Nissan 300ZX History

Nissan’s Z-car was completely revamped for the 1983 (1984 in the US) model year. The previous models, the 240Z, 260Z, 280Z and the 280ZX, were all well received but Nissan needed something new. Designed by Kazumasu Takagi, the Z31 300ZX featured improved aerodynamics and increased power when compared to the 280ZX. The new, streamlined body had a drag coefficient of 0.30 and the car was powered by Japan’s first mass-produced V6 engine instead of an inline 6 that was typically used. Nissan stated that the new V6 engine found in the 300ZX would re-create the spirit of the original Fairlady Z that was so loved. The Japanese company offered a total of five engine options for the Z31:
  • 2.0-litre VG20ET V6 Turbo (200Z, 200ZG, 200ZS)
  • 2.0-litre RB20DET I6 Turbo (200ZR)
  • 3.0-litre VG30E V6 (300ZX)
  • 3.0-litre VG30ET V6 Turbo (300ZX Turbo)
  • 3.0-litre VG30DE V6 (300ZR)
The five different engine options were then mated to the following transmission options:
  • five-speed FS5W71C manual
  • five-speed FS5R90A manual
  • five-speed FS5R30A manual
  • four-speed Jatco E4N71B automatic
In the United States, the 300ZX was originally sold under the Nissan/Datsun name (the hatch lid had both a Nissan and a Datsun badge), but this was dropped following the 1985 model year when Nissan decided to standardise their branding. From 1984 to March 1987, 300ZX cars featured either a type A or type B engine designation and a Garret T3 turbocharger. Models from 1987 to 1989 had a W engine designation and a low inertia T25 engine was fitted for the last two years of the Z31’s production. The later engines featured slightly more power at around 205 hp for turbocharged models and 165 hp for naturally aspirated ones. All Z31 300ZXs came equipped with a Nissan R200 rear differential, but turbo models produced after April 1987 came with a clutch limited-slip differential. The only exception to this was the Shiro Special, which came with a Viscous-type limited slip diff. Nissan based the Z31’s chassis off its predecessor, the 280ZX. While the new chassis had the same wheelbase and MacPherson suspension system, it handled much better than the previous car. Acceleration was much improved as well, thanks to the new line of engines and the updated chassis design. All turbo models, expect for the Shiro Special, featured 3-way electronically adjustable shocks. Some select Z31s were fitted with a digital gauge cluster that used a special ‘Voice Warning System’ to alert the driver to problems such as open doors or low fuel. The system uses the car’s radio and driver’s door to sound the warning, which means it no longer functions if an aftermarket head unit is installed. The Z31 had other notable features such as a “Body Sonic” audio system that used a separate amplifier and speakers in in the front seats to let the occupants feel the base from the music. Additionally, a fully digital climate control system could also be installed.

Z31 Special Editions

Nissan 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition
Nissan produced two special edition versions of the Z31; the 50th Anniversary 300ZX in 1984 and the “Shiro Special” 300ZX four years later. The 50th Anniversary Z31 was released to celebrate half-a-century of the company, and was painted in a special silver and black colour scheme. In the United States all 50th anniversary cars came with a turbocharger, a digital dash and ancillary gauges such as a G-force meter and average mileage. The car was also kitted out with electronically adjustable shocks, Bodysonic speakers, embroidered leather seats, special 16-inch aluminium wheels, flared wheel arches and 50th Anniversary logo badges. Over 5,000 Anniversary Edition Z31s were produced for the U.S. and Canadian markets. Australian buyers could get a non-turbocharged 2+2 version of the Anniversary Edition.
Nissan 300ZX Shiro Special
In 1988, Nissan launched the turbocharged Shiro Special that was finished in pearl white paint. It was more performance orientated, with stiffer springs and shocks, heavy-duty anti-sway bars, paint matched wheels, Recaro seats, a unique front air dam, white painted door handles and a limited-slip diff. Nissan offered no options for the Shiro, what you saw is what you got. At the time, it was the fastest car to come out of the land of the rising sun, capable of hitting 153 mph (246 km/h) with the limiter removed. The United States received just over 1,000 of these Shiro Specials between January and March 1988. Throughout its life, the Z31 received minor styling changes and updates. In 1986 Nissan fitted new side skirts, 16-inch wheels (turbo-models) and flared the wheel arches slightly. They also painted many of the black plastic trim pieces to match the car. Nissan gave the Z31 its final makeover in 1987. The car got more aerodynamic bumpers and bulb-based headlamps that replaced the sealed beam ones. The Z31 300ZX continued to sell until 1989 and by the time production had ended, well over 300,000 examples had been produced. Nissan would completely redesign the 300ZX for the next generation car.

Z32 300ZX History

The Z32 was a complete step up from the Z31. It was much more technologically advanced, more stylish and had a lot more performance. Along with the 240Z, the Z32 300ZX is arguably the most famous of Nissan’s Z cars. The story of the Z32 300ZX starts with designer, Toshio Yamashita. He wasn’t just content with building a replacement for the Z31, he wanted to change how cars were designed and make something special. Yamashita originally went to school to become an architect, but his farther believed he was too small to work on building sites. Instead, he signed Yamashita up for an industrial design program. Yamashita got his first gig at Nissan in 1968 and his first big break came in 1984 when he got to work as a lead designer on the Z32. The other lead designer was Isao Sono. At the time, Nissan’s Z car range was incredibly important to the company. It helped drive profits and improve Nissan’s reputation as a quality manufacturer, especially in the United States.

