Starting out in 1969 with the 240Z, the Datsun Z-cars have been popular in Japan, where they are known as the Fairlady Z (Note: the Fairladys used 2000 cc L series motors), the United States, and the United Kingdom. Even with their good looks, reliability, and strong performance, they have been remarkably affordable automobiles. The Nissan Z cars also currently holds the record of best selling sports car series of all time with around 1,685,000 in five generations.
Production of the 240Z started on October 1969, with 2 separate versions: one for the Japanese market and one for the US market. The Japanese 240Z featured a SOHC L20 inline-6 producing , while the US 240Z had a L24 inline-6 with twin SU carburetors that produced . A third Z, the 432Z(PS30) shared a performance version of the S20 engine with the Skyline GT-R. The US 240Z's engine was not designed with racing in mind as was the Japanese engine, as the Japanese did not think anybody in America would seriously race it there. In Japan, the car was still known as the Fairlady to keep in line with past Nissan sports cars; Katayama fought furiously to have all American badging replaced with "240Z" and refused all dealers to receive cars until he had done so.
The 240Z was released in America on October 22, 1969, and became an instant hit. Combining good looks, powerful performance, and luxury features, it sold over 30,000 units in 1971 and over 50,000 and 40,000 in 1972 and 1973, respectively.
1974 saw the 240Z's engine displacement increased to 2.6 liters, bringing a name change to 260Z, as well as a 2+2 model. Despite the engine size increase, power went down to 139 in the most areas of the US market thanks to new camshafts and carburetors in the face of stiffening emissions regulations. In other regions the power was increased to .
In 1975, the Nissan 280Z (not to be confused with the 280ZX, which is a second-generation Z-car) was introduced after another engine displacement enlargement to 2.8 liters. A major change was the introduction of Bosch fuel injection, replacing the previous SU carbs. This resulted in a power increase to , enough to offset the added luxury and enlarged bumpers to meet US Federal regulations.
The 280ZX. The only thing that was left unchanged from the previous 280Z was the 5-speed manual transmission and 2.8-liter L28 inline-6 engine, while the entire car overall was made more luxurious to meet growing consumer demands. Major changes for this new generation of Z-cars include t-tops, introduced in 1980, and a turbocharged model introduced in 1981, complementing the naturally aspirated (NA) 2-seater and NA 2+2 models. Coupled to either a 3-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission, the turbocharged model was capable of and of torque, over the and of the NA engine.
Notable models include the 10th Anniversary Edition, featuring gold emblems, gold alloy wheels, and two-toned paint in either gold/red and black, with luxury features such as leather seats, headlamp washers, and automatic climate control.
The 280ZX was wildly popular, being hailed as Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1979 and going on to set a Z-car sales record of 86,007 units in its first year. While on the one hand it received universal praise for taking the Z-car to further levels of comfort and performance, many enthusiasts also lamented the further emphasis on luxury over driving fun. This would continue with the third generation of Z-car, with a clean-sheet redesign that would take the Z-car to further heights.
The Z-car was completely redesigned in 1984, and introduced Nissan's new series of 3.0-liter V6 engine, dubbed the VG series. The same engine was used in the Electramotive (later to become NPTI) GTP ZX-Turbo that dominated the IMSA GTP races in 1988 and 1989. These were available in both VG30E naturally-aspirated and VG30ET turbocharged forms producing 160 and 200 bhp (120 and 150 kW) respectively, although some VG30ET powered Z-cars exported outside of the US produced due to a longer cam duration and less emission restrictions. These were showcased in sleek new wedge-shaped styling and given a new name, the 300ZX. Like its predecessor, it also proved to be wildly popular and was the second-best selling Z-car in history selling over 70,000 units due in part not only to its new styling but also to even more added luxury features and high performance. When the 300ZX Turbo was released in Japan it offered the highest HP available in a Japanese standard production car at the time. Much like the 280ZX that preceded it, the first-gen 300ZX was thought by enthusiasts as more GT than true sports car. It had improved handling, acceleration, and refinement on the previous model Z car, but still could not rejuvenate the original spirit of the 240Z.
Nissan made various changes and claimed improvements to the Z31 model through its entire production. In 1983 Nissan first offered the 300ZX in Japan. It was introduced in the US one year later. All US-market 1984 model Nissan vehicles carried both Datsun and Nissan nameplates. Along with the arrival of their new flagship sports coupe, Nissan launched an aggressive marketing campaign to promote the brand name change from Datsun to Nissan. The 1984 Models can technically be considered the only year of the "Datsun 300ZX". The 1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition was released in celebration of the company's 50th anniversary year. It was based on the standard 300ZX Turbo, but was outfitted with every luxury feature available, a unique black interior with "bodysonic" leather seats in addition to widened fender flares, requisite badging, rear quarter panel flares, and sixteen-inch (406 mm) wheels (400 mm).
