Nissan Z History


The current Nissan 350Z carries the legacy of more than a million Z cars.
The current Nissan 350Z carries the legacy of more than a million Z cars.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

It's a rare occurrence when a single model is a window into the soul of an entire car company, as is the case throughout the history of the Nissan Z. It's rarer still when that passion involves a full-line automaker with offerings in all of the major market segments.

The Z exists in that special place, in the hearts of the more than a million owners of Zs around the world past and present; in the enthusiasm of the hundred-thousand-plus Nissan employees, dealers and suppliers; in the buzz on the street.

As Nissan President Carlos Ghosn stated upon the unveiling of the all-new 350Z at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, "In the fall of 1969, Nissan introduced a two-seat sports car that revolutionized the automotive world at the time. It had European styling, American muscle, Japanese quality and global desirability."

He was talking, of course, about the Datsun 240Z in North America and Europe and the Fairlady Z in Japan and Asian markets. From the founding of the company in 1933, Datsun was the brand all Nissan passenger cars and light trucks were sold under in North America until the early 1980s.

Nissan Motor Company had been a miracle of industrial progress following World War II. Nissan was the first Japanese company to introduce sports models in the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, its Datsun products were perceived as forerunners of modern design, durability and value in their respective market segments.

Global sales growth was phenomenal. At the time, Datsun was the top-selling Japanese brand in the United States. The arrival of the 240Z in the 1970 model year cemented its reputation as a maker of bold, leading-edge cars and trucks, from the stylish, great-handling, affordable 510 sedan and wagon to the durable, tough-as-nails Datsun mini pickup truck.

By the mid-1970s, Datsun had passed Volkswagen as the best-selling import brand in the U.S. Datsun was well on its way to selling a million Zs worldwide in just two decades.

Sensing its Japanese name, the Fairlady Z, was not right for the U.S., Nissan used its internal model code to name the Datsun 240Z. Sensing its Japanese name, the Fairlady Z, was not right for the U.S., Nissan used its internal model code to name the Datsun 240Z.
Sensing its Japanese name, the Fairlady Z, was not right for the U.S., Nissan used its internal model code to name the Datsun 240Z.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

For his part, Yutaka Katayama, the president of Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A. during this time, was an astute observer of American tastes and trends. Mr. K, as he is known to his friends and colleagues, was keenly observant of the rapidly growing sports-car market in the United States.

He became aware of a new, more-affordable GT car under development by Nissan engineers in Japan that was of exciting and different design, with crisp performance and excellent handling, but with more comfort and practicality than the European two-seaters of the day. He lobbied hard to bring what would become the Datsun 240Z to the United States as a beacon of performance and quality for the brand.

Upon the car's unveiling at the 1969 New York International Auto Show, Katayama said, "The 240Z represents the imaginative spirit of Nissan and was designed to please a demanding taste that is strictly American. Nissan offers this spirited car with affection. Its heart is Japan and its soul is America."

In his way, Katayama was a pioneer in the global approach that was to serve Nissan well in the ensuing decades. And in its role as the icon for the Datsun, and later the Nissan, brand, the Z cemented that company's image as an innovator across many product lines.

It's a legacy planners at Nissan were well aware of in the late-1990s when they sought to bring back a new Z. In developing the 350Z, the operative phrase they used to describe it was, "Lust, then love."

Chief Product Specialist John Yukawa explained. "The customer wants to purchase the Z at first sight because of its excellent design, And afterward, he goes on to love the Z forever because of its high performance." It was this overriding principle that was to guide the 350Z's journey, a voyage to find and re-establish Nissan's emotional core.

Nissan often offered a 2-plus-2 version of the Z, as on this 1983 280ZX Turbo. Nissan often offered a 2-plus-2 version of the Z, as on this 1983 280ZX Turbo.
Nissan often offered a 2-plus-2 version of the Z, as on this 1983 280ZX Turbo.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But legacies often have humble beginnings. Madonna worked in a pizza parlor before singing and dancing her way to stardom. Bill Gates was a computer nerd and Harvard dropout before creating a software empire that made him the richest man in the world. Likewise, Nissan didn't just throw a switch and sell more than 1 million Zs.

