In the late ’70s, the Datsun Z-cars lost their original sporting intent somewhat. While still sporty automobiles, plusher and plusher interiors, available two-tone paint and other items were making them Z-Broughams. But by 1984, Nissan finally decided to dispose of some of the 280’s Broughamier cues in an effort to recapture the model’s essential roots:
The original 1970 “24-ounce.” Although the new ’84 300ZX retained a nice ride, cushy interior and myriad power assists, it was somewhat closer to that original, sporty little two-seater.
Like the 280ZX, it offered plush interiors, lots of sound insulation and a comfortable ride–but at the same time was quicker and had much-improved handling.
The 300ZX debuted in late ’83, as an ’84 model, and started the “Z31” generation with a bang, with the black-and-silver, limited-edition 50th Anniversary 300ZX Turbo, which was built to commemorate Nissan’s 50th year in business. The 1984 model was one of those transitional “Datsun 300ZX by Nissan” variants, but the following year it was badged solely as a Nissan.
300ZXs came with a 2,960 cc SOHC V6 in both normally-aspirated 160-hp VG30E and 200-horse turbocharged VG30ET versions, with your choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Zero-to-sixty for an ’85 Turbo was 7.3 seconds, while the portlier ’87 2+2 was a bit slower, at 8.7 seconds.
Despite their very different appearance from the earlier 280ZX, the 300 was based off of the 280–even retaining its 91.3″ wheelbase. Also carried over was a voice-alert system (similar to the system on Chrysler K-cars: Your door is a jar!) shared with the top-of-the-line Maxima sedan and wagon.
The 300ZX was the first Z to ditch the classic “sugar scoop” headlights, which were replaced with oh-so-’80s pop-up headlights. The 1986 Zs were slightly updated with most of the cosmetic items of the 50th Anniversary Z. A more drastic restyle occurred for 1987, as you can see from our featured car.
Although more of a driver’s car than the 260 and 280Zs, the 300 was pretty luxurious inside, harkening to the Brougham Zs of just a few years earlier. Multi-adjustable power seats, power windows, leather and cruise control were just a few of the available options. That “gathered leather” on the door panel would not have looked out of place in a Chrysler LeBaron. At least this one has the five-speed manual.
While the 1984-86 Zs are attractive in their own right, I prefer the 1987-89 restyle. The softer curves make the Z a little less severe-looking. At the same time, I like the five-spoke wheels of the earlier version better than the alloys on this one. They are way too Maxima-like for a sports car like this one, if you know what I mean.
I cannot look at one of these cars without thinking of the hilarious 1987 film Blind Date, although the one driven by Bruce Willis was a pre-facelift model–probably an ’86, going by the color-keyed mirrors and bumpers.
Who could forget John Larroquette as Kim Basinger’s deranged ex-boyfriend David, who chases them in an appropriately Broughamy Chrysler Fifth Avenue?
I tried to find the scene in which following a crash into a pet store, a stowaway monkey covers Laroquette’s eyes, causing the Chrysler to then crash into a paint store; it’s perhaps the funniest scene in the movie. Amazingly, it is not posted online, but this screen shot from imcdb.org should give you an idea of the travails this poor M-body was subjected to. Actually, the Fifth Avenue had it pretty easy compared with Walter’s (Willis’s) Z. The car did not have it easy in this movie, although probably nothing a little bodywork and a new pair of doors and T-top hatches wouldn’t fix.
All in all, the 300ZX was a rousing success, with almost 330,000 built between late 1983 and 1989, its last year on the market. A new, much more purposeful 300ZX would appear in 1990.
The new car would bring the Z saga into the 1990s as a genuine sports car, with nary a Brougham cue or velour bucket seat to be found. It was, in my opinion, the most attractive Z since the original 1970 version, but that’s a story for another time.
I ran across today’s black on black 300ZX back in January of 2013. It was the same day that I ran an article on the old site on the Datsun/Nissan 280ZX, this model’s predecessor.
Apparently I had Zs on the brain or something. It was a cloudy, crummy day, and heavy snow was forecast mere hours after I took these photos. At any rate, I never saw this particular Z-car again. You just never know what you might stumble across when you’re running errands, I guess!
Note: movie screenshots are from imcdb.org.