For the 1985 model year, Nissan dropped the Datsun name brand for good. Minor changes were made to the 300ZX including a water-cooled turbocharger, smoked taillights, and body-color bumpers.
The 1986 model saw wider flared wheel wells, and the rear quarter panels were designed specifically to accommodate factory ground effects. 1986 turbo models were equipped with an ordinary hood, markedly losing the turbo "scoop" on the drivers side.
In order to keep up with quickly aging aesthetics, another slight redesign happened in 1987, consisting of new rounded, restyled and longer front and rear bumpers, new headlights, and new tail lights. The black trim on turbo models was now a charcoal instead of gloss black, and 1987 Turbo models came with special "smoked" turbo-finned wheels. All 1987 model year turbo cars also received an upgraded manual transmission, larger and more powerful brakes, and turbo cars produced from 4/87 and later came equipped with a clutch-type limited-slip differential.
For the 1988 models, there were again a few small changes. The turbocharger was switched from the Garrett T3 turbo to a lower-inertia T25 turbo, and the engine from 7.8:1 to an 8.3:1 compression ratio in order to reduce turbocharger spool time and provide instant boost at any usable RPM. The interior aluminum accents and chrome door handles that adorned the earlier cars were dropped in favor of matching color parts. Another special edition, the "Shiro Special" (SS), was released in 1988. It was only available in pearl white (shiro meaning "white" in Japanese). The SS package consisted of analog gauges and climate controls with a black interior, stiffer sway bars, stiffer springs, non-adjustable suspension, special seats (recaro), a viscous-coupling limited slip differential, and a special front lower lip spoiler. This package had no options; all 88SS cars are identical.
The 1989 Models are identical to 1988 models, though somewhat rare because of Nissan winding-down production early in preparation for the second generation 300ZX.
The only thing that remained unchanged from the previous 300ZX is the 3.0-liter displacement, now with dual overhead camshafts and producing a rated and 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 between 280 and 300 hp (210 and 224 kW) along with 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 .
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.
One of the first few cars completely designed with CAD software, it featured a whole host of technological advancements. On top-of-the-line 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; however, everything fit perfectly with merely the slightest of bulges. The VG30DE(TT) engine also featured dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing.
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" to enthusiasts) produced as well.
The 300ZX was doomed to the same fate of many Japanese sports cars at the time. The mid-'90s trend toward SUVs and away from sports cars was influential in ending production in 1996 at over 80,000 units sold. However, the biggest killer of the 300ZX was its inflated price; at its release it was priced at a little over $30,000, but in its final year this price had increased to over $50,000. This left many people questioning its value, and despite a final Commemorative Edition of 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 on for a few more years with a facelift including new rear turn signal len and chrome housing headlight.
The Z-car went on hiatus from 1996 to 2002, as Nissan was not only focusing on SUVs but was also in financial trouble. Many people believed that Nissan would not live to see the new millennium, and that the Z-car would die with it. To keep Z-car interest alive, the company launched a restoration program in 1998 where they purchased original 240Zs, professionally restored them, and sold them at dealerships for $24,000.
Furthermore, Nissan launched a concept car at the 1999 North American International Auto Show, the 240Z Concept. Clearly a throwback to the original, it was a bright orange two-seater with classic swept-back styling . In addition, it was fully functioning, with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder KA24DE engine from the Nissan Altima featuring and of torque. The designers used an original 240Z to provide inspiration and the concept was created from drawing to running vehicle in only 12 weeks.
The running concept, featuring a paltry 4-cylinder in the face of the Z-car's traditional 6-cylinder engines, was thought a less than a worthy successor to the line.
When Carlos Ghosn of French company Renault stepped in, buying 44.4% of the company in 1999 and becoming its chief operating officer, people still had reason to believe that the Z-car would be lost in the shuffle and would never reappear again. Massive restructuring on a scale never before seen by the Japanese automakers led to such fears, among layoffs, corporate restructuring, and product management issues that resulted. Yet Ghosn surprised people after becoming CEO by telling reporters: "We will build the Z. And we will make it profitable.
