Road & Track (USA)

Whence It Came

The A to Z of the Z.


A. 240Z/260Z/280Z (1970–78)

The Datsun 240Z arrived in the U.S. in late 1969 with intentions of challengin­g Europe’s sports-car dominance. The Z immediatel­y captured enthusiast interest, thanks to its enduring styling, 151-hp 2.4liter inline-six engine, disc brakes, and independen­t suspension. The 260Z debuted for 1974, and despite its larger 2.6-liter motor, emissions regulation­s strangled the car to just 139 hp stateside. The following year, the U.s.-only 280Z debuted with 170 hp, courtesy of Bosch fuel injection.

B. 280ZX (1979–83)

The 280ZX was always intended to be a more luxurious GT than the 280Z it replaced. The new Datsun retained the same 2.8-liter engine and five-speed gearbox as its predecesso­r, but everything else was new, including the optional two-plus-two layout. While enthusiast­s lamented the softening of the Z, it proved wildly popular, selling a record 86,007 units in its first year. A T-top model arrived in 1980, followed by the 180-hp 280ZX Turbo in 1981.

C. 300ZX (Z31) (1984–89)

Nissan gave the Z another clean-sheet restyling for 1984 with the 300ZX. The first Z-car to forgo an inline-six, the 300ZX was instead powered by a new 3.0-liter V-6 in both naturally aspirated and turbocharg­ed forms. The V-6 provided significan­t performanc­e gains, with the Turbo producing an impressive 200 hp. Late examples were further bolstered by an improved gearbox, beefier brakes, and a limited-slip differenti­al. The 300ZX was the first Z-car to carry a Nissan badge.

D. 300ZX (Z32) (1990–96)

The second iteration of the 300ZX, the Z32, was one of the first production vehicles designed on a computer. While still not the dedicated sports car the 240Z was, the new Z now had the muscle to make up for its luxurious appointmen­ts. Dual overhead camshafts helped models with the turbo 3.0-liter V-6 make 300 hp and 283 lb-ft of torque, while Super HICAS four-wheel steering created an agile handler that could rival Europe’s best. It’s no surprise the Z32 became an icon.

E. 350Z (2003–08)

After more than half a decade without a Z-car for sale in the U.S., the 350Z arrived in 2002. A roadster version debuted the following year. Despite initially sharing its 3.5-liter engine with the lowly Pathfinder, the 350Z brought the nameplate back to the 240Z’s sports-car roots. By the end of 2005, Nissan even revised the 3.5-liter for improved performanc­e. The automaker upped the Z’s performanc­e cred again in 2007 with the higher-revving 306-hp VQ35HR V-6, along with a track-oriented Nismo model.

F. 370Z (2009–20)

The 370Z came for 2009, with nearly all of the outgoing 350Z’s components revised. The 370Z was wider with a shorter wheelbase and lighter due to a more extensive use of aluminum. The standard 3.7-liter V-6 pushed horsepower to 332, while Nismo models made 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque thanks to a revised tune and a new exhaust. In 2015, the Z got a light refresh, including an optional sevenspeed automatic. The final naturally aspirated Z went out of production in 2020. –lucas bell

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