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Best Z Car Ever

author
James Lee
• Friday, 13 November, 2020
• 16 min read

It’s been almost a half-century since a relatively unknown company from the other side of the planet knocked the sports car world on its ear with a groundbreaking release that Road & Track called “the most exciting new GT car in a decade.” That new-for-1970 Datsun 240Z had Jaguar-level good looks at an equally appealing price.

cars driveway
(Source: carsinmydriveway.blogspot.com)

Contents

It was a sales success of the highest order: The July 1971 issue of Road & Track reported that Nissan had anticipated moving about 1600 cars per month, but the market demanded closer to 4000 units per month. This led to six-month waits along with Kelly Blue Book values for used examples topping $4000.

That same issue of R&T featured a five- car shootout for GT machines priced right around $3500. The 240Z solidly took the gold metal, beating the already established Fiat 124 Sports, Opel GT, MG BGT and Triumph GT6.

At the 1970 CCA American Road Race of Champions–the predecessor to today’s season-ending Runoffs–John Morton famously claimed the championship in a 240Z prepared by Peter Brock’s BRE team. He was trailed to the checker by two more 240Z drivers, Bob Sharp and John McComb.

The lone Triumph in the race, a TR6 prepared by Bob Julius’s dominating Group 44 and driven by the team’s patriarch, failed to reach the checker. Class leaders MG and Triumph would leave the American market a decade later.

The 240Z’s big change came for 1973: The original SU carburetors were replaced with some emissions-friendly Hitachi's. Performance took a slight hit and, as a result, today those earlier cars are the ones that everyone wants.

carz ever
(Source: www.facebook.com)

This Car Here: Let’s hop in our time machine and jet forward a few years. In 1996, Nissan wasn’t selling too many Z -cars here in the States, so they dropped the model–their flagship model, of all things.

To fill the gap and retain a halo offering in the quiver, Nissan USA President Bob Thomas had a dream: Nissan would sell restored examples of the original 240Z, aiming to rebuild 10 per month. Long story short, between delays and a little something called reality, the project didn’t pan out as expected and only 38 cars were delivered.

Without any revisions or updates, the 240Z offers everything you could desire: a comfortable ride, great steering and perfect pedal placement. Today we use the IATA’s gearbox as a benchmark, but, really, we should be comparing everything to the original 240Z.

Things on the American automotive landscape drastically changed for 1974, with bigger bumpers and cleaner, more efficient engines becoming the new norm. As the name suggests, engine displacement was upped to 2.6 liters.

A teeny-tiny back seat meant that technically four souls could enjoy the 260Z, provided that at least two of them were rather small. Its big upgrade: Bosch fuel injection feeding a 2.8-liter engine.

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(Source: izismile.com)

This bumped the horsepower rating to 149, but new mandated bumpers added weight to both ends of the car. This Car Here: Among Nissan fans, Lusaka Katakana needs no introduction.

After 24 years in Nissan’s home office, in 1959 he was dispatched to the U.S. on an exploratory mission of sorts. Mr. K’s tenure in the States would run through 1977, and during that time Nissan grew into a major force.

The ride is comfy, but much muted compared to the earlier car. The automatic box actually isn’t that bad, and when placed in context–this car was owned by a Z -loving enthusiast who faced L.A. traffic–it makes some sense.

Yes, it still looked like a Z and followed the same story arc, but up close it was a new animal. And that animal loved disco, as interior options included a sea of velour upholstery punctuated with the latest high-tech gadgets.

The brand itself also got a new moniker, with Nissan starting to phase out the Datsun name in 1981. Nissan, the parent company, would become the brand name as well.

cars weirdest special ever
(Source: finance.yahoo.com)

Engine displacement remained 2.8 liters, but by now that block was covered in a net of hoses, lines and cables. Power was down to 135 horsepower, but remember that this is when a base Corvette made do with just 185.

In addition to the requisite badges and stickers, all received leather seats, automatic temperature control, T-tops and two-tone paint–2500 wore black over gold, with 500 receiving black and red. We drove the very car that Nissan used for all of that model’s publicity shoots, and it’s bone-stock, down to the original, 38-year-old Goodyear Wing foot tires.

The injected 2.8-liter engine revs smoothly, but delivers only decent, lazy power. The power steering makes the 280ZX easier to park, though, and the five-speed transmission is a welcome addition in today’s world.

The sugar scoop headlights were long gone, replaced by rectangular units hidden behind articulated covers–well, half covers, technically. The bodywork became even more chiseled, dominated by a flat, wide hood.

The 300ZX weighed a touch more than the 280ZX, but more power and a better suspension kept performance near the top of the heap. Car and Driver’s initial review praised the performance, but was less kind to the overall package.

imgur brz ever comments
(Source: www.reddit.com)

“The emperor has no clothes,” Don Sherman wrote, “and the EX Turbo lacks a pretty face.” This Car Here: For the 1984 model year Nissan celebrated another corporate milestone with their 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition; this one received all the available extras, from the turbo engine and electronically controlled dampers to mirrored T-tops, digital dash display and leather seats.