The Birth of the Z32 300ZX

Originally, Nissan wanted designers to submit designs for both the Z32 and the new Silvia (240SX in the United States), but Yamashita only submitted one for the 300ZX. He worked on the Z32’s design proposal at home. Yamashita and his wife had just had a baby. When his wife and the baby went away with her parents, he worked on the project, perfecting the design of the new 300ZX. While Yamashita was busy with his new baby, the real reason he only submitted one design is because he was only interested in the 300ZX. Out of all the designs submitted, Yamashita’s was chosen as the winner. Compared to the Z31, his design was sleeker, more aggressive and dropped the familiar 240Z-style look. It was a car that would move Nissan’s Z-series out of the 1980s and into the high-tech 1990s. Yamashita wanted to make the 300ZX look and feel like a hot-blooded sports car. Like the 240Z, the Z32 was heavily influenced by American car culture and Yamashita visited the country to find out why the original Z car was such a hit. The first thing he did was to redesign the proportions of his 300ZX. He made it lower and wider to fit the wide-open spaces of America, as Japan’s streets were much narrower. Secondly, Yamashita needed to make the design more aerodynamic. Square-edged, boxy looking cars were being replaced by more aerodynamic, smoother shaped vehicles as they were more efficient and modern. These cars were not only better for the environment, but also better for the owner’s wallet. Yamashita’s headlight design was a major headache for Nissan’s engineers. He had designed them with large clear covers as a call back to the original 240Z and they would sit at a 60-degree angle to maintain the car’s sleek shape. Engineer’s wanted to change this to 45-degrees to make it easier to design, but Yamashita was having none of it. Eventually, Yamashita and the engineers worked out a design. He ended up finding very small projectors – which were a new design at the time – for Nissan’s engineering team to use. The 300ZX’s headlamps would later be used in the Lamborghini Diablo, a testament to their design. The 300ZX’s curved shape also created a number of engineering challenges. Over 30 prototypes were rejected as Yamashita was determined the smooth, curvy lines of the design. The car would eventually launch in 1989 and production would continue until the year 2000.
Nissan 300ZX Z32 Specifications
Once again, Nissan offered the 300ZX in both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged forms. The two engine options were as follows:
  • 3.0-litre VG30DE V6
  • 3.0-litre VG30DETT V6 Twin-Turbocharged
The VG30DE engines now featured variable valve timing and the naturally aspirated version produced roughly 220 horsepower. Nissan fitted Twin-Garret-turbochargers and dual intercoolers to the turbo variant, which meant the car produced an impressive 300 ponies at 6,400rpm and 283lb ft of torque at 3,600rpm. The new twin-turbocharged Z32 was significantly faster than its predecessor, with a 0-60pm (97km/h) time of anywhere from five to six seconds (depending on the source). The top speed was limited to 155 mph (250km/h). Nissan’s Z32 300ZX was the first car to be marketed following Japan’s ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ that limited production cars to 276 horsepower (206kW). However, when tested many Japanese cars actually produced more power than advertised. Twin-turbo Z32s were also offered with a four-wheel steering system that came under the name Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering). The Z32 was fitted with three different transmission options over the course of its life – two automatic and one manual. These are as follows:
  • five-speed FS5R30A manual
  • four-speed RE4R01A automatic
  • four-speed RE4R03A automatic
Japanese buyers were offered a number of extra trim variants that were not available in other markets. This included the “Version R” with Recaro front seats, leather seats in the back and larger side skirts.

Evolution of the Z32 300ZX

During its life, the Z32 underwent a number of changes and new models were added. In 1993, Nissan added a convertible option, upgraded the stereo system and changed the brake caliper material from aluminium to iron. Following this, slight changes to the bodywork, electronics, engine and more were made until the car was discontinued in 2000. The 1998 model received the biggest change with a new fascia, head lights, tail lights, rear spoiler, and other minor changes.
Special Editions
Nissan 300ZX SR-71
A number of special edition Z32 300ZXs were created by third parties. In 1990, Motorsports International of Waco, Texas teamed up with Japanese tuning company HKS to create the SR-71 300ZX. The SR-71 300ZX featured larger Garrett turbos, a Kaminari body kit and HKS electronics. These were sold through select dealers and tuning shops within the United States. It is claimed that the SR-71 was the third fastest production car in the world in 1990. Between 1995 and 1996, Steve Millen Motorsports developed a special model that was sold throughout the United States and Canada through select Nissan dealerships. The SMZ featured performance upgrades that were covered under warranty and each vehicle was numbered in the engine bay and interior. A total of 104 of these cars were produced at a price that was $14,000 higher than the standard twin-turbo model.
300ZX Z32 Reviews and Awards
The Z32 was incredibly well received, winning Motor Trend’s “Import Car of the Year” for 1990. Car and Driver included the turbo 300ZX in their “10 Best” list for seven straight years and GQ Magazine named it as one of the most stylish cars produced in the last 50 years.
The End of the 300ZX
The Z32 300ZX faced a similar fate to many of Japan’s sports cars. A drop in demand for sports cars during the mid-1990s and the rising Yen:Dollar ratio meant that North American 300ZX sales ceased in 1996. Sales would continue in other markets until the year 2000. Nissan created a final Commemorative Edition of the 300ZX for America. Three hundred of these cars were produced and they featured special decals and certificates of authenticity.

The 300ZX and Motorsport

Both the Z31 and Z32 were entered in various motorsport events. The Z31 scored a Trans Am win in 1986 at Lime Rock and was raced in the IMSA GT Championship, and the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship. Like the Z31 before it, the Z32 would become dominate in IMSA GT Championship. It would also go on to win the 1994 24 Hours of Daytona and come first in the GTS-1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans the same year.


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

Leave a Comment