Finally in August 2001, Nissan introduced the Z Concept. Much like its previous Z concept, it debuted at the North American International Auto Show and was also painted bright orange. The squat, long-hood/short-deck styling was the result of a competition between Nissan's Japanese, European, and American design studios, with the La Jolla, California studio's design being chosen. The product planners wisely decided to avoid the price problems that plagued the last few years of the 300ZX and shot for a target MSRP of $30,000 while using the Porsche Boxster as a benchmark.
In the summer of 2002, the 350Z was finally released to wide acclaim. It used the 3.5-liter VQ35DE engine from multiple Nissan cars, including the Maxima and Pathfinder. This engine initially produced and torque, but in 2005 was bumped up to an even and . Prices started at $26,000 US, well below the $30,000 mark initially set. Coupled to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic (the auto loses in comparison), it is currently available only as a 2-seater hardtop and a convertible, introduced in 2004, and there will not likely be a 2+2 configuration. There are 5 trim packages available, featuring options such as Bose audio systems and leather seats, with the top-of-the-line trim being the Nismo limited edition. This included revised camshafts, a Nismo sport tune exhaust, custom RAYS Engineering wheels (in rear), front and rear spoilers and rear diffuser, a Brembo braking system with four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers (with front and rear rotors).
The 2005 35th Anniversary and 2006 350Z with manual transmissions receives a new engine, the 3.5L VQ35DE rev-up, which increases the redline to 7000 rpm and increased power to . And all 2007-2008 350Z models comes with the newer 3.5L VQ35HR engine with dual intakes, 7500 rpm redline, and increased power to .
So far, there have been many special editions released in Japan, Europe, and the US, with the most notable being the 35th Anniversary Edition. Celebrating 35 years of the Z-car (as opposed to the 300ZX Z31's 50th Anniversary Edition commemorating the company), it was based on the Track Edition and came in three colors (Ultra Yellow, Silverstone and Super Black), special 5-spoke wheels, and special Z emblems.
The second generation, the 280ZX, introduced in 1979 was a complete re-design, retaining only the L28 engine and other driveline components. A turbo option was introduced, bringing performance surpassing that of the original 240Z.
The third generation, the 300ZX, switched to a 3.0 L V6. There were 2 generations of the 300ZX, the Z31 from 1984-1989, and the Z32 from 1990-1996. Both the Z31 and Z32 came in either non-turbo or turbo trims. During the 90's the cars price continued to elevate and sales continued to fall. Even a major design change in 1998 couldn't save it, and production finally ended in 1999. The turbo Z32 model still boasts the fastest production 1/4 mile time (13.8 @ 101mph), giving it the greatest acceleration and making it the fastest of any (factory trim, unmodified) Z-car to date.
In the 2003 model year, Nissan reentered the US sports-car market with the 350Z, powered by a 3.5 L V6, and styled in an attempt to create a more modern interpretation of the 240Z's lines. It had a new 6-speed manual gearbox, and is capable of over .
The first generation of Z-car is known for unusually quick acceleration and firm handling, easily comparable to sports cars of that era such as various in-line six British racers and even the Porsche 911, but with lower purchase and maintenance costs. The most sought after are the earliest 240Zs, due to their being unencumbered with emissions regulations and powered by high-compression engines. In 1998, Nissan even offered restored 240Zs through its dealerships.
V8 conversions are popular, due to the car's unusually large engine bay, and several companies specialize in producing such conversions. Many forums exist for modified cars, being the major ones.
The 280ZX introduced in 1979, while maintaining a similar look and drivetrain compared to earlier models, was not as well-regarded due the addition of even more heavy accessories and emissions controls, making it less of a sports car and more of a GT (Grand Touring). This sentiment continued with the 300ZX. The first generation 300ZX, although far more powerful than its predecessors, was thought as somewhat of a luxury cruiser as opposed to a sports car despite selling in large numbers. The second generation 300ZX was much improved as a sports car and won high praise from magazines and enthusiasts alike, especially in Twin Turbo Z32 form, but later became too expensive and at odds with the affordability offered by the original 240Z.
Nissan has managed to regain the reputation of the Z-car with the 350Z, an affordable car that combines strong performance with good looks.
Three of the Autobots in Transformers (Prowl, Bluestreak and Smokescreen) all had the ability to disguise themselves as Nissan Fairlady Z's. Prowl sports a lightbar on his roof and a Japanese Police car color scheme, while Smokescreen has modified bumpers and a spoiler. The latest incarnation of Prowl has an alternate mode resembling a Nissan 350Z, as well.