Model Evolution: Nissan Z

By James Bradbury

October 14, 2011

Datsun

Datsun 240Z (1970-1973): The first generation of Nissan’s storied Z, codenamed S30, came to America in 1969 in the form of the 240Z. While Nissan offered basically the same car in its home market as the Fairlady-Z, ours came with a 2.4-liter inline-6 with twin Hitachi SU-type carburetors putting out 151 gross horsepower, a 23 horsepower jump over the JDM car.

Datsun

Datsun 260Z (1974-1978, 1974 in US): In 1974, Nissan increased the displacement to 2.6 liters in the Z, updating the name to 260Z to keep things nice and clean. 1974 also saw the introduction of a stretched wheelbase 2+2 model to be sold alongside the two-seater. While other countries saw output increase 163 gross horsepower, increasingly stringent emissions in the US forced Nissan to reduce ignition timing and compression ratio. This, coupled with the switch from gross to net horsepower ratings on our shores, made for less impressive window stickers than potential Z buyers were looking for. In an effort to save face with loyal enthusiasts, Nissan axed the 260Z from its American line up after just one year to make room for its next of kin.

Datsun

Datsun 280Z (1975-1978): It only took one year for Nissan to oblige US import fans with the 136 net horsepower 280Z, once again it had upped the displacement by 0.2 liters by increasing bore, but added a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system this time. Nissan didn’t stop sweetening the deal there with special decal packages, like the “Zap-Z,” (seen above) which was used as a pace car at the 1977 Long Beach Grand Prix.

Datsun

Datsun 280ZX (1979-1983): For 1984 the Z car was blessed with a complete redesign and an extra letter on the end of its badge, but the engine carried over virtually unchanged. The new Z was more aerodynamic with a lower center of gravity and almost perfect weight distribution. With the introduction of the turbo model in 1981, Nissan had a car that could hustle to 60 mph 2.2-seconds faster than the contemporary Corvette, and 0.8-seconds faster than a Ferrari 308GTSi.

Nissan

Nissan 300ZX (1984-1990): Codenamed Z31, the first generation of the 300ZX brought in Nissan’s first mass produced V-6 displacing 3.0 liters. Once again the US had to look at other markets with envy as our 200 horsepower turbocharged 300ZX was down 38 horses to the lucky foreigners. Despite the power deficit, the 300ZX was still an improvement on the previous generation car in virtually every performance margin and with multiple motorsports victories by the late great Paul Newman, the Z car’s reputation continued to improve. 1985 saw a Nissan badge replace Datsun for all Z’s from then on.

Nissan

Nissan 300ZX (1990-1996): The second generation of the 300ZX (Z32), may have carried the same official badge as its predecessor, but it was a beast of another color. Even in the relatively pedestrian naturally aspirated form it still put out 22 more horsepower than the previous turbocharged model. The biturbocharged model put down a menacing 300 horses of rear-wheel-drive, tire-smoking awesome sauce. This model lived on in Japan until the new millennium. (note JDM model shown above.)

Nissan

Nissan 350Z (2003-2008): In 1999 Renault bought 44.4-percent of Nissan. New CEO Carlos Ghosn then announced to the world, “We will build the Z. And we will make it profitable.” A target MSRP of $30,000, while benchmarking the Porsche Boxster, proved that wasn’t bluster. The 3.5-liter, 300 horsepower V-6 was (and is) widely loved.

Nissan

Nissan 370Z (2008-present): Nearly every single component was reengineered for the transition from 350Z to 370Z. Displacement was once again upped by 0.2 liters resulting in 32 more horsepower. Also offered was the world’s first “synchronized downshift rev-matching system” for a manual transmission. The 370Z decreased in size relative to the 350, and also offered more lightweight materials and a stiffer suspension.

Datsun Datsun Datsun Datsun Nissan Nissan Nissan Nissan

Quite arguably the most iconic Japanese import of all time, the Nissan Z has been in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts since the first 240Z came to our shores back in 1970. This car means every bit as much to import lovers as Mustangs and Camaros do to the muscle car crowd. Here’s a look back at the humble beginnings of the little Datsun that could.