By on August 8, 2012

After the Malaise Era of 1973 through 1983, we had the Turbo Era. I’m going to say the Turbo Era lasted from 1984 through about 1992, and it was followed by the Everybody Finally Has Electronic Fuel Injection And It’s About Damn Time Era. The real star of the Turbo Era was, of course, the Mitsubishi Starion, which was so incredibly turbo-centric that it had the word “TURBO” stitched into the seat belts. The Nissan 300ZX Turbo didn’t register much lower on the Turbo Awesomeness-O-Meter, however, and now I feel vaguely ashamed that I’ve ignored so many of these things in so many junkyards over the years. Today we will honor one of the stars of the Turbo Era!
Among the many incredible features in the 50th Anniversary Edition 300ZX was the Bodysonic sound system. Yes, you could really buy a car with a feature called Bodysonic, and it was every bit as cool as the name implies. Basically, this was a speaker system embedded in the car’s seats, so that you felt the thudding bass of your Erik B and Rakim cassette right in your butt.
Because this was the middle 1980s, Z-Car buyers needed T-tops to go with their Bodysonic beats.
I graduated from high school in 1984, and I recall thinking at the time that the Starion was far cooler than the 300ZX. Of course, your typical 300ZX was about three orders of magnitude more reliable than the Starion, not to mention quicker, but what the hell do 18-year-olds know?
This one has a mere 123,000 miles on the clock, but I’m not 100% sure I trust this odometer. Why?
Here’s why: the notoriously flaky, yet exquisitely-of-its-time digital instrument cluster. The analog odometer is driven by an electric motor, not a cable from the transmission, so there’s no telling if it’s showing anything resembling true mileage.
You want Turbo Era luxury? Check out the driver’s-side vanity mirror in the sun visor— just the thing when you need to check for traces of white powder in your Tom Selleck mustache.
A 200-horsepower turbocharged V6 and 5-speed was badass fast 28 years ago, which is sort of sad. We live in the Golden Age of Engines right now!


It wouldn’t be an 80s Nissan Junkyard Find without Datsun’s Awesome Voice Dude. Enjoy.

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45 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Nissan 300ZX Turbo 50th Anniversary Edition...”


  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    I finished high school in 1983. Maybe one reason I have always loved old (pre-1970) cars is because the new cars made during my childhood and youth were so forgetable.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Someone paid a healthy premium for this thing.

    Wiki says 329,900 Z31, 300ZXs were made for world wide consumption. I haven’t seen one in years.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    The “Everybody Finally Has Electronic Fuel Injection And It’s About Damn Time Era”? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all week!

    When was the last time you saw a manual transmission being featured in a TV commercial? Probably…. 1984 :-

  • avatar
    patman

    The intersection of Turbos and T-Tops. I want to live there.

  • avatar

    Even though it’s a different body style, this thing reminds me of the first Z I ever got to drive – a friend’s thoroughly trashed 83 280ZX. Blinking digital dash, clanking worn out struts, 57 miles of vacuum lines, and the very real fear it wasn’t going to start again after you killed it.

    …and I was hooked.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Being a nerd of these cars and the VG30 engine, I have been longing for a Z31 Junkyard Find for a long time AND YOU PROVIDE THIS!?

    The AE was the most heavily-optioned car in history at the time. Many people bought them even though they were absurdly expensive. Ahhhh, that was a great decade. In fact, even with the huge popularity of the 84 Z, it’s hard to find one that is a non-AE edition these days. I’m surprised/appalled at the great condition of this example. No apparent rot in the usual spots, paint is still decent, the highly desirable black interior is still present in good shape (looks like somebody snagged the special mirrored T-tops). The drivetrain is pretty stout, so I suspect it was an impound victim. This is a $3000 car even when dead.

