By on March 24, 2010

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.

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50 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1984 Nissan 300ZX Turbo...”

  • avatar

    The first car pictured looks like a 1984 50th Anniversary Edition 300ZX Turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I was wondering that myself; if we can confirm it, I’ll change the title. Do the anniversary models have some kind of plaque, or is that something only Detroit did?

    • 0 avatar

      Paul, Don’t forget, that this car appeared during Marvin Runyon’s time as CEO of Nissan N.A. … perhaps he brought some of the Ford badge-mojo with him…

      I always thought this version to be a poor attempt to out-Celica Toyota … its exaggerated nature made me think of the kind of car a glam-rocker might have driven…

    • 0 avatar

      The silver with black and gold “turbo” livery was only available on the 50th anniversary edition. The third picture is a regular z31. I really want a 50th anniversary z31. It has these awesome “body sonic” bass speakers in the seats. 80s all the way.

    • 0 avatar
      Gary Numan

      This sure is the rare 50th Anniversary Nissan. My Dad was a Nissan dealer and he rec’d one for inventory. I remember getting the shot to drive it the day it arrived with one of the salesmen riding shotgun. I was a senior in HS that year and keep in mind how horrible the cars where then…I’ll never forget the look on the older salesan’s face when I spooled it up in our downtown and got some rubber in 2nd gear. Yes, it even had the “Bodysonic” seats and all the toys. Again, cars really sucked in the late 70’s and into the early 80’s so this particular car is a bit noteworthy to say the least in terms of power, equipment options and rarity. Thank god the Asian motorcycle companies kept coming out with killer bikes during that lame car era to keep us motorheads entertained. Huge kudos to however has been keeping this rare car in such nice shape!

    • 0 avatar

      I own 4 Zcars.. I have two Anniversary Cars… And yes that is a Anniversary car you have pictured. There were a little over 3400 ever shipped to the US.. Only 1520 had the Body Sonic in the seats…Canada got about 1300.. none with the body sonic. I own 286 one off the line and 394. There both in showroom condition. I drive them daily. I also own a 85, and its all original and has won a couple of shows. And then i have a 600 hp 86 turbo monster.. Its a blast to Blow everything off the road when need be. The things pep pole dont know is that these cars are capable of 700 bolt on HP without touching ANY internal parts at all… if you go internal then you can get 1200 hp ..who can touch that,,, its only the VG30… So i can tell All of you ho say there junk and don’t run ,,, Well come see my collection and i will show you a new world of thinking about the Z car… Will have at least two tell my ending day,,, Live em and Love them..

      • 0 avatar

        To 300Zman, my dad has a 1986 or 1984 Nissan 300zx Turbo that he is saying is considered an antique. Do you happen to know what would be considered that or how I could figure it out? I would greatly appreciate any feedback!! Thank you!

      • 0 avatar

        Yoo wats up Zman I have a 300zx 50th 1984 how do I no if it has turbo?

        • 0 avatar

          All 50th Annv, were Turbo. But if you’re doubt me Check your motor it should say TURBO on the intake and on driver side strut and The door jam Is Your ID plates and it will tell you car color what factory it was made at unit number Vin Number and your motor which should be VG30ET The T is for Turbo. If not you got a Fake one. And the badge on the side of the driver side only should be the Dead Give away

      • 0 avatar

        I made an offer of 7000 for one with 123000 miles, good condition. What you think of the offer?

  • avatar

    Yeah, there’s a wreath badge on the rocker panels and I believe stitched into the seats as well. These were very comfortable cars. More for cruising than tracking. The creature comforts (seats that vibrated to music for example) and visuals made them fairly entertaining. Here’s more info…

  • avatar

    It’s a 50th, or somebody spent a ridiculous time making the outside correct for a 50th.

    There’s actually a number in the VIN to indicate if it is. Also, there’s interior clues.

    I’m sure there’s a hundred Z-car enthusiast sites that have all the minutae.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t there some kind of.. animosity about these cars against Vette’s? The turbine wheels are screaming to me, but the cabin seems to be a bit further moved back.

    And can someone tell me why the rear ends of these cars always looked like they were going to tip over. Its amazing how long the hoods always have been and yet the driver still sits on the rear wheels. (Styling is the same as the E Type, yet the E looks and sits better.)

    Yet when compared to the current gen cars.. they don’t have the same issues.. stylistically.