In the 1950s, Nissan acted on its philosophy that some drivers wanted more than mere transportation. It was the first Japanese car company to add sports models to its lineup.

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

Early Datsun Roadsters

This 1960 Datsun Fairlady was one of only 300 from its era to sell in the U.S.
This 1960 Datsun Fairlady was one of only 300 from its era to sell in the U.S.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Most notable among early Datsun roadsters was the Datsun Fairlady Sportster, a chubby-cheeked, rounded, and darned-cute little car. The roadster's lines were curved, shall we say, enthusiastically, almost like an Austin-Healey all scrunched up. It even had a Healeyesque sweep-spear for a two-tone paint treatment, perhaps an attempt to make the car look longer.

In 1959, Nissan added the 4-place roadster to the American lineup that included the Datsun 1000 sedan on which it was based.

Like British sports cars of the era, its convertible top was constructed rather than raised. At first powered by the sedan's 37-horsepower pushrod four, bigger engines increased performance with 48 horsepower and then 60 horsepower, the latter of which enabled the convertible to mosey through the quarter-mile in 24.3 seconds.

Americans, however, were largely unimpressed. For them "performance" still typically meant big-cubic-inch V-8s; thus fewer than 300 Fairladys were sold between 1959 and 1962. Nissan sales strategy instead relied on a lineup that included sedans, station wagons, pickups, and the Patrol, an early sport-utility vehicle.

The Fairlady was replaced by the Datsun 1500 Sports Roadster, making its debut in the spring of 1962 at the New York International Auto Show. (A prototype had been shown at Tokyo the preceding fall.)

Although often called a copy of the MGB sports car, this appearance actually preceded that of the British roadster, which wasn't shown to the public until October 1962. Any similarities were therefore coincidence.

The Datsun 1500 (the name Fairlady was dropped for America) was, however, a thoroughly traditional sports car that could easily have been mistaken for a British design. It had a steel body on a conventional chassis with box rails and A-arm front/live-axle rear suspension. It had narrow bias-ply tires and four-wheel drum brakes.

The 1966 Datsun 1600 Sports, with its slightly large engine, showed the Datsun roadster was evolving. The 1966 Datsun 1600 Sports, with its slightly large engine, showed the Datsun roadster was evolving.
The 1966 Datsun 1600 Sports, with its slightly large engine, showed the Datsun roadster was evolving.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But, said Road & Track, "We have never seen a car that comes with so many extras at no additional charge." It was, said the magazine, "extremely easy to drive," and reasonably priced at $2,465.

But with only a 20-second quarter-mile time and just so-so handling and braking, the 1500 was merely adequate. It was, however, "favorably comparable" to other cars that "make no pretense of being raceworthy sports cars in the accepted meaning of the term."

At least Nissan was willing to learn. The 1500 Sports was replaced by the 1600 Sports, a bigger engine coming from a larger bore with a shorter stroke. Acceleration increased only marginally, but flexibility was much improved.

Nissan also added front-disc/rear-drum brakes and a new, fully synchronized 4-speed manual transmission. Race driver Ken Miles told Car and Driver, "the Japanese don't have the hang of" suspension yet, but Road & Track called it "predictable" and "a near ideal car to learn to drive sports-car style."

There's nothing that additional power can't remedy -- or at least cause one to overlook -- and when Road & Track tested the 1968 Datsun 2000 Sports, the magazine called it "insignificantly heavier, moderately more expensive, but abundantly more powerful" than its 1600 predecessor.

The heart of the change was a new engine, a single-overhead-cam four (U20 in Nissan parlance), producing 135 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, a 40 percent increase over the 1600. An exotic-for-then 5-speed overdrive manual transmission was standard.

The 1970 Datsun 2000 Sports represented the best of the Datsun roadsters until the Z came along. The 1970 Datsun 2000 Sports represented the best of the Datsun roadsters until the Z came along.
The 1970 Datsun 2000 Sports represented the best of the Datsun roadsters until the Z came along.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Not surprisingly, the 2000 could thoroughly skunk the 1600, doing 0-60 mph a whole three seconds faster. The 2000 ran the quarter-mile in 17.3 seconds, impressive for any contemporary four-cylinder sports car of its price range. Even more muscle was available through a competition engine kit that yielded 150 horsepower, and if installed by a dealer carried a full warranty.

