Datsun made its reputation with its Z cars, launched in 1970 with the 2.4-liter 240Z sports coupe. The company followed the 240Z with a string of successes, including the 260Z and 280Z. The product line became decidedly more middle-aged at the end of 1978 with the arrival of the GT- and comfort-oriented 280ZX, so Nissan brought the Z car back to a more sporting model with the U.S. introduction of the 300ZX in 1984.
Known internally as the Z31, the initial Nissan 300ZX would run until 1989. And while the Z31 was an evolutionary extension of the original Z line, the new Z32 iteration of the 300ZX, introduced in 1990, was more of a new beginning. The 1990 300ZX was one of the first cars designed with computer software and featured a host of innovations, including optional four-wheel steering in the turbo versions.
The 3.0-liter engine was the only element handed directly down from the Z31 to the Z32 and even that was revised with variable valve timing and dual overhead camshafts. This new configuration produced 222 hp in normally aspirated form. Most noteworthy was the Turbo model, which was upgraded with twin turbochargers and intercoolers. The 300ZX Turbo now wrung 300 hp out of the 3.0-liter mill, had a top speed of 155 mph, and could sprint to 60 mph in fewer than 6 seconds. Independent suspension on all four wheels ensured handling was superb as well.
On the outside, the 300ZX was strikingly new. Sleek, slinky, and less angular, the car was an attractive and cohesive modern design. Front and rear bumpers were better integrated into the car’s lines, and subtle fender flares and a purposeful stance hinted at the car’s performance potential. With looks to match the drive, critics instantly fell in love with the car and lauded it throughout its seven-year U.S. run.
In 1993, a convertible was presented for the first time in the Z’s history, though most cars were configured with T-tops. The 300ZX was discontinued Stateside in 1996, as the car’s sticker price rose and American tastes shifted towards SUVs. It would be another seven years before the Z name was revived in America in the 350Z.
Nissan’s Z32 300ZX doesn’t have a sizable following today even though it has a fantastic reputation. This can mostly be attributed to the car's relatively young age. For collectors, this is good news as prices remain low, and the fun-per-dollar quotient is just about as good as it gets. Being a modern car, though, the 300ZX doesn’t have same aura as older cars, and it also has plenty of electronics that can be expensive to fix. Like any older car purchase, it pays to perform a thorough inspection and to find an example with lots of documented history.