My Fair Lady: A Visual History of the Nissan Z-Car

The Datsun/Nissan Z-car, introduced as the 240Z as the 1960s sputtered to a close, now ranks in the pantheon of great Japanese things, right up there alongside Nikon cameras, fatty tuna sushi, Katana swords, and Mothra. There wasn’t anything particularly new about the 240Z; it was built of ordinary and familiar parts. But it drove so well and was built so well that it elevated consumers’ expectations for all sports cars. It was a better Datsun—and Nissan—that would eventually inspire better Porsches, better Corvettes, and better Jaguars. --But Nissan didn’t have the spiritual fortitude to stick with the Z’s original mojo. The disco temptation was impossible to fight during the 1970s, and the Z became the ZX. Crushed velour upholstery, T-tops, and a flabby suspension came with it.--Then Nissan changed its mind again.- -So here are the ABCs of the seminal Japanese sports car, its antecedents, its gooey successors, and its eventual resurrection as a true sports car again.The Z wasn’t Nissan/Datsun’s first two-seat sports car. In 1959,  Datsun began selling the Sports 1000 roadster (Fairlady 1000 in Japan) powered by a 1.0-liter four-cylinder. But it was the 1963 Sports 1500 with its 85-hp 1.5-liter four that established Datsun as a sports-car builder in North America. It eventually grew into the Sports 1600 and Sports 2000 as the engine gained displacement. The last Sports 2000 left production just as the Z-car arrived during 1970.1969 Datsun Z FairladyDatsun sold a healthy 16,215 240Zs in the United States during its first model year. Then it sold 33,684 during 1971 and a massive 45,588 for 1972. By the time the 240Z entered its last year in 1973, the Z-car was firmly established as a sports-car icon. And another 46,282 Z-cars hit the American roads during 1973.In August 1971,  Datsun entered three 240Zs in the rugged East African Safari Rally. Although untested in battle, all three finished the rally, and car #11,  piloted by Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schüller, finished first. In second was another 240Z.Datsun 240ZThe original Z-car suspension was simple but exceptionally effective. Just a pair of MacPherson struts up front and the similarly structured Chapman struts in the back. That’s Chapman as in Lotus’s Colin Chapman. John Morton used the now iconic Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) 240Z to earn SCCA C-Production national championships in 1970 and 1971.Datsun 260ZDatsun 280ZThe late 1970s were all about the personal luxury car. Think Chevrolet Monte Carlos, Chrysler Cordobas, and the like. So Datsun/Nissan decided to shift the Z-car in that disco-friendly direction, and the result was the 1979 280ZX. It was flabbier than the 280Z and embellished with the complete lack of restraint typical of the era. Think velour upholstery, digital dashboards, and marshmallow suspension. And, oh yeah, T-tops on either the two-seat or two-plus-two versions.--“What was once an appealingly lean sportster has been transformed into a plush boulevardier,” wrote C/D’s Patrick Bedard, “a personal cruiser not altogether different from what you'd expect of Buick if it took up a position in the two-seater and two-plus-two market.”Datsun 280ZXDatsun 280ZX Turbo1984 Nissan 300ZX1983 Fairlady Z 300ZXThe legendary Bob Sharp and sometime actor Paul Newman teamed up to compete with the Z-car in SCCA Trans-Am competition during the 1980s. With Newman driving, the team took its first victory (in a 280ZX) at Brainerd in 1982.1985 Nissan 300ZX1990 Nissan 300ZXThe 300ZX’s all-new 3.0-liter V-6 used DOHC heads and four valves per cylinder and was rated at 222 horsepower. That’s 17 more than the 1989 300ZX Turbo’s engine. And when two turbochargers were added to the mix to create the 300ZX Twin Turbo, the result was 300 horsepower. This deep into the 21st  century, 300 horses may seem tame for a sports car, but in 1990,  it was mind-boggling. C/D’s first test of the non-turbo version measured a zero-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds. The 300ZX Twin Turbo knocked that down to 5.0 seconds flat and ran the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 102 mph.Nissan 300ZX turbo R321990 Nissan 300ZXUnder the relentless whip of Steve Millen, the Z32-generation 300ZX proved a formidable race car. Actually, it was usually the 300ZX two-plus-two, since the longer wheelbase allowed better weight distribution, including positioning the fuel tank within the wheelbase. It racked up wins throughout the early 1990s; the pinnacle events came with GTS-class wins in both the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans in 1994, running a production-based twin-turbo V-6 that produced more than 800 horsepower. In six years, Millen would win the IMSA title twice.A convertible roadster was added to the 300ZX line for 1992. Along with its quick-folding manual top, an integrated roll bar added strength to the structure. But by the mid-1990s, the SUV craze was starting, and prices of the ZX were rising. Sports cars seemed impractical, frivolous, and expensive. Despite the fact that the 300ZX Twin Turbo made C/D’s 10Best list every year it was eligible—seven times—the Z32-generation 300ZX was withdrawn from the market after the 1996 model year.2003 Nissan 350ZNissan VQ35DE V-62003 Nissan 350Z2003-nissan-350z-roadster-touringnissan-350z-35th-anniversary-edition2007 Nissan 350Z2007 Nismo 350Z2009 Nissan 370 Z2009 Nissan 370Z2009 Nissan 370ZNissan 370Z brakes fade2010 Nissan 370Z roadster2013 Nissan 370Z2016 Nissan 370Z

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