By on July 18, 2016

1991 Infiniti M30 in California junkyard, RH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

When Nissan decided to push some chips into the serious North American luxury-car-market game, they didn’t have the resources to do what Toyota did and build an all-new machine from scratch. Instead, they turned the President luxury sedan into the Q45 and the Leopard sport coupe into the M30. Infiniti sold the M30 for just a few years before being replaced by the J30 for the 1993 model year. It’s been nearly forgotten today.

Here’s a very rare ’91 that I spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard a couple of weeks ago.

1991 Infiniti M30 in California junkyard, decklid emblem - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The M30 had rear-wheel drive, a four-speed automatic transmission, and a 162 horsepower member of the same VG30 V6 engine family that went into everything from the 300ZX to the Mercury Villager.

1991 Infiniti M30 in California junkyard, engine tag - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Under the hood, this classy tag displays engine specs.

1991 Infiniti M30 in California junkyard, rear seats - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This one has just over 150,000 miles on the clock, but it’s pretty well used up. The California sun