My first car was a 260z that I bought after my mother saw it at a garage sale of all places. The original owner had installed a Holley four barrel on it, which upped the excitement level considerably. He did a poor job of rigging the throttle cable though, so I got pretty good at changing them by the roadside.
I sold it to my little brother after a couple of years when I bought an Alfa Romeo Spider. He drove it into a utility pole before long, emerging with just a broken hand, thanks be to God.
It was a great, great car.
Thanks for the refresher on a forgotten car. The Z was so popular in its day, but other than the early 240Z there seems to be no market interest in them as collectible vehicles and they are very rarely seen today. Even the current 370Z is a forgotten car, as I think they sell about 4 per year globally, perhaps because Nissan hasn’t updated it since the Clinton administration.
The best and worse thing about this car was the engine. Having a decent size V6 was so important to have a real mid size offering and allowed the sports cars to progress from their old ripped off from Mercedes inline 6. That just was not big or torquey enough for America, as Mercedes itself was finding. This Nissan designed, finally 50 years after starting out, V6 served as a template for later similar engines from Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. With their OHC they were providing higher rpm horsepower like their owners coming from their fours expected.
The worst was also the engine. It needed a turbo to make the car more than a enjoyable commuter. Porsche was finding the same thing with their 944. Their engines were just not growing as fast as their weights. This car weighed 27 percent more than the 240Z while horsepower was up only 7 percent. A Corvette lost weight in the same period and so didn’t have to grow its engine or band aide on a turbo to get faster quickly in the 80s. A lot of people put 350s in z cars, nobody puts Nissan 6 or V6s in Corvettes.
The 240Z was a success because it was imagined to be what the UK would build if they still had any R/D money in 1970. The 240Z wasn’t, the British wouldn’t have had to hire a German count to do their styling and wouldn’t have ripped an engine off from Mercedes. The 240Z was close enough though and that generation preferred to get their cars from the axis then the allies.
You are correct, in 1970 the British would have made sure their new engine was a pushrod non-cross-flow head design that leaked oil from day 1, wouldn’t start in cold or hot weather, overheated on a pleasant summer day, and built with loving care that can only come when assembled by Communist voting autoworkers just off a wildcat strike in a plant originally built to make sewing machines in 1887.
The BL OHC E series inline 6 launched in 69 in sedans. It would have been mounted midship in the MGE if built. The British laborer was right to strike. Successive labor and tory governments had just made a massive wealth transfer to the lower class which devalued the currency and the value of laborers work. They deserved a raise.
My parents had a 280z for a few years while I was growing up. Skip to shopping for my first car, we looked at a ’96 300zx (in 1999) but my Dad walked away from deal and I ended up driving an ’89 325i sport. I drove only BMWs up until just a couple years ago. I wonder how my driving passion would be different if I had driven the 300zx for my first car? My husband and I were just talking about the newer 370z and how it’s an underrated car and is overshadowed by the GTR. Would I be JDM partial?!
I SAID, THE DOOR IS AJAR MOTHAFUCKA! WHATTA YOU BLIND AND DEAF?
It only said that after it was reprogrammed at the Buy Here/Pay Here lot.
I knew a guy in college who drove a primed/unpainted 260 or early 280, but had an off-road excursion after falling asleep during a wee hour return from a long distance booty call. Memory fades, but he may have even rolled it, but did walk away without a scratch.
The booty call or the car accident?
I had an ’88 300ZX 2-seater for about a year. It was a 5-speed non-turbo in a beautiful blue with matching velour buckets and t-tops. I loved it, but the first snow storm made me realize my purchase was a mistake. I was driving to work with literally a dusting on the ground and I totally lost control out of nowhere. The car did a 360, and if anyone had been coming the other way I would have been in a horrible wreck. Sadly I sold it but I think of that car all the time.
My Dad had a blue 1975 280Z 2-seater with white bucket seats, it too a 5-speed. As a kid I would sit in the hatch area with my parents up front – imagine that today?? Lol. Dad had that car for many years just sitting in the garage but my Mom hated it so he sold it to a young kid that destroyed it in no time!
I have nothing to add to the discussion except to compliment the comments on this thread.
nice work on the history, but you left out MY model: 1988 300ZX Turbo Shiro Edition. Mine is still in very good shape (122k miles), all original, given that my wife never wanted me to use it! I am still trying to find out the production number as Nissan Japan only produced 1,002 for the United States and 55 for Canada.