Narrow and hard-sprung, the Datsun roadsters were as antiquated as the British sports cars that inspired them. They were the best of their generation, but the generation's heyday was passing. It was clearly time for something new.

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

The Datsun 240Z

The Datsun 240Z provided sharp styling and world-class sports-car performance in an attainable package.
The Datsun 240Z provided sharp styling and world-class sports-car performance in an attainable package.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Datsun 240Z began its lifespan back in 1966, when a new sports-car design was created by Fumio Yashida's design team at Nissan. It caught the attention of Yutaka Katayama.

"Mr. K" was responsible for Nissan's West Coast operations in the U.S. and he was convinced an affordable GT would sell big in America. Yashida's design was just the thing.

But Katayama insisted on a closed car, not a convertible -- "easier to get into the market" -- and a two-seater only, not a GT. When the new Datsun sports car finally appeared in the fall of 1969, there was no lack of midpriced European competition, but the sports car would offer Porsche performance and Jaguar style at a fraction of the cost. At home it was called the Fairlady Z, but in the U.S., it would be the Datsun 240Z.

Datsun's 240Z was a hit. It started slowly, though before long you couldn't buy a 240Z in the States for the $3,526 list price. But even with the inevitable dealer add-ons and profit taking -- the hallmark of a winner -- buyers recognized a bargain.

A Volvo 1800E listed for about $4,500, a Corvette for around $5,000, and a Jaguar E-type Coupe carried a $5,800 price tag. So this two-seater from Japan, even with $500 of extras, was a good value.

Some said the profile resembled the Jaguar E-type. Others saw some Ferrari GTO here and there. Yet the 240Z was a shape ultimately all its own.

Vinyl covered the driveshaft tunnel in the Datsun 240Z, as well as the two bucket seats. Vinyl covered the driveshaft tunnel in the Datsun 240Z, as well as the two bucket seats.
Vinyl covered the driveshaft tunnel in the Datsun 240Z, as well as the two bucket seats.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The long hood, more than cosmetic, covered an inline-6. The home-market's engine displaced 2.0 liters but the American-market Z was a 2.4-liter six, a two-cylinder-longer version of the single-overhead-cam four that powered the Datsun 510. With 150 horsepower, the engine pushed the 2,238-pound 240Z through the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds.

Although the Datsun 2000 had a 5-speed, the American Z came with a 4-speed manual. Dubbed internally the S30, the 240Z had fully independent suspension, a breakthrough at the price, with struts front and rear, though there were disc brakes on the front only.

Radial tires were standard, but mounted on steel 14-inch wheels with full-disc, mag-look wheel covers, making the Z easy game for dealer-installed "mandatory option" alloy wheels.

A fastback with a rear hatch, the Z had an optimistic 160-mph speedometer and 8000-rpm tach. Three nacelles in the center dashtop held four supplementary gauges and a clock. Two bucket seats covered in leather-grained vinyl were matched by a peculiar diamond-pattern vinyl over the driveshaft tunnel and the shock towers in the luggage area.

Nissan had planned for 1,600 cars per month for the U.S., but despite a late start, first-year sales missed 10,000 by just three cars. The shipping quota was 2,500 Zs per month by mid-1971. If Nissan could have built them, American Datsun dealers could have sold 4,000 monthly.

The Z's success spelled doom for the Datsun 2000 roadster, however. Still in production through 1970, it was built on the same assembly line as the 240Z, and when more of the new Zs were needed, the roadster had to go.

There were few changes to the 240Z for 1971. Earlier running changes moved vents from the hatch to the C-pillars, and mechanical improvements smoothed engine operation. A 3-speed automatic transmission was added, though 90 percent of buyers opted for the manual. With a full year's run, 1971 U.S. sales of the Z hit 26,733. Officially, the list price was $3,696, but with Kelly Blue Book quoting $4,000 for a used 1970 model, dealers still sold new Zs for well above sticker.

There were no discounts off the $4,106 price for a 1972 either, with the Blue Book value for used Zs at $4,400. The 1972 had a new 4-speed manual and other detail changes, while 1973s can be identified by slightly heavier federal impact bumpers.