    BTW, even in this “Golden age of engines”, I enjoy being able to pull one of these Nissan VG’s out of a minivan at the yard, and running 400hp through it reliably (thanks to the “Golden age of aftermarket engine management and turbos”). The “bang for the buck” potential of these engines is high. I always say it’s like the Small Block Chevy of Japan. The last of the VG’s ended up under the hoods of 2004 Xterras, so it’s not as archaic as you might believe.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      I would rock one of these in a heartbeat. The VG30 is indeed great. Just wish they would’ve used a spring-loaded tensioner on the timing belt.

      VG’s not archaic at all. Especially not that 24 valve jobbie in the Z’s. The VQ series engines aren’t that far removed. Sometimes I wish they were directly swappable, because a new supercharged VQ would be most welcome under the hood of my Pathfinder.

      • 0 avatar
        CougarXR7

        I had one of these in 2006-2007. Worst car I ever owned. Turbo missing, alignment off, wouldn’t pass smog, interior filthy. Best thing about it was the aftermarket CD player.

        I finally traded it in on a clean ’01 Crown Vic. When I later asked the dealership what happened to the Z, I was told they promptly scrapped it.

        Good riddance.

      • 0 avatar
        chrishs2000

        It was a bad car because someone ripped off the turbo, you didn’t get an alignment done, you expected a 20 year old car to pass emissions, and the interior was dirty? I don’t get it. Don’t buy busted 20 year old cars and expect them to be nice without work.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    Every time I find a turbo version of this car the engine is gone. A heart transplant for an older z car.

  • avatar
    Justice_Gustine

    “Tokyo By Night” as the car magazines wrote about the sharply lit Japanese dashboards.

    My own 280ZX which wore the name “Rust Never Sleets” was a most unpractical car, but oh so much fun to thrash.

    I miss most the diagnostic countdown in the middle of the cluster that visually approved the levels of essential fluids and would end with a big OK. Small things like that or the joystick to adjust that cassette stereo’s balance & fade made it seem more than just transportation.

  • avatar
    photog02

    I can’t help but think of what people will be thinking of today’s cars when they are resting in junkyards 30 years from now. Forest Breeze HVAC systems, massaging seats (innuendo time!), pop-up LCD screens… it all is happening again.

  • avatar
    DaveDFW

    My only lasting memory of these cars was a comment from C&D written in a comparison test with a Supra, which was something like, “the 300zx’s brakes would be hard-pressed to stop a loaded shopping cart.”

    Who knows if it was actually true, but it was funny.

  • avatar
    ManiacZX

    Good to see an anniversary getting attention even if this one has seen better days.

    I own a 50th anniversary and drive it almost every day. It is my second Z (both 84s).

    To dejal1, I see many Z31s in the Dallas area and used to see them often in summer in Detroit also.

    My 50th came with the original dealer slip and brand new the final bill was $34,995.00 in 1984. That included an $8,406 dealer markup for the special edition.

    There was actually only one option when ordering an AE, to change to an automatic (which isn’t really a choice, Save the Manuals!).

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      $34,995 in 1984?! That’s equivalent to over $72,000 today – that was one seriously expensive Nissan.

    • 0 avatar
      CA Guy

      I owned an 85 300ZX Turbo with 5-speed that was originally purchased new by friends. I recall that the sticker was between $26-27K – no markup for that year. It was heavily equipped, including headlight washers, power lumbar, stereo controls in the steering wheel, heated seats and mirrors. Engine/turbo very smooth, plenty of power, very solid car. Never found the handling that great, much more luxury than sport in those years.

      My cousin purchased a 50th AE new in 1984 but it was a non-turbo automatic with cloth seats, a special order without the T-tops, a very rare car as I recall. Other than the automatic failing early on in that car, both of these were pretty reliable machines.

      You still see a few of them here in SoCal, often driven by original owners who still treasure their Zs.

  • avatar
    JMII

    In comparison to my ’84 Civic S1500 hatchback this 300ZX had Star Trek levels of technology. However if the sound system was anything like the OEM garbage in my current ’03 350Z it is junkyard worthy material for sure: BOSE = BLOWS.

    To the above poster: my Grand Touring ’03 factory sticker indicated around 33,800 so paying that much back in ’84 was INSANE!

