Sold on the Japanese market from 1983 through 2000 and in the United States from 1984 through 1996, the 300ZX name followed the numerical convention initiated with the 240Z, put forth by Yutaka Katayama, the one time president of Nissan Motors USA. The "X" designation had debuted with the previous generation Z car, the 280ZX, to signify the presence of luxury and comfort oriented features. The Z31 model of 1983 through 1989 was the more popular model, with over 100,000 more units sold than the Z32.
The Z31 generation featured 5 different motor packages. A turbocharged dual over head cam 2.0L straight six (RB20DET, found in 200zr), a turbocharged single over head cam 2.0L V6 (VG20ET, found in 200Z/ZS/ZG), a naturally aspirated single over head cam 3.0L V6 (VG30E, found in 300zx), a turbocharged single over head cam 3.0L V6 (VG30ET, found in 300zx Turbo) and a naturally aspirated dual over head cam 3.0L V6 (VG30DE, found in 300zr). The Z32 came with 2 different motor packages, a naturally aspirated dual over head cam 3.0L V6 (VG30DE) and a twin turbocharged dual over head cam 3.0L V6 (VG30DETT). All Z31 and Z32 motors carried electronic fuel injection (EFI), and were mounted for a rear wheel drive set up. All models came in either right hand drive, or in North America, they came in left hand drive respectively.
Two Special Edition versions of the Z31 generation model were produced; a 50th Anniversary Edition celebrated the company's semi-centennial in 1984 and boasted additional luxury features, and a "Shiro Special", released 4 years later, boasted performance-oriented upgrades. The Z32 was virtually entirely new at the time of its release, with nearly nothing being carried over from the Z31. One of the most significant and obvious changes was the redesigned body, which had a wider footprint, a rounder profile with fewer hard edges and a reduced drag coefficient of .31 compared to the Z31's .30. Twin Turbocharged Z32s also featured a then-new active rear wheel steering systems called "Super HICAS", which was actuated hydraulically until 1994 when Nissan switched to an electric actuator. Nissan designated the final 300 units earmarked for North American sale in 1996 as "Commemorative Edition" cars, although nothing new or exclusive to the model was actually present; In fact, 1996 model years vehicles did not feature Nissan's NVTC variable valve timing system, which had been present on all Z32 generation models prior to that point. Production continued in Japan until August 2000, with styling updates and the addition of HID headlamps in 1998.
In racing trim, the 300ZX achieved several notable victories, including wins in the 1986 Trans Am series and 1994 24 Hours of Daytona. However, auto sports politics and a GTS-1 class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that same year prompted the International Motor Sports Association to declare the twin turbo engine illegal for future competition. The 300ZX also holds the E/BMS land speed record of 419.84 km/h (260.87 mph) from the 1991 Bonneville Speed Trial.
The Z32 300ZX was the first car to be sold following the introduction of a 280-hp power ceiling imposed by JAMA that remained until 2004.
The Z31, unlike its predecessors it featured a V6 engine in the 200Z/ZS/ZG, 300ZX and 300ZR, and the only Z31 to come with a I6 was the Fairlady 200ZR which was only available in Japan. In its time it was a popular car that sold more models than the latter Z32, and followed the old S30 pricing of an affordable sports car for the middle class. The Z32 300ZX changed everything. It was praised by critics and journalists during its lifetime for its performance, styling, comfort and use of technology, but was higher in pricing throughout its years, which damaged the sales. Car and Driver placed the car on its Ten Best list for 7 consecutive years, meaning it made the list during every year of its availability in the United States, and Motor Trend awarded it as the 1990 Import Car of the Year.
The Nissan 350Z, officially the Z33 generation Z-Car, succeeded the 300ZX in 2003.
The Z31 chassis designation was first introduced in 1983 as a 1984 Nissan/Datsun 300ZX (the hatch lid had both a Datsun badge and a Nissan badge) in the US only. The 300ZX, as its predecessors, was known as a Nissan in other parts of the world. This continued in the US until 1985 model year when Nissan standardized their brand name worldwide and dropped the Datsun badge. A note can be made that all publications for the Z31 chassis 300ZX and its predecessors were copyright Nissan North America. Designed by Kazumasu Takagi and his team of developers, the 300ZX improved aerodynamics and increased power when compared to its predecessor, the 280ZX. The newer Z-car had a drag coefficient of 0.30 and was powered by Japan's first mass-produced V6 engine instead of an I6. According to Nissan, "the V6 engine was supposed to re-create the spirit of the original Fairlady Z.