The new 300ZX’s sheet metal could have come from Italy, while the suspension made no excuses–double wishbones up front paired with a four-link rear setup and meaty tires all around. But as the ’90s got rolling, Nissan was simply on fire as the much-heralded Z shared showroom space with the 240SX, Sentry SE-R, Maxima SE and NX2000.

In short, Nissan offered a performance car for seemingly every taste and budget, while on track their IMA programs were dominating. Nissan sold nearly 75,000 Z -cars in 1984, and a decade later that figure had fallen to fewer than 5000.

Nissan marked the moment by importing 300 Commemorative Edition cars. The end of the 300ZX was just part of Nissan’s problems, as the company had simply stopped turning cars into piles of cash.

The trip odometer displays 788.8 miles, and we resisted the temptation to reset it. Behind the Wheel: Low side windowsills and lots of glass make this one feel smaller than you’d think, while the turbo engine is torque and flexible.

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(Source: www.autocar.co.uk)

At the 1999 New York auto show the news was made official: Nissan was bringing back the Z. Renault had righted the manufacturer with an infusion of cash, and after some long, dark days things were looking positive for Nissan.

The 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle ushered in a new era of retro styling, which the reintroduced Z fully mastered. The interior also recalled past Z -cars, down to those auxiliary gauges propped on top of the dash.

The 300ZX had priced itself out of the market, so the new car hardened back to the original 240Z with an MSRP starting at $26,800. The base car was rather stripped, but optional packages added things like a limited-slip differential, bigger wheels and even Bremen brakes.

Buyers responded favorably, with Nissan selling nearly 40,000 units during the 350Z’s first 12 months in the showroom. A convertible joined the lineup in the summer of 2003, further expanding the car’s appeal.

This Car Here: Nissan’s VQ35HR engine, dubbed the High Rev, became standard for 2007, bumping the 350Z’s output to 306 horsepower. If the Nissan collection is going to contain one 350Z, might as well be a Solar Orange 2007 model, with this one originally doing duty in the manufacturer’s press fleet.

corvette chevrolet zr1 speed cars
(Source: www.topspeed.com)

Behind the Wheel: While the 350Z felt totally new and modern to us more than a decade-plus ago, today it almost has a retro feel. Performance is still on par for today, and the gearbox still feels like a benchmark.

If there’s a blemish, while the A-pillars are nice and thin, over-the-shoulder visibility could be better; and that rear tie bar sucks up way too much trunk space. The body also evolved with the times: lower, wider and just meaner.

This Car Here: We sampled a new 370Z Heritage Edition in Chicane Yellow. The $790 Heritage Package basically adds the ’70s-tastic graphics along with some yellow interior accents and gloss black exterior mirrors.

Like every other 2018 Nissan 370Z with a manual transmission, an Every clutch now is fitted as standard equipment. The steering wheel is thick and contoured, the Every clutch offers smoother articulation, and the seats feature even deeper bolstering.

While the 370Z’s spec box lists more power, around town both cars are still plenty quick. On track, you learn who to trust; in downtown traffic, the result can be a little stressful.

cars ten never s2000
(Source: jalopnik.com)

After driving seven cars you’d think that it would be tough to pick a winner, but the star of the day was clearly the 240Z. The driving experience perfectly captures everything we love about the best sports cars of the day.

Thanks to all of its attributes, the 240Z has basically become the Converse All Star of the automotive world: Like the iconic canvas basketball shoe, you can take a 240Z anywhere. It’s still a staple at all kinds of motorsports events, works well at a car show, and makes a fine get-away vehicle.

An earlier 350Z, especially one that you can find for $7000 or so, seems like a lot of performance packed into a usable package. Ignore its reputation as a boulevard cruiser for a moment, as even our own testing back in the day showed the 300ZX to nearly equal the 240Z on track.

If you’re looking to relive those glory years, the sometimes overlooked 300ZX might be the logical pick. We did learn one big thing from this exercise: No matter what the future holds for the Z, at least time has given us nearly half a century of favorites.

This road had no place for the cops to hide and was arrow straight. I looked down to see an indicated 140 and climbing, and the car was just as smooth at 140ish as it was at half that speed.

autobuzz
(Source: www.youtube.com)

And terrible carbs, different taillight panel and slightly different interior. And terrible carbs, different taillight panel and slightly different interior.

If you got on it too soon in the rev band, it would backfire through the carbs and all sorts of white smoke would billow out from under the hood. In the context of its day, it must have been a complete no-brainer to buy, it had everything; performance, style, value.