    • 0 avatar
      ManiacZX

      The radio that came in the AE was actually a one-off model made by Clarion.

      It wasn’t put in any other trim level nor any other vehicle.

      To today’s standards it isn’t anything fancy but as everything else in the AE it is very feature rich. The radio controls on the steering wheel especially were rare. Probably not the first, but the earliest that I know of.

      I’d be fine if it were a Bose, they are a quality company. I own several of their items and am happy with them all.

    • 0 avatar
      jayzwhiterabbit

      I agree. I don’t know why people pay extra for crappy Bose stereo systems…they seem to universally sound like ass. More likely the auto manufacturers are leasing the naming rights and just putting the Bose name on the speaker covers of their regular crummy speakers.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    My parents gave me their ’86 300ZX 2×2 as a college car when I drove to UNC Greeley years ago. Was the Champagne Gold that only Nissan seemed to get right; not too yellow, not too silver. Was amazingly reliable, 286K stress free miles before I traded up for a ’98 SVT Contour.

    Caveat, T-tops were so rare at the time that I had a 18 yr old girlfriend ask what they were and who laughed at the thought of them when I told her. She was promptly dropped off at five points Denver. Have no idea what happened to her since.

  • avatar
    velvet fog

    50th anniversary of what?

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      Nissan. Was there a 75th Anniversary Edition in ’09?

      • 0 avatar
        ManiacZX

        The 50th AE was the only model made celebrating a milestone of the age of the company.

        The other anniversaries have been made celebrating the Z itself.

        Those were:
        1980 10th Anniversary
        1995 25th Anniversary
        2005 35th Anniversary
        2010 40th Anniversary

  • avatar

    When I was 12-15 years old, one of my uncles had a 1986 300ZX that he bought new. I recall riding wide eyed down the highway (not interstate) at 145MPH in that car. At that speed the car felt like it was walking, it was fun then, really scary thinking about it now.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    For those that drove one of these, what was the Turbo response like? A friend bought one of the above mentioned Starion Turbos. Mostly I remember the dead spot right before it kicked in. Then a whiplash inducing jump. At the time I didn’t think turbos would ever catch on.

    • 0 avatar
      ManiacZX

      In stock trim the turbo is only making 4-4.5 PSI of boost so there isn’t much turbo lag.

      The bigger the turbo the bigger the lag generally speaking.

      There isn’t a whiplash moment.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    The mid-late ’80s saw everything being turbo charged, but I seem to remember Dodge really getting into it like the ’87-89 Dodge Shadow ES turbo and ’80s Dodge turbo minivan or K car. Hopefully Murilee can find us some good ones.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      Chrysler had the mentality at the time that turbo 6s would make V8s obsolete and that turbo 4s would mostly replace NA 6s, I believe they went as far as making such claims in contemporary advertising.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Its difficult for me to imagine what was going on in Chrysler exec’s minds when they green-lighted the turbos in the early 80s, but I suppose given what the market looked like then (and what their soothsayers were telling them) they would be in a much more competitive position with Turbo 4/6 cyl engines vs developing a new V8 if gas would have spiked in the mid 80s.

        I see the same pattern being repeated today in Detroit, although I still believe tiny mainstream gas turbos are not the answer. If you’re really concerned with [extreme] fuel economy, its diesel or hybrids. I think we’re reaching the limits on what we can get from gasoline engines.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Wow, this one hurts. A friend of mine used to own one of these, and it was a truly special car. I haven’t seen one on the road since the early 1990’s.

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    I love 80’s Nissans….. still have an ’88 Maxima GXE with a similar digital dash…. yes it was flaky; really amusing when I was doing 80 MPH the speed indicated would drop to 0 MPH even though I actually didn’t stop.