This new V6 (2960 cc) Single overhead cam engine was available as a naturally aspirated VG30E or a turbocharged VG30ET producing 160 hp (119 kW) and 200 hp (150 kW) respectively. The engine was either a type A or type B sub-designation from 1984 to March 1987, while models from April 1987 to 1989 had a W sub-designation. The W-series engines featured redesigned water jackets for additional cooling, and fully floating piston wrist pins. The 1984 to 1987 turbo models featured a Garrett T3 turbocharger with a 7.8:1 compression ratio, whereas 1988 to 1989 models featured a low inertia T25 turbocharger with an increased 8.3:1 compression ratio and slightly more power—165 hp naturally aspirated and 205 hp (153 kW) turbocharged. Finally, these engines were equipped with self-adjusting hydraulic valve lifters. The transmissions were a 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic (contrary to popular belief, all Z31 automatics were the E4N71B equipped with torque-converter lockup INCLUDING turbo models.) All Z31's were equipped with a Nissan R200 rear differential, April 1987 and later turbo models received an R200 clutch limited-slip differential except 1988 Shiro Special's which had a Viscous-type limited slip. There were three trim models available: SF, GL and GLL. The SF model was only available in Canada.
Similar to Chrysler's Electronic Voice Alert, the 1984-1986 Z31 GL and GLL models featured a voice warning system, called "Bitchin' Betty" by Z31 enthusiasts.
The 200Z, 200ZG, and 200ZS used the VG20ET engine while the 200ZR came with the RB20DET. The 300ZX could come with either the VG30E or VG30ET. The only factory Z31 variant to use the VG30DE engine was the 300ZR.
The European models made 241 hp (180 kW) in turbo form due to a better camshaft profile, also known outside of Europe as the Nismo camshafts. Some models were also equipped without catalytic converters. All European turbocharged models received a different front lower spoiler as well, with 84-86 models being unique and 87-89 production having the same spoiler as the USDM 1988 "SS" model.
All Australian model z31 300zx's were 2+2 targa top body. The cars sold in 1984 and '85 were all naturally aspirated with no catalytic converter, while the turbocharged version was the only model available from 1986 to 1988. There was only one trim level in Australia, with the digital dashboard and climate control being an optional upgrade package, and leather seats only available in the redesigned series 3 "Californian" models. The Australian model Z31's factory specified power output has not been confirmed to this date. The turbo models are rumoured to make the same 241 hp (180 kW) as the European model z31's, but the presence of the more aggressive camshafts has not been confirmed. The Australian factory service manual provides camshaft measurements which do not match any of the known USDM or EDM camshaft profiles, the FSM states the exhaust valve has an open duration of 252 degrees, but the specified opening and closing angles add up to 258 degrees. All Australian publication content express that N/A versions possess 166 hp (124 kW), along with the turbocharged versions as 208 hp (155 kW). The Australian 50th Anniversary Edition was more basic than the US version, the 50th AE was a normal n/a 300zx with the digital dash package, a black interior, black velour seats and a 50th AE badge on the exterior. The exterior badge was fixed to the cars by dealerships, so the position of the badge is not the same on all models. There was no Shiro Special in Australia, and no models featured the adjustable shock absorbers.
The Z31 chassis was based on the 280ZX, but improved upon it. Although the newer chassis had the same wheelbase and MacPherson strut/semi-trailing arm independent suspension, it handled and accelerated better than the 280ZX it replaced. Turbocharged models, except for the Shiro Special edition, had an additional innovation: 3-way electronically adjustable shock absorbers.