American Datsun 240Zs came with a 2.4-liter 6-cylinder, larger than the Japanese version. American Datsun 240Zs came with a 2.4-liter 6-cylinder, larger than the Japanese version.
American Datsun 240Zs came with a 2.4-liter 6-cylinder, larger than the Japanese version.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

More significant were changes under the hood to meet federal emissions standards. Leaner carburetor settings, lower compression, and carburetors more prone to vapor lock bedeviled all cars with reduced power and poor drivability -- particularly frustrating in a sports car like the 240Z.

The 1973 Datsun 240Zs were rated at 129 horsepower, a combination of a real drop in output and the change from "SAE gross" to "SAE net" horsepower ratings. The Z's popularity was nevertheless undimmed, with sales totaling 52,556 for 1973.

1970 240Z SPECIFICATIONS

Base price: $3,626

Layout: rear-wheel drive

Curb weight: 2,238 pounds

Wheelbase: 90.7 inches

Length: 162.8 inches

Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts

Rear suspension: Independent Chapman struts

Tires: 175-14

Seats: two

Engine: single-overhead-cam inline-6

Displacement: 2393 cubic centimeters

Compression ratio: 9.0:1

Horsepower: 150 @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 148 pound-feet @ 4400 rpm

Fuel supply: Two Hitachi-SU 1v sidedraft carburetors

Transmission: 4-speed manual (3-speed automatic optional)

Quarter-mile 17.1 seconds @ 84.5 mph

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

Datsun 260Z and 280Z

The last of the first-generation Zs bowed mid-1975 as the Datsun 280Z debuted.
The last of the first-generation Zs bowed mid-1975 as the Datsun 280Z debuted.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Datsun 260Z and 280Z represented attempts to maintain sports-car-worthy performance for Datsun's roadster in an era of stiffening government regulations.

The term "emissions controls" was synonymous with disappointment for sports car enthusiasts in the 1970s. The compromises necessary to meet exhaust-emissions regulations almost invariably reduced power and drivability. Enthusiasts dreaded the news for each coming year -- how much performance would be lost with the new model?

Manufacturers weren't any happier than the enthusiasts. Providing some semblance of the performance that customers expected proved difficult. The reduced power per cubic centimeter -- plus added weight from federally mandated "safety bumpers" and the like -- prompted automakers to add engine displacement to prevent losses in performance.

Enter the Datsun 260Z, introduced for 1974. For it, the inline-6 was increased to 2565 cubic centimeters -- or 2.6 liters -- by maintaining the 83.0-mm bore while increasing the stroke from 73.0 mm to 79.0 mm. It restored output to 139 horsepower, but it also lowered the power peak to 5200 rpm. The effective redline fell to 6000 rpm, but Road & Track claimed the engine sounded "labored over 5500."

New technology, such as a transistorized breakerless ignition system, increased reliability and aided emissions control. The carburetors still suffered from vapor lock, and although the 260Z was quicker than the last 240Z models, it was still slower than the original Z. And lean surge, the scourge of the 1970s, and dieseling (run-on) remained.

The exterior of the Datsun 260Z was changed as little as possible from the 240Z's classic lines. With sports cars allowed a one-year deferral from full compliance with the 5-mph bumper rule, the 1974 Datsun 260Z had discrete black rubber nubs as part of a new bumper system added at the end of the previous model year. The new, heavier bumpers prompted stiffer springs and a rear stabilizer bar.

The 1974 models also got the new U.S.-government-mandated seat belt/ignition interlock, a system that prevented the driver from starting the car unless the safety belts of occupied seats were fastened.

Early Datsun 260Zs like this one retained a reasonable bumper profile, before regulations enlarged it. Early Datsun 260Zs like this one retained a reasonable bumper profile, before regulations enlarged it.
Early Datsun 260Zs like this one retained a reasonable bumper profile, before regulations enlarged it.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Nissan also supplemented demand for the Datsun 260Z by adding 11.9 inches to its wheelbase and adding a pair of contoured buckets under a redrawn roofline. The rear seats were really more suited to children than adults, making the 260Z 2+2 Dad's last sports car before getting a family sedan. Most buyers preferred the two-seater, but the 2+2 proved Nissan knew how make the best of a good thing.

