The Nissan Leopard is a line of luxury sports cars built by Japanese carmaker Nissan. The Leopard began life in 1980 and was discontinued in 1999. Leopards were initially based on the Japanese market Nissan Skyline and Nissan Laurel and the American Datsun 910/Nissan Maxima, then later based on the chassis of their Nissan Cedric and Nissan Gloria contemporaries and were rear wheel drive. Final versions were the contributing factors to Nissan's Infiniti M and J products. The Leopard was sold exclusively in Japan at Nissan Blue Stage dealerships.
First generation (1980-1986)
The first Leopard (also known as Leopard TR-X) was introduced in September 1980 as a contender in the upper medium class of cars, including its primary Toyota contender, the Toyota Chaser. The angular body, available as a two-door hardtop coupé and a four-door hardtop sedan, featured very slim C- and D-pillars and large glass surfaces. The wind resistance coefficient of the two-door version is 0.37. At the time of introduction, the two body styles both carried the same price tags. The Leopard featured some industry firsts, for instance a fuel consumption gauge in the dashboard.
Originally the Leopard was available with naturally aspirated inline four- and six-cylinder engines of 1,800, 2,000, and 2,800 cc displacement; the largest engine received an electronic engine management system developed together with Hitachi. The 1.8 liter fours were also originally available with a four-speed manual transmission, all others received five-speeds as standard (or an optional three-speed automatic). In July 1981 a two-liter turbocharged engine was added. Available as a GX, SGX, and ZGX, it had the same maximum output (145 PS) as did the more expensive and heavier 2.8. In September 1982, the Leopard received a mild facelift and with it, the under-performing 2.8 was dropped from the lineup. In June 1984 a limited Turbo Grand Edition with the 300ZX's 230 PS (169 kW) 3 litre turbo engine joined the line-up.
The car is based on the six-cylinder version of the Datsun Bluebird 910, sold in North America as the Datsun 810 (and later renamed the Nissan Maxima). The Japanese version had side view mirrors mounted on the front fenders and (uniquely) had small wipers attached to the top of the mirrors to remove accumulated rain and dirt from the surface of the mirrors. The vehicle's styling seemed to be influenced by its more successful main competitor, the Toyota Soarer. However, when the Leopard was introduced, the styling was already a little dated and the coupé-only Soarer did significantly better in the market.
Second generation: F31 (1986-1992)
The F31 Leopard appeared in February 1986 and was only available as a luxury GT coupé. In the US, 5,000 Leopards were imported (with around 2,500 of those being converted to convertibles by ASC). In the USA, the F31 was called the Infiniti M30. It was Infiniti's first-ever coupé, as well as the only convertible offered by Infiniti at the time. This vehicle shared a platform with the Nissan Skyline R31, and the Nissan Laurel C32 to share development costs.
The F30 and F31 Leopards were direct competitors to the Toyota Soarer. Whereas the Soarer had the 1G-GTE twin-turbo 2L straight six, the similar-looking Leopard coupé came with the options of a VG30DET, VG30DE, VG20DET (post 1988), VG20ET (prior to 1988), and VG20E. Early 2.0 turbo versions had the single-cam (per bank) VG20ET, but from August 1988, the quad cam version appeared. The bodywork was also facelifted at this time, and now featured a somewhat smoother front appearance. Output of the VG30DE engine also increased marginally at the time of the facelift. Available in top spec form was the new turbocharged 3 litre VG30DET engine which produces 255 PS (188 kW). Only the smaller VG20ET and VG20DET engines had intercoolers.
Compared to the Soarer, the Leopard's bodywork is somewhat more angular, but with neater detailing around the windows. The glazing is also flush-fitted, without the unusual proportions of the Soarer's glass.
The VG20 V6 produces surprisingly good torque in turbo form, and is generally quite a reliable unit.
The Leopard F31 had no factory options, but dealers offered the addition of a cellular phone and a CD player/changer. Like the Skyline and 300ZX, the Leopard coupe was a front-engined and rear-wheel drive vehicle. The RE4R01A four-speed automatic with electronic overdrive was used as well as a five-speed manual transmission, which was only available in the domestic Japanese market two-liter engined cars. The differential was a Nissan R200-type open differential.
The Leopard F31 was equipped with the Sonar Suspension II system that was also installed on other Nissan vehicles at the time, which featured a sonar module mounted under the front bumper that scanned the road surface and adjusted the suspension accordingly via actuators mounted on the strut towers. There was also a switch on the center console that allowed the driver to change between "Sport" and "Comfort" settings—essentially "firm" and "soft", respectively.
The Leopard F31's production run lasted for seven years, ending in June 1992 due to lagging sales. Seven years was very long by period Japanese standards, nearly equating the runs of two generations of most Japanese cars of the time. Nobody knows exactly how many Infiniti M30 were produced for the US market, but it has been said that just over 12,000 were made - about half coupés and half convertibles. 38,000 F31 Leopards were sold in Japan during its seven-year production span.