Special Z31 releases
Nissan manufactured two special Z31 models. The 1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition, released to celebrate Nissan's half-century, was a fully loaded turbocharged model with a Silver/Black color scheme. All 50th Anniversary Edition came equipped with a digital dash including MPG and compass readouts, in-car electronic adjustable shocks, Bodysonic speakers in the seats, cruise and radio controls in the steering wheel, mirrored t-tops, embroidered leather seats, embroidered floor mats, sixteen-inch (406 mm) aluminum wheels, rear fender flares, different front fenders, and 50th AE logo badges on the body. The only option available to the 50th Anniversary Edition was the choice between an automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission. 5,148 AE models were produced for the US market. Notably, 1984 also marks the last year of turbochargers cooled entirely by oil. 1985 turbo models are equipped with coolant passages to ensure turbo longevity. In 1988, the turbocharged Shiro Special debuted with pearl white paint, stiffer springs and matched shocks, heavy-duty anti-sway bars, a unique front air dam, paint matched wheels, Recaro seats with matching door panels, painted bumperettes, white painted doorhandles and a viscous limited-slip differential. No options were available for the Shiro, meaning all Shiros were identical. It was the fastest car out of Japan, capable of 153 mph (246 km/h) speeds, as tested by Motor Trend with the electronic speed limiter disabled. A total of 1002 Shiro Special Z31s were produced for the US market between January and March 1988.
Style and evolution
The Z31 body was slightly restyled in 1986 with the addition of side skirts, fender flares, and sixteen inch (406 mm) wheels (all directly from the 1984 50th Anniversary Edition with the exception of the fender flares). Many black plastic trim pieces were also painted to match the body color, and the hood scoop was removed to provide a sleeker look. The car was given a final makeover in 1987 that included more aerodynamic bumpers, fog lamps within the front air dam, and 9004 bulb-based headlamps that replaced the outdated sealed beam headlights. The 300ZX-titled reflector in the rear was updated to a narrow set of tail lights running the entire width of the car and an LED third brake light on top of the rear hatch. The Z31 continued selling until 1989, more than any other Z-Car at the time. Over 70,000 units were sold in 1985 alone. Cars produced from 1984-1986 are referred to as "Zenki" models, while cars produced from 1987-1989 are known as "Kouki" models signifying the change in body styling.
The only thing that remained unchanged from the previous generation 300ZX was the displacement of the 3-liter engine, now with dual overhead camshafts(DOHC), variable valve timing(VVT) and producing a rated 222 hp (166 kW) and 198 lb·ft (268 N·m) in naturally aspirated form. The big news for enthusiasts, however, was the turbo variant, now upgraded with twin Garrett turbochargers and dual intercoolers. This was good for 300 hp (224 kW) along with 283 lb·ft (384 N·m) of torque. Performance varied from 0-60 times of 5.0-6.0 seconds depending on the source, and it had a governed top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h).
Upon its release, the new 300ZX became an instant hit, winning Motor Trend's "Import Car of the Year" in 1990 as well as "One of the Top Ten Performance Cars". Automobile Magazine honors the 300ZX/300ZX Turbo as its "Design of the Year" and adds it to their "All Stars" list. Road & Track names the 300ZX Turbo "One of the Ten Best Cars in the World", and Car and Driver adds it to their 10Best for the seven years in which it was in production in America. American Z-car sales reach the one million sales mark in the 1990 model year, making it the all-time best selling sports car.
Nissan utilized the Cray-II supercomputer to completely design the new 300ZX with a form of CAD software.This made the 300ZX one of the first production cars to be developed in a CAD program. In return, it featured a whole host of technological advancements. On the twin turbo models, four-wheel steering was available under the name Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering). The twin turbochargers, intercoolers, and requisite plumbing left for a cramped engine bay.
Like previous generations Nissan offered a 2+2 model with the Z32. In 1993, a convertible version was introduced for the first time in the Z-car's history, as a response to aftermarket conversions. All 300ZXs now featured T-tops as standard, yet there were some rare hardtops (known as slicktops) produced as well.
The 300ZX was doomed to the same fate of many Japanese sports cars of the time. The mid-'90s trend toward SUVs and the rising Yen:Dollar ratio were both influential in ending North American 300ZX sales in 1996 at over 80,000 units sold (production for other markets continued until 2000). In 1990 the 300ZX was priced at about $30,000, but in its final year this price had increased to around $50,000. This left many people questioning its value, and despite a final Commemorative Edition for the final 300 units shipped to America (complete with decals and certificates of authenticity), the Z-Car was on hiatus. In Japan, however, the 300ZX lived until 2000 with a face-lift in 1998 including a new fascia, tail lights, head lights, rear spoiler, and a few other minor changes.