Bumper size increased again late in the 1974 model year. With minor changes elsewhere, these were called 1974-1/2 models. It added another 6.3 inches in length and another 130 pounds. At least the 1975 models were unchanged, and lasted only until being replaced midyear by the new Datsun 280Z.

As the name suggests, the Datsun 280Z had a displacement of 2.8 liters, achieved by stroking the 260Z's motor by 3 mm. Despite an emissions-control-inspired 8.3:1 compression ratio, output climbed to 149 horsepower.

No doubt the replacement of fussy carburetors with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection had something to do with that. Lean surge, hesitation and other smog-motor evils were all but history as well.

California cars also got catalytic converters for the first time. The result was that the Datsun 280Z's performance nearly matched that of the original 240Z, and did so on regular-unleaded gasoline rather than the 240's diet of leaded premium.

The 1976 Datsun 280Z was unchanged except for a voltmeter replacing the ammeter, but in 1977, a 5-speed manual finally became optional. The overdrive-5th gearbox cost $165 over the standard-equipment 4-speed. Although engine specifications were unchanged, horsepower increased to 170 at 5600 rpm. With a new model forthcoming, changes were limited for 1978, most notably a standard AM/FM radio and, for the first time, black as an available color.

1975 DATSUN 280Z SPECIFICATIONS

Base price: $6,284

Layout: rear-wheel drive

Curb weight: 2,875 pounds

Wheelbase: 90.7 inches

Length: 173.2 inches

Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts

Rear suspension: Independent Chapman struts

Tires: 195/70-14

Seats: two or 2+2

Engine: single-overhead-cam inline-6

Displacement: 2754 cubic centimeters

Compression ratio: 8.3:1

Horsepower: 149 @ 5600 rpm

Torque: 163 pound-feet @ 4400 rpm

Fuel supply: Nissan Bosch-type L-Jetronic fuel injection

Transmission: 4-speed manual (3-speed automatic optional)

Quarter-mile: 17.3 seconds @ 81.0 mph

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

Datsun 280ZX

A T-top two-seater was part of the Datsun 280ZX lineup.
A T-top two-seater was part of the Datsun 280ZX lineup.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

When the Datsun 280ZX was introduced for the 1979 model year, the Z car would be almost a decade old. As great as it was, improvements in technology and changes in the world meant that a new and better Z had to be introduced.

But with 280Z sales still brisk, Nissan product planners were faced with the task of improving a good thing. So the Datsun 280ZX greatly resembled its predecessor: The general long-hood fastback profile remained, along with the hood bulge and sugar-scoop headlamp buckets.

There was a completely new chassis underneath, however, and a new internal designation -- S130. Nissan used the platform it had developed for the 810 sedan, introduced the year before.

The suspension was still fully independent, with struts up front (although different from the original Z's) but the rear struts were changed to semi-trailing arms. No doubt this made business sense, though enthusiasts lamented the greater camber and toe changes of the new rear setup.

The engine and drivetrain were carried over largely intact, though tightening emissions controls reduced peak horsepower to 135, with California cars catalyst-equipped and three ponies weaker. Cars with optional air conditioning had an auxiliary blower that pumped cool air onto the fuel system to prevent vapor lock, a sign of the times.

The standard 4-speed manual was replaced by a 5-speed gearbox, however, allowing a 3.70:1 final-drive ratio for quicker acceleration. The optional automatic still had only three gears.

The interior was roomier and there was a marked improvement in interior appointments; the ZX was more luxurious than its predecessor, with cut-pile carpet everywhere and full color coordination. The steering wheel had an A-shaped spoke arrangement, more disco flash than sports-car pure.

Designers discuss styling on the Datsun 280ZX, which ended up with styling similar to its predecessor. Designers discuss styling on the Datsun 280ZX, which ended up with styling similar to its predecessor.
Designers discuss styling on the Datsun 280ZX, which ended up with styling similar to its predecessor.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

There was even a Grand Luxury package with alloy wheels, cloth upholstery (replacing vinyl) and more. A dual-needle fuel gauge metered both the whole tank and the final quarter tank. But the car, even in base form, was becoming more luxury- than sports-oriented, with added noise insulation, plus softer bushings in the suspension for a cushier ride.

