Previously, I explored the incredible M5. Now it’s time to take a look at the Nissan Z car. The Nissan Z Car’s roots go back to the 1970s, and it was the car that really showed what Japanese sports cars could do. They were front-engined, rear-wheel drive, with manual transmissions. Power went from inline-sixes to twin-turbo V6 monsters then naturally aspirated V6s. Read on to see what made these cars special and how Nissan might make them great once again.
Nissan S30 (240Z, 260Z, 280Z) 1970-1973
The Nissan 240Z featured the L24 inline-six making approximately 150 horsepower mated to a four-speed manual. The little three-door coupe put the power down to the rear-wheels and weighed a scant 2,300 lbs. Sixty miles per hour came in 8 seconds, and the little coupe hit 125 mph. The 260Z debuted in 1974 and featured an enlarged inline-six now displacing 2.6 liters. Unfortunately, increased emissions regulations in the US meant the 260Z actually made less horsepower than the 240Z it replaced. Nissan did stiffen the suspension and added a rear swaybar. The engine grew again for the 280Z bumping displacement up to 2.8 liters and horsepower up to 170. Unfortunately, safety regulations pushed the weight up to 2,875 lbs. There were 1,000 special “Zap Edition” 280Zs that featured sunshine yellow paint with black stripes and some chevrons. The first generation of Z cars is quite collectible and can fetch upwards of $75,000.
Nissan S130 (280ZX) 1978-1983
So, you’d think Nissan would come out with the 280ZX with an even sportier suspension? Nope. Instead, the 280ZX featured a softer, more grand touring suspension. Not only did they soften the suspension, but the car was slower too. There was a “Blackout” trim level available that got rid of most of the chrome. The slower, less agile car must have tanked, right? Wrong! The 280ZX was a sale success. Fortunately, Nissan added as single turbo in 1981, pushing power up to 180 hp dropping the sixty time to 7.4 seconds. That sounds slow, yet it was faster than the marquee Ferrari of the time. Some racing examples pushed power over 700 horsepower, including this great example from Paul Newman. Enthusiasts widely consider the S130 the worst of the Z cars due to the soft suspension and terrible brakes.
Nissan Z31 (300ZX) 1983-1989
Nissan introduced the 300ZX in 1983 with a revised S130 suspension. Engine options in the States included a turbo and naturally aspirated 3.0L V6 (VG30E(T)) with power up to 205 horsepower. Options included a 5-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic. Earlier models included a rear limited-slip while later models had a clutch limited-slip. Weight was up over 3,000, yet 0-60 times dropped to 6.7 seconds while top speed increased to 145 mph. The body has more than a passing resemblance to the outgoing 280ZX, featuring popup headlights and t-tops with a more aerodynamic shape.
Nissan Z32 (300ZX) 1989-2000
The Z32 300ZX was a radical redesign breaking from tradition. Gone were the popup headlights in favor of 60 degree fixed headlights, a design later used on the Lamborghini Diablo. The car was much lower and wider than the outgoing Z31 with improved handling and aerodynamics. Improvements included two suspension settings and four-wheel steering. If these were the only changes, they would make the Z32 far superior to the Z31. Fortunately, Nissan decided to slap two turbos, complete with two intercoolers on top of the V6 VG30ET. This significantly increased horsepower to 300 horsepower, or 276 hp, according to the “Gentleman’s Agreement” in Japan. The top speed was limited to 155 mph, and 60 mph came in just 6 seconds. This put the Z32 on par with the Porsche 928 and Corvette of its day. You can still pick up many good examples for around $15,000 – $20,000.
Nissan Z33 (350Z) 2002-2008
For the 350Z, Nissan removed the turbos and upped the displacement for the VQ35 V-6 to 3.5 liters. Unfortunately, it made less power than the outgoing 300ZX coming in at 287 horsepower. The 350Z now only comes with two seats as either a convertible roadster or hatch. There were four trim levels from base to track and about a million Nismo variants. All those trim levels did is add a modest increase in horsepower (~15 hp) accompanied with better suspension and brakes but with added weight. There was now a six-speed manual in place of the five-speed, and of course, you could get an automatic for some reason. Power would climb to over 300 horsepower in 2005, but curb weight also increased to over 3,400 lbs for the coupe. This put the Z in the same weight class as the Ford Mustang of its day, which also made 300 horsepower.
Despite the lack of turbos and the added weight, the 350Z performed admirably. The car won several awards, including numerous cars of the year and the best driver’s car awards. The Z33 was extremely popular in various forms of motor racing, including factory efforts in Super GT, where NISMO won the championship in 2004. The heavily modified 350Z finished ahead of the likes of Lamborghini Diablos and Honda NSXs. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the 350Z when it came out. The 300ZX was faster than the Corvettes of the day, but the 350Z lost some of that. They do look the part, and they have a six-speed manual, and the power goes to the rear wheels. If you get one of the NISMO cars with the upgraded brakes and suspension and throw a Stillen Supercharger on it, you could have one hell of a car.
Nissan Z34 (370Z) 2009 – Current
Nissan heard our complaints on the outgoing 350Z and decided to shed some weight for the wholly redesigned 370Z. The outgoing 350Z ballooned to over 3,600 lbs if you went for the convertible version. The new 370Z is shorter in both length and height while getting wider. The use of lightweight material keeps tine Z34 and just over 3,200 lbs. Again, you can get a six-speed manual or an upgraded seven-speed automatic. Displacement increased to 3.7 liters bringing horsepower up to 332 hp for the base model and 350 hp for the NISMO version. While those numbers weren’t bad a decade ago, you can get a base Ford Mustang GT for less than a NISMO 370Z, and it makes 460 hp.
Nissan Z35(?)(400Z) – 2021
It seems Nissan fixed the weight issue with the 370Z, but they can’t seem to find any power. With base model Mustangs in the mid-400’s, the Z is down over 100 horsepower with only a few hundred pounds of weight advantage. Nissan recently announced the all-new Nissan 400Z with little information. Most are assuming it will be rear-wheel drive with a proper six-speed. Rumors are that Nissan is going back to a twin-turbo V6, and they have plenty to choose from. My preference would be a de-tuned version of the GT-R’s motor in the 400 horsepower range. Car and Driver recently reported that it could be a 300 horsepower or 400 horsepower from their Infiniti range. It would be nice to see them come out with 450 horsepower and around 3,300 lbs. That would be the follow-up to the 300ZX we all wanted.