    Id also like to know..
    How in the world the driver of this beaut kept the front spoiler / splitter in one piece.. knowing how low it is, both in the picture and how close the front tires are to the curb…

  • avatar

    I’ve commented on this before, but it is worth reiterating: the Z’s (with the possible exception of the original 240) were always more about looks and less about go. Our ’76 280 Z was heavy, had steering feel like a truck, and proceeded to self destruct after a few years (paint crackled, foam dash dried up and split, seats wore out) and also had major electrical problems. The ex then bought a 280ZX sporting (the only thing “sporting” about it) a “red velvet” plush interior that would not have looked out of place in a Town Car. And who can forget the speedometer stopping at about 80mph? For that I don’t completely blame Nissan; I think our nanny government had something to do with that one.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that comment is a bit unfair. I dated a woman who had a 280 ZX turbo…I believe an ’82 IIRC and the car was a blast, at least by the standard of the day. It had a really cool “gauge in gauge” for the fuel. The last 1/4 tank had a sub gauge that gave really good resolution for the remainder of the fuel. She took advantage of that feature way too often for my tastes…this was my first experience in a performance ride…It met it’s demise due to tin worms; jacking up the car caused the jack to crush through the rotting body. I would love to have one today. I was not thrilled with the move to the 300s…

  • avatar

    Yes that first car is definitely a Anniv Edition. That is the luxo version of the Z31. My 86 Turbo was similarly equipt, with the computer displays, auto climate control, electronic suspension, and 20,000 way power leather thrones. That car was a lot of fun.
    My current Z31, the SS, or Shiro Special is the racy verion:

    I know they make horrible sports cars but I do love them anyway.

  • avatar

    Even after all these years I still think, “middle aged, balding men with gold chain necklaces” when I see one of these.

  • avatar

    Sumpthin’ about the car shown above makes me think of a Mistubishi Starion, generally, in the appearance department.

  • avatar

    The 240 and (especially) the 280ZX that preceded this car were really quite good-looking, as was the Z32 300ZX that succeeded it (especially the 2+2). Personally, I think the 2+2 Z32 300ZX was the Z-car zenith.

    This car suffers from just about every 1980s styling foible, surpassed only by the 1994 Grand Prix. I suppose they’ll make “period piece” status in a decade or so.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 280ZX, and while its not the most sporty car on the road, the styling has held up well when you compare it to the overabundance of 4th-gen Mustangs and Accords around here. There is plenty of aftermarket support for Z cars to upgrade the handling from Buick-like to something more interesting.

      There is a red Z31 that lives in my area. I never cared for the styling on the 300ZX, but it’s a nice example.

  • avatar

    What a challenge it must have been to make a car look sporty using only rectangles. The Supra had the same problem.

  • avatar

    These cars seem much larger in person. Painfully 1980s styling, but I like it. A friend had a 5-speed ice blue one with a blue velour interior for a while, similar to the one in third photo. A very smooth ride!

  • avatar

    I’ve got to say that the ’07 350Z I’ve driven is a damned nice car. Something about it just feels right. And while it might be porkier than the 300ZX, it’s not by much – maybe 10%?

    For my dad, who used to drive a purebred GT1 car (~760hp and 2800lbs on 14″-something-wide slicks) it’s far too slow for track days, but as a street car it fits the bill pretty well. And it’s gorgeous. It’s like Nissan had a huge pile of raw car-looks ore, refined the beauty out to make the 350Z, and used the rest to make the Juke.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree about the ’07… I split my commute between my ’07 Z and my beloved ’81 Fiat X1/9. The base Z is a great car, especially for the money.

  • avatar

    I always felt like this model launched the ‘boy racer’ look that should only be attainable by aftermarket tacky tack-on parts, rather than from the factory.

    The previous and later Zs are much cleaner.

  • avatar

    The Supra makes me think, “Japanese Camaro.” This makes me think “Japanese Corvette.” But I like it, then again I also like Corvettes, even the performance dogs of the 70s and 80s.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised no one’s commented on how cherry that car is…so I’ll be the first.

  • avatar

    I remember riding in one of these as a kid and thinking that rpm rising graphic like Atari/Intellivision/Collecovision was the coolest part of the car. Well, that and hitting 115 outside of Pahrump, Nevada. It was a really comfortable car at speed and it sounded pretty good from what I remember.

  • avatar

    Over here in NZ we got the NA SOHC and turbo SOHC, but as used JDM spec we also got a few VG20ET 2.0 turbo (which was actually a pretty good motor, with amazing revability for it’s day) and even less with the VG30DE DOHC and RB20DET straight-6 DOHC turbo, both far better engines IMHO.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’ll always have fond memories of this generation.

    My dad couldn’t pick me up from from elementary school one day (I think I was in the 2nd grade) and he had friend pick me up. The guy showed up in this gen Z car (some kind of ice blue paint) with the t-tops off.

    It was probably the coolest thing to happen to me in my elementary school career. The next day the kids at school asked me if that guy was my dad. “I wish,” I responded. It’s cool, though. My dad had a 240Z BEFORE he had me. His friend didn’t have kids.

