It’s nice to see someone still deeply in love with their pristine eighties time-capsule 300ZX. It’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but it’s always been a bit difficult to muster any warmth for Nissan’s Z cars after they turned the truly remarkable original 240Z into an ever more porky and ugly caricature of itself. The 300ZX was an attempt to ditch the over-wrought original styling cues for a clean new look, but by then the ZX was severely tainted by image issues, the price of its success.
This Z31 generation of Z cars was based on the chassis of its 280 ZX predecessor, but it introduced the VG 30 series engine, the first of a long line of Nissan’s increasingly highly-regarded V6s. In its first appearance here, it had SOHC heads and power outputs that seem laughable today for what was then a leading edge design: 160-165 hp for the normally aspirated version, and 200-205 for the turbo, as installed here. European turbo models had a better “Nismo” cam profile, and produced 230 hp. Given its 3,000 lb weight, the 300ZX was an adequate but hardly sparkling performer in un-turbo form.
The chassis of the 280ZX and this generation 300ZX was never in particular high regard, and had a rep for being a bit floppy at the limits, and generally uninspiring. Perfectly adequate for the overwhelming percentage of buyers, who wanted something to go with their suburban version of the Miami Vice look while tooling down the freeway. Somehow, the Toyota Supra’s relative lack of sales success protected it from the ZX car’s cheap gold chain image.
Its successor, the second generation (Z32) ZX300, was a much more ambitious attempt to regain true sports car creds with an all-new chassis and higher output DOHC engines. It received critical acclaim in the press and its styling was certainly more ambitious than the rather anodyne and generic version here, even with its tacked on fender extensions and sills. That’s not to say that with the right preparation, the 300ZX couldn’t be a winner on the race track, but frankly that has more to do with other factors than what was being actually sold at the dealer. Paul Newman drove one to its only Trans Am win in 1986. Good publicity, but not enough to keep redeem this generation 300ZX from also-ran status.