    However the VG30E tucked into the nose was a different story…. that bastard is unkillable! Not to mention for ’88, really damn good; 160 hp and it sounded great and it was a screamer! Sure nowadays it isn’t so fast but back then it could humiliate much more expensive cars, plus it had fully independent suspension all around, rear disc brakes that quite frankly is the best brakes I’ve ever had on a car, even with no ABS, it even beats out my previous ’06 Mustang GT, which was no slouch in the ‘stop’ section. The best testament to Nissan’s 80’s goodness was that it was my first car in high school and it already was punished by my dad (oh he treated it as a ‘4 Door Sports Car’ alright!) not only that but I put that car through HELL, I mean I WALED on that car, redlining it just because (did I mention it sounded good?) 6000 RPM launches? parking brake j turns, jumping it (I’m lucky to be alive really) but it took the abuse and I still have it to this day. Amazing. Too bad Nissan totally ruined the Maxima…..

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Bodysonic amplifier. Appropiate equipment in an era that gave us such banality as Olivia Newton-John and Travolta in Stayin Alive and the Jane Fonda Workout.

    After the wonderful 1st generation Z-Car they got a bit bloated and became less sporty and more touring especially the 2+2. Though this 2 seater Turbo was as close to sports car as you could get. Back when these were the rage the rumor was that the Z would go horror of horrors FWD based on the 85-up Maxima.

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      Ah yes, FWD was quite the rage back then. Same thing almost happened with the Mustang back then too… that became the Probe. Not a horrible car by any means but definately not a Mustang. Still, wrong wheel drive or not, I still love my ’88 Maxima.

  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    my mom bought a 2-seater Z in ’86 (I loved the dash and woman’s voice reminding my lights were on). I drove it to my high school graduation and opening it up on the L.I.E. heading home, Van Halen cranking – the envelope with my diploma flew out the t-tops.

    Taught me a valuable lesson about leaving stuff on the passenger seat in an open-top car.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      I and everyone who rode in my ’86 2×2 always found it funny that the female voice eminating from under the dash somewhere had a distinct Japanese accent. Not sure why.

      Best thing said, “Your door, is Ah-Jar. Your door, is Ah-Jar” which always made me think, ‘No its not a jar, its a door!’

  • avatar
    and003

    I wonder … what would it take to install the engine and drivetrain of the new Nissan GT-R into one of these?

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    T-tops! What a joke. I had a Firebird with T-tops and had them stolen three times. I suspect I also bought the same ones back three times!

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Horribly ugly car, but I have good memories of it as a senior in college back in ’85. I had a thing going with a married lady for a while who had one of these, and she let me drive it when she was too drunk. That was a lot.

    Great engine and a lot better cornering than my Buick, but it was really hit by an ugly stick.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A true Last Days of Disco car.
    Chicks used to dig these cars for whatever reason, might be the BodySonic seats.

  • avatar
    frisby

    if this car was foind in greenville nc it was one of the two that i sent to the junk yard do to split in family

  • avatar
    terbennett

    FYI, This is the real deal. They were expensive but great cars. I remember my neighbor having one brand new when I was 11. There really wewren’t that many anniversary models made in 1984. The problem was that the only real AE models were Turbos only with the two-tone paint, BodySonic seats, etc. All other AE models were fakes. Dealers were putting AE badges on them to make them look more attractive to buyers. Kinda like the E36 BMW 3 series. Dealers were selling 3 series equipped with M3 cosmetics. Problem is that it has actually hurt the resale value of the E36 ME3s but that doesn’t matter to dealers. They’re in it to sell new cars.

    As for the VG30; Great running engines and very reliable. Only problem was the fuel injection on 1984-1989 models. They had a high failure rate. I remember my father had a 1985 Maxima GL wagon that actually caught on fire under the hood. They put it out in enough time to save it though. He paid to have the fuel injectors replaced. That was in 1989. Turned out that Nissan actually had a fuel injection campaign for the VG30s from that time. My father found out about it in 1992. He told Nissan about it and they gave him a free rental, reimbursed him for the repair he had already done, and replaced the entire fuel injection system. The car had close to 170,000 miles on it by that time and Nissan still took care of it for him. My father finally sold that car three years ago with 382,000 miles on it. How’s that for a durable engine?!


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