A Brief History of the Nissan Z

The Z-series of cars from Japanese manufacturer Nissan kick-started a love affair in America when the 240Z hit our shores in 1969, becoming the icon of sporty imports. Take a journey down memory lane with a brief history of the legendary Nissan Z.

The 240Z

Nissan didn’t win any awards for engineering when they shipped the Datsun 240Z to the U.S. in 1969, but they were the first to produce a high-end performance car in a price range that fit the average American budget. The 240Z’s 2.4-liter single-overhead-cam engine, 151 horsepower, and a four-speed manual transmission launched the Z from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds. At only $3601, the 240Z was an instant success and Americans bought 16,215 in their first model year.

The 280Z and 280ZX

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Image via Flickr by Collector Car Ad

The 1970s were all about luxury, so Nissan added more zip to the Z like velour upholstery, digital dashboards, and decal packages. Typical of the flashy disco era, Nissan introduced the ZX with T-tops and a beefier engine at 2.8 liters. Adding a new five-speed manual transmission and the turbo model in 1981, the engine output improved to 180 horsepower.

The 300ZX

The all-new 1984 300ZX met with a less than auspicious debut. The styling was square and featureless, and it was the first generation of the Z family to share Nissan’s mass-produced V-6, 3.0-liter engine. Despite a power deficiency, if you threw a turbo on that same engine, the output bounded to 200 horses. This performance boost led to motorsports victories by actor Paul Newman, and the Z reputation continued to improve.

The Z32

In 1990, Nissan launched the Z32 with twin turbos. It was low and wide, and the suspension was vastly more sophisticated than earlier models. The 300ZX’s touted an all-new 3.0-liter V-6 with DOHC heads, paired with two turbochargers that drove horsepower up to 300. The 300ZX hit a mind-blowing 60 mph in 5.0 seconds.

The 350Z

The infamous Z returned in 2002, introducing the acclaimed 350Z stocked with a peppy 3.5-liter V6 engine putting out 287 of raw horsepower.  Nissan’s stock VQ-series engine really shined in the 350Z with 24 valves and twin-cam heads. The all-aluminum 350Z didn’t need the help of turbochargers, hitting 60 mph in only 5.4 seconds.  Strictly a two-seater, by the end of 2008 it was time for the 350Z to retire.

The 370Z

Nissan transformed nearly every component of the latest generation Z in 2009, resulting in a dramatic look, more horsepower, and the first synchronized downshift rev-matching system. Aluminum body panels reduced weight, helping the Z to blast off to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds with its 3.7 liters and 330 horsepower.  A convertible roadster was added to the 370Z in 2010, but by 2013 this model was getting stale despite a new front end, bumper covers, and wheels. The latest flagship of Nissan’s Z-series, the 370Z is in its ninth season and it’s time for an upgrade. Aren’t you ready for Nissan’s next re-engineered Z sports car?