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. From a design standpoint, the car was a modernized interpretation of the 280Z. Whereas the former was an interpretation of lines made famous on the 1960s Jaguar E-type, the 300ZX was wider and squarer, and carried color-coded bumpers, smoked taillights, flat-black louvers and trim, and covered headlights. The car was more sophisticated, too, with full power equipment, a digital dash, and a speech synthesizer used to deliver warning messages to the driver.
The 300ZX was powered by Nissan’s first V-6 motor, which displaced 3-liters and developed 180 hp in normally aspirated form. The 1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition was turbocharged, with a silver and black color scheme. Electronic adjustable shocks, speakers in the seats, cruise and radio controls in the steering wheel, mirrored t-tops, embroidered leather seats and floor mats, 16-inch aluminum wheels and modified front and rear fenders completed the package. The only option was an automatic or 5-speed transmission. More than 5,000 were initially produced for the U.S. market.
Intercooled, turbocharged models debuted in the States in 1985, while the turbocharged Shiro Special debuted in 1988. This limited edition model included pearl white paint, stiffer springs and shocks, heavy-duty sway bars, a unique air dam, color-coded wheels and Recaro seats. It was the fastest car from Japan, capable of 153 mph (as tested by Motor Trend), and 1,002 were produced for the U.S. market.
The 300ZX was redesigned following the 1989 model year, and the Z32 carried the name into the 1990s. Today, interest in the Z31 300ZX is not as great as with its predecessors, which can be good news for buyers—prices remain affordable. The cars have a robust reputation as well, which means there are plenty of quality survivors on the road. On the flip side, their low cost of entry and strong performance means these cars have typically been vigorously driven, and modified cars abound. From either vantage point, however, the Z31 remains an important evolutionary bridge between the pure sporting 240Z and the more sophisticated later Zs.