By the early 1980s Nissan had enjoyed huge success with their Z car series. It had begun in 1970 with the Fairlady Z, a name used only in Japan where it was already well-established by Nissan’s earlier Fairlady roadsters. Everywhere else it was sold as the Datsun 240 Z, and in America especially, it sold like hot cakes.
Throughout the 1970s, upgraded versions appeared, and ‘X’ was added to the designation to denote its increasing luxury; but a design rooted in the 1960s inevitably began to show its age.
The Nissan 300 ZX, announced in 1983 as the 1984 model, was the third generation Z, and it was radically different from its predecessors. Usually known as the Z31 from its chassis code, the first incarnation of the 300ZX was a vision of 1980’s styling.
Instead of rounded contours and scooped headlights, it had a wedge profile accentuated by sharp lines, and the headlights were semi-concealed by the Italianate’ long, low nose. It looked clean and powerful, and more luxury GT than pure sports car. Nissan’s US boss claimed with every justification that ‘Its heart is Japan and its soul is America’. Surging sales proved it.
The Nissan 300ZX was the first Z car to get a V6 engine; and though it was heavier and more complex than earlier models, in its standard turbocharged form it was very fast, and very reliable.
The Z31 was America’s best-selling sports car in its day, and prompted several important editions like the pearl-white Shiro Special (designated 300 ZX SS), a total of 1,002 identical cars produced for the US in 1988, capable of 153 mph (246 km/h), and the fastest cars to come out of Japan. No wonder Nissan dropped the Datsun badge – who wouldn’t want their own name on the 300 ZX?
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1984 (until 1989, but NB that the world-beating Z32 chassis model continued to be sold as a Nissan 300 ZX until 1996)
2,960 cc V6 Turbo
(Z31)Top speed of 137 mph (221 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
You’ll see many references to the Nissan 300 ZX as ‘One of the Top Ten Performance Cars’ (Motor Trend, Automobile magazine and Road & Track), including seven consecutive years on Car and Driver’s ‘Ten Best’ list. In fact they refer to the Z32 chassis model. But the Z31 won many showroom stock races too. The actor Paul Newman raced a Trans-Am 300 ZX for Bob Sharp Racing in the 1985 and 1986 SCCA GTI championship.