  • avatar

    My mother had an ’86 in a really nice blue. My mother, btw, should never drive anything but Volvos, so I’ll have to ask my father why he bought it for her. Anywho – I was a senior in high school and my folks travelled a lot so I had a considerable amount of “Risky Business” seat time. My impressions: I remember the 2+2s were much uglier proportionally (my mama had the 2 seater). I also remember that the car spoke in a sultry female voice. “Lights are on. Door is ajar.” I was young – cool color, digital dash, sexy voice – I think I really was in love with the car. My mom let me drive it to graduation. Coming home by myself, t-tops off, Van Halen Fair Warning blasting, diploma on the passenger seat I decide to put a little pedal in it. I look over and the diploma is hovering above the seat, slams against the inside of the windshield and sticks there for a few seconds, and as I lunge to get it, it flies out the top. I figure I graduated, they have record of it, its only a piece of paper, so I keep motoring blithely through the universe. My parents made me go back and find it while all the graduation parties started without me. I did find it and still have it – all torn and tattered.

  • avatar

    Fantastic shape! Nice to see someone preserving one. Most that I see look quite shagged out. They are getting reasonably rare here now as they went through a stage of being about the cheapest “sporty” car a high school student could get their hands on – not exactly a recipe for long term survival.

  • avatar

    The Fair Lady was actually a fat lady.

  • avatar

    I want a ride in that 50th Anniv car to feel the subwoofers under the seats. What a cool and delightfully tacky idea!

  • avatar

    Amazing how dated these cars now look like as do the 3rd Gen F-body Camaro or Firebirds or 5.0 Mustangs.

  • avatar

    What an embarrassment.
    A decade earlier, this car’s predecessor was so cool!
    This one is SO not.
    Nissan seemed to have gone into some kind of doldrums during this time. During the 1970s they had all these ugly weird cars that looked like Disco-UFO machines, and by the early 1980s, it seemed that Nissan hadn’t a clue how to make a good looking car. Yeah, they looked better than the F-10, B-210 and the first SX, but it is like their designers tried to Americanize their cars, but went with all the wrong design trends.

    You have to had really fallen in love with Japanese cars and the original Z to justify buying this thing. It seems that a lot of old Mark IV cigar-smoking toupee-wearing fat guys traded in their vinyl-topped opera-windowed boats for these ZXs in order to appear youthful.

    Nasty cars!

    • 0 avatar

      Thats why everyday I drive one of my 4 Zcars ,,3 turbos and 1 non turbo… I have At least 3 comments on How Nice, Awesome, Bad ass , Unreal,Thats the S..Those are just a few a get,,, So Many cars look like Boxes and or Fat … Take a good look again… There not many cars that look like there going 100 sitting still..

  • avatar

    The 300ZX always struck me as being more of a personal luxury car than the everyman’s sports car that the 240 was.

  • avatar

    The 240SX is the closest Nissan got to the original 240Z.

    Though it did lose two cylinders and gain two seats, they are very similar otherwise.

  • avatar

    Really, we should look at this car in context. Cars were just starting to come up in power again in the mid-80s. Most Japanese cars were slow and quick to rust. The new Z reeked technology in 1984; a very desirable car.

    My boss got a new ’86 300Z (which lost the tacked-on flares for much more attractive real flares) and proceeded to abuse the heck out of it. She lent it to me for a week while she was out of town on the promise that I would change the oil and clean it out. What a job. The oil had NEVER been changed. Did you know that the starter motor has to be dropped to access the oil filter?

  • avatar

    “Did you know that the starter motor has to be dropped to access the oil filter?”

    Not true–Ive changed oil filters on many of those cars, never needed to remove the starter motor. Nissan DID want the starter removed to keep the oil from the loosened filter from entering the housing, but I personally havent seen any ill effects from leaving the starter in place during an oil/filter change.

  • avatar

    I like the clean looks of the Z in the third picture. While not that impressive today, when spy shots of this car were revealed in 83, the style was breath of fresh air, compared to the pig the 280 had become.

    The 84 Vette was revealed at the same time, and to a pre-pubescent kid, all I could think was how cool times were. 16 couldn’t come quick enough. All I wanted to do was drive one of these, even though deep down I knew, the closest I’d get to one was in my dreams.

  • avatar

    Ppoor man’s Porsche 928?

  • avatar

    Oh Paul, you’re so wrong on this car. It was awesome! I had an ’85, and then when that got destroyed in a wreck (not my fault!), I bought an ’86. Most fun I’ve ever had with a car. I loved driving it!

    BUT… and this is a big but, that car was a complete piece of shit. I mean EVERYTHING broke on that damn thing. It was a blast to drive and (I thought at the time) looked great, but man the quality was low.

    I love the current 370’s too, but I have little doubt that Nissan’s quality issues are still as bad as they ever were.

    • 0 avatar

      Ive drive one of my 4 everyday and … I think i spent… maybe 300 on anything extra… other than the normal oil changes, So i would say… not to bad a 2 – 28yr old 84 Annv cars and 27yr old showcar and a 86 600 hp Sleeper that blows everything off the road lol.. Its to bad you had a Lemon but i can tell you this thats all my family drives is NISSAN and they or I have never had Problems and not to be prejudice but iam the manager at AZ and i can tell you the least amount of parts i pull for are Nissan parts,, been there 4 yrs and thats the truth,, so if you like the 370 then you might become a Nissan guy once again .. have a good one..

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