Back in the late '70s, the 'trick setup' in far Northern California was a '71 240z, a 280z block with a 240z head, a 280z 5-speed, and a 280z louvered hood. I've briefly driven a 350z and while I loved the engine note the overall experience didn't really speak to me.

Something like the Eagle that was built as a nod to the jaguar E Type just do it for IATA /MX5 money. AaronBalto said: Japan offered three iconic supercar darlings during the ’90s: the Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX.

The z31's had pretty dated suspension and the styling is hit-and-miss depending on whom you talk to. The z32 is the best looking of them all and, even with questionable reliability and difficulty to work on, have the potential for big, easy power.

golden sahara barris george 1960 1955 second version
(Source: fabwheelsdigest.blogspot.com)

I suppose folks will point out that other models are better drivers, but I don't care. Drove that thing from great lakes to Norfolk, running away too much boost with zero fuel management, a super loud 3" Blitz exhaust, and no spare tire.

I still vividly remember my dad's cobalt blue '78 280Z, 5-speed, no options other than factory up-sized alloy wheels and A/C (because Oklahoma summers). The z31's had pretty dated suspension and the styling is hit-and-miss depending on whom you talk to.

The z32 is the best looking of them all and, even with questionable reliability and difficulty to work on, have the potential for big, easy power. I beat on that car mercilessly through high school and first two years of college.

Thing was hard to start in Cleveland winters and no defrosters for the early morning commute. The actual answer to the question of which Z is the best is: Whatever one you happen to be driving at the moment.

AaronBalto said: Japan offered three iconic supercar darlings during the ’90s: the Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX. Picked up a 1980 2+2 5 speed silver blue example with 113k on it in February, it just turned 117k.

bugatti chiron classy carscoops
(Source: www.carscoops.com)

Running water methanol on a slightly upsized stock housing turbo, this thing Dino'd 487whp... in a car weighing about 2600 lbs. It was properly bonkers, and ruined any sense of speed I might have had for a long time.

I still remember the owner running down the drag strip in Las Vegas in flip-flops and shorts. After about the 3rd 11-second pass, they finally told him that rookie or not, he couldn't be doing that at their track if he didn't have proper shoes and pants haha.

Probably isn't really the best at anything except being a great platform to get (especially younger) auto enthusiasts into driving. For its widespread reach and role in getting people my age into cars, I'll give the nod to that one.

Running water methanol on a slightly upsized stock housing turbo, this thing Dino'd 487whp... in a car weighing about 2600 lbs. It was properly bonkers, and ruined any sense of speed I might have had for a long time.

I still remember the owner running down the drag strip in Las Vegas in flip-flops and shorts. After about the 3rd 11-second pass, they finally told him that rookie or not, he couldn't be doing that at their track if he didn't have proper shoes and pants haha.

aston dbx martin carscoops configurator go
(Source: www.carscoops.com)

Running water methanol on a slightly upsized stock housing turbo, this thing Dino'd 487whp... in a car weighing about 2600 lbs. It was properly bonkers, and ruined any sense of speed I might have had for a long time.

I still remember the owner running down the drag strip in Las Vegas in flip-flops and shorts. After about the 3rd 11-second pass, they finally told him that rookie or not, he couldn't be doing that at their track if he didn't have proper shoes and pants haha.

Supra Invade Las Vegas 2008, Andy Immerse was the fella in question. Far as I know the engine was internally stock, running a 57-trim CT26, with water methanol injection, something which was a bit on the fringe at the time.

Running water methanol on a slightly upsized stock housing turbo, this thing Dino'd 487whp... in a car weighing about 2600 lbs. It was properly bonkers, and ruined any sense of speed I might have had for a long time.

I still remember the owner running down the drag strip in Las Vegas in flip-flops and shorts. After about the 3rd 11-second pass, they finally told him that rookie or not, he couldn't be doing that at their track if he didn't have proper shoes and pants haha.

tron interior futuristic train sci fi space google spaceship moar architecture interiors ship 3d outer
(Source: vaughanling.blogspot.com)

Supra Invade Las Vegas 2008, Andy Immerse was the fella in question. Far as I know the engine was internally stock, running a 57-trim CT26, with water methanol injection, something which was a bit on the fringe at the time.

I've just never seen those kinds of numbers on a 7 m without being beefed up a little and a larger framed turbo. When he would boost in fourth gear at 70mph, then, without letting off throttle, kick the clutch and throw it into 3rd.

Was quite the neat trick, and would leave 11's on the highway and then pull like crazy. Wonderful article and brings back a lot of memories.

Flared wheel wells front and back with 8" wheels with whatever tires were top of the line back then, on the rear...and I don't remember what size was up front, whale tail spoiler and an aftermarket front air dam, and it was painted red white and blue, along the lines of the cars Paul Newman would drive. Loaned it to a factory rep on Monday...you didn't say no to those guys...and by Tuesday, it was totaled.

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