poity-toity, hippy-dippy fenderware for this debutante," said Car and Driver, "She winks, 'Let's dance.'"
Enginewise, only the bore and stroke remained from the old Nissan 300ZX. The block was redesigned, as were the crankshaft and connecting rods. The combustion chambers had four valves per cylinder and a centrally located spark plug, plus a 10.5:1 compression ratio.
Nissan Valve Timing Control System, the company's variable valve-timing system, provided smooth idling, good bottom-end torque and power all the way to 7000 rpm -- all with low emissions. A crank-fired ignition system eliminated the distributor for more-precise ignition timing.
The resulting package was good for 0-60 mph in the 6.0-second range, with the quarter-mile in 15 seconds. Top speed was in the neighborhood of 150 mph, depending on the transmission -- a choice between a revised 5-speed manual or 4-speed electronically controlled automatic.
The 1990 Nissan 300ZX appeared at dealers on April 24, 1989. As before, it was offered as the standard two-seater and a 2+2. The 2+2 was difficult to spot, however; the only real clue was more panel between the trailing edge of the door and the rear wheel arch. The 4.7-inch longer wheelbase and 8.5-inch greater overall length was well-disguised. Car and Driver said calling it a "2+2" was a "stretch": "full-time humans [in back] would have to kneel."
Prices started at $27,300 for the two-seater, which admittedly was well-equipped, with only three available factory options: the automatic transmission, an electronics package and a leather-upholstery package.
Even more equipment was introduced at the September new-model debut. As promised, there was a new 300ZX Turbo. The new 1990 Turbo was rated at an even 300 horsepower at 6400 rpm.
Its twin turbochargers were oil- and water-cooled, and the engine got considerable beefing up, as did the drivetrain. However, in deference to the longevity of the automatic transmission, power was limited to 280 horsepower. Nissan governed the cars to 155 mph. Top speed otherwise exceeded 160 mph.
The Turbo model started at $33,000, and was available as a two-seater only. It was identifiable by the intercooler slots up front and a diminutive rear spoiler, plus a "TWIN TURBO" label for anyone needing more help. All U.S. 300ZXs also had a T-bar roof with twin removable glass panels.
The 300ZX Turbo was an immediate hit with critics. Road & Track stated, "Those accustomed to the thumb-twiddle/hold-on-for-dear-life thrill ride provided by the Porsche 911 Turbo will be disappointed; but those whose idea of a good time is tractable, predictable gobs of power will be pleased."
Motor Trend named it the magazine's 1990 Import Car of the Year, while Automobile dubbed it 1990's Design of the Year, including it in the magazine's "All Stars" from 1990 through 1994. Car and Driver and Road & Track both put the Nissan 300ZX on their respective "ten best" lists.
Sales totaled 22,183 for 1990, with one-in-four turbo-equipped, and 40 percent having an automatic transmission. American Z sales surpassed the million-sales mark, becoming the all-time best-selling sports car in the process.
Nissan fiddled with option packages in 1991 and 1992, but for 1993 Nissan decided to do what independent shops were already doing: offer a convertible 300ZX. The convertible, developed by ASC in Michigan, was fully manual and took about 30 seconds to lower. A "basket handle" bar was necessary for chassis stiffness.
At $37,145, the convertible was about $500 less-expensive than the Turbo. Indeed, the slide of the dollar against the yen pushed the base price of the cheapest 300ZX over $30,000. Convertibles, with 2,068 sold in 1993, comprised about 20 percent of the year's Zs, more than the 1,470 Turbos.
The 1994 Turbo sported a new spoiler and there were other minor changes in appearance and equipment, but none overwhelming save for a "factory-related" SMZ. This specially modified 365-horsepower 300ZX produced by Nissan racer Steve Millen's shops celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Z. Not an official factory release, the SMZ was covered by Nissan's standard warranty and was sold through Nissan dealers for $55,000.
A significant redesign of the Nissan 300ZX would be required to comply with impending U.S. side-impact requirements, set to go into effect for 1997. At the same time, the dollar-yen crisis sent prices skyrocketing to $37,000 for the base coupe and up to $44,679 for the convertible. Faced with these hurdles, Nissan decided 1996 would be the final year for 300ZX sales in the U.S.
It had been an exciting 25 years, but the 300ZX was coming -- for the time being -- to an end. The last 300ZX imported was inducted into the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. It was officially history.
1990 300ZX TURBO SPECIFICATIONS
Base price: $33,000
Layout: rear-wheel drive
Curb weight: 3,501 pounds
Wheelbase: 96.5 inches
Length: 169.5 inches
Front suspension: Multi-link
Rear suspension: Multi-link with Super HICAS
Tires: 225/50ZR-16 front / 245/45ZR-16 rear
Engine: dual-overhead-cam 32-valve twin-turbocharged V-6
Displacement: 2960 cubic centimeters
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Horsepower: 300 @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 283 pound-feet @ 3600 rpm
Fuel supply: Multi-point electronic fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed manual (4-speed automatic optional)
Quarter-mile: 15.0 seconds @ 96.0 mph