Nissan is more commonly known for its pickups and its heavy duty trucks, but the Nissan 300ZX changed all that when it charged into the scene in the early 1980s. It was, in a certain sense, one of the few sports cars that were available to the “everyman”—as most people couldn’t afford the fast cars coming out of the Italian giants’ stables. That was the primary innovation, opening a wide world of possibilities where none existed before. It is to their credit that they did more than an amazing job of it.
1984-1989: The first decade
The thing that made the 300ZX such a popular vehicle was because, though the primary focus is on racing speed, it was also tagged as a luxury and comfort-centered car. The first generation, called the Z31 internally, featured five different engine packages: a 2.0-L turbocharged DOHC straight-6, a 2.0-L turbocharged SOHC V6, a 3.0-L turbocharged SOHC V6 (and then one that was naturally-aspirated), and finally a 3.0-L naturally aspirated DOHC V6. This staggering assortment gave consumers an amazing range of choice whether it was pure speed or pure economy that they wanted—and all grades in between too!
Additionally, all five engine options were electronically fuel-injected for reliable efficiency. While the original 300ZX came out an odd right-hand drive overseas, those that sold across the United States were already adapted for left-hand drive. Right off the assembly line, the first iteration of the Nissan 300ZX set out to impress. It notched several wins in the 1986 Trans Am series a scant two years after release.
1990-1996: And half a decade worth of victory
The next generation of the 300ZX was actually nothing like the first generation—nothing was carried over and it was, in fact a whole new beast. The look, for one, was upgraded to give the racer a more modern, edgier, sleeker look—this version could easily slip beside more modern releases and fit in perfectly. It had a much larger footprint over all and featured less jarring edges and smoother curves. As if to shake off its aging 80s look, the entire front end was redone in a manner that could challenge even a comparable Ferrari in the looks department.
More importantly, however, the number of engine packages was trimmed down to two to avoid too much confusion—a naturally aspirated 3.0-L V6 and an impressive twin turbocharged Dual Overhead Cam, 3.0-L V6. Once more, fuel injection was now a standard fixture. This generation of the Nissan 300ZX would enjoy even more success on the raceways with amazing showing at the 1994 24 Hours of Daytona races and a GTS-1 class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This got the 300ZX into a spot of controversy that would have the twin turbo engine “too powerful” and “unfair” to the competition. Not to be upended, the 300ZX captured and still holds the E/BMS land speed record from the 1991 Bonneville Speed Trial: an impressive 260.87 mph. The 300ZX didn’t truly fade into history, it was merely succeeded by the 350Z in 2003.