That year also saw the introduction of the ZX-R package, intended to homologate a whale-tale rear wing for racing. Just 1,000 were built. In addition to the big spoiler, the ZX-R also had special badging, broad blue stripes, and was available only in Silver Mist paint.

With the Datsun 280ZX, the Z's base price reached $9,899, and destination charges pushed it over ten grand even before options. Even so, the 1979 Datsun 280ZX set the all-time annual U.S. sales record for Z cars at 86,007 units, undoubtedly helped by being named Motor Trend's "Import Car of the Year."

For 1980, a removable-panel T-top was introduced, and by year's end half of all ZXs were so equipped. Optional leather upholstery and automatic temperature control were further examples of the upmarket trend of the Z car, while horsepower sagged to 132. A special Anniversary Edition was done in black and gold, celebrating a decade of Z cars. It cost $13,850 when introduced.

A 180-horsepower engine made the Datsun 280ZX Turbo one of the fastest cars of the early 1980s. A 180-horsepower engine made the Datsun 280ZX Turbo one of the fastest cars of the early 1980s.
A 180-horsepower engine made the Datsun 280ZX Turbo one of the fastest cars of the early 1980s.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The real start of the 1980s was 1981, when technology -- and a turbo -- stopped the horsepower drain. A new catalyst and higher compression raised the standard ZX's power to 145 horsepower, while the 280ZX Turbo cranked out 180. The thrill was back.

Well-equipped -- and with an automatic mandatory -- the turbo sold for a Z-car high of $16,999. But it was faster than a Corvette, turning the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds, compared to 16.0 for the 'Vette.

The "talking" ZX, with a digitized voice, debuted for 1982, along with a 5-speed manual for the Turbo. Nonetheless, sales slid from 71,533 in 1980 to 57,260 for 1982. More luxury appointments followed for 1983, but it was clearly the end of the line for the second generation.

1981-1/2 DATSUN 280ZX TURBO SPECIFICATIONS

Base price: $16,999

Layout: rear-wheel drive

Curb weight: 2,995 pounds

Wheelbase: 91.3 inches

Length: 174.0 inches

Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts

Rear suspension: Semi-trailing arms

Tires: P205/60R-15

Seats: two or 2+2

Engine: single-overhead-cam turbocharged inline-6

Displacement: 2753 cubic centimeters

Compression ratio: 7.4:1

Horsepower: 180 @ 5600 rpm

Torque: 203 pound-feet @ 2800 rpm

Fuel supply: Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Quarter-mile: 15.6 seconds @ 88.0 mph

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

1984-1989 Nissan 300ZX

Styling details on the Nissan 300ZX were cleaner after 1986 thanks to a series of design updates.
Styling details on the Nissan 300ZX were cleaner after 1986 thanks to a series of design updates.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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 Nissan 300ZX Turbo V-6 had less drag than the 280ZX. The Nissan 300ZX Turbo V-6 had less drag than the 280ZX.
The Nissan 300ZX Turbo V-6 had less drag than the 280ZX.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

A special edition of the 1984 Nissan 300ZX celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company. A special edition of the 1984 Nissan 300ZX celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company.
A special edition of the 1984 Nissan 300ZX celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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

Tires: P215/60R-15

Seats: two

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

For more on Nissan Zs and other great sports cars, check out:

1990-1996 Nissan 300ZX

The Nissan 300ZX was a great performance car, but by the 1990s had strayed from its pure-sports roots.
The Nissan 300ZX was a great performance car, but by the 1990s had strayed from its pure-sports roots.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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."

The Super HICAS four-wheel-steering system gave the Nissan 300ZX Turbo superior handling. The Super HICAS four-wheel-steering system gave the Nissan 300ZX Turbo superior handling.
The Super HICAS four-wheel-steering system gave the Nissan 300ZX Turbo superior handling.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

The 300ZX twin-turbo V-6 engine put out 300 horsepower with manual transmission, and 280 when linked to the automatic. The 300ZX twin-turbo V-6 engine put out 300 horsepower with manual transmission, and 280 when linked to the automatic.
The 300ZX twin-turbo V-6 engine put out 300 horsepower with manual transmission, and 280 when linked to the automatic.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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

Seats: two

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

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