Style and evolution
The Z32 chassis would likewise undergo several changes throughout its US production run between 1989 and 1996. Among the milestone safety additions are the inclusion of standard driver and passenger-side airbags and true pillar-mount seat belts. The Z32's extended model year sales in 1990 reached 39,290 units.
In 1984 to 1985 showroom stock racing, the 300ZX captured wins on numerous occasions. The car scored a Trans Am win in 1986 at Lime Rock by Paul Newman for Bob Sharp Racing. This would be the only Trans Am win by a 300ZX.
From 1985 to 1987, the Electramotive-developed GTP ZX-Turbo was raced in the IMSA GT Championship's GTP class and also the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, badged as a Fairlady Z, using a Lola T810 chassis and a VG30ET engine. Following development through 1987, the car would become dominant in IMSA GT in 1988. Additional factory endorsement, combined with a new chassis, transmission and more reliable Goodyear tires contributed to the team's success. The SOHC VG30ET was making upwards of 1,000 hp (700 kW), with a power band that extended from 4000 to 9000 rpm on a single turbo.
From 1990 to 1995, Steve Millen drove the twin turbo 300ZX for Clayton Cunningham Racing. The car dominated the IMSA in its GTO, then later GTS categories due to its newly designed chassis and engine. Millen would rank as the #1 Factory Driver for Nissan for 7 years and earn two IMSA GTS Driving Championships and two IMSA GTS Manufacturer's Championships. Among enthusiasts and the team themselves, the biggest triumph for the race Z32 was the victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona. In the same year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 300ZX ranked first in the GTS-1 class and 5th overall. In an attempt to level the playing field in the GTS-1 class by reducing the allowable horsepower, the IMSA declared the twin turbo VG engine ineligible. The 1995 GTS 300ZX car would debut with the V8 Nissan VH engine at Daytona and would place first in the GTS-1 class at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Mosehead Grand Prix in Halifax.
The JUN-BLITZ Bonneville Z32 holds the E/BMS class land speed record of 260.87 mph (419.84 km/h) set at the 1995 Bonneville Speed Trial. The vehicle was built as a partnership between JUN Auto and BLITZ. This record remains unbroken. In 1990 JUN's first Z32 went 210.78 mph (339.2 kph) at their Yatabe test course and hit 231.78 mph (373 km/h) after some tuning at Bonneville.
Awards and recognition
- 1990: The 1990 300-ZX Turbo is named Motor Trend's "Import Car of the Year". Motor Trend also names it, "One of the Top Ten Performance Cars". Automobile Magazine honours the 300-ZX/300ZX Turbo as its "Design of the Year", and names the 300ZX Turbo to its "All Stars" list. Road & Track names the 300ZX Turbo "One of the Ten Best Cars in the World". Car and Driver names the 300ZX Turbo "One of the 10 Best Cars".
- 1991: The 300ZX Turbo is named to Car and Driver 's "10 Best" list, and is once again one of Automobile Magazine's "All-Stars".
- 1992: For the third straight year, Car and Driver names the 300ZX Turbo one of its "10 Best", and Automobile Magazine names it to its "All-Stars" list.
- 1993: For the fourth straight year, the 300ZX Turbo is named a Car and Driver "10 Best", and one of Automobile Magazine's "All-Stars".
- 1994: For the fifth straight year, the 300ZX Turbo is named to the "10 Best" and "All Stars" lists by Car and Driver and Automobile Magazine, respectively.
- 1995: For the sixth straight year the 300ZX Turbo is named to the "10 Best" list by Car and Driver.
- 1996: For the seventh straight year the 300ZX Turbo is named to the "10 Best" list by Car and Driver, this is also the final year of production in the US.
Even after production stopped magazines have continued to rave and award the 300ZX years later.
- 2004: Automobile lists the Z32 as one of the 100 greatest cars of all time.
- 2006: Automobile lists the Z32 on both the "20 Greatest Cars of the Past 20 years" and the "25 Most Beautiful Cars in History".
"once again beautiful, so sleek and tight and shimmering that it still looks great ten years after it went away" -Automobile, 2006
- 2010: GQ Magazine lists the Z32 as one of the most stylish cars over the past 50 years.
From the year it was introduced, the Z32 has also won many comparison tests against similar sports cars such as the Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth, Mazda RX-7, Chevrolet Corvette, Toyota Supra, Dodge Viper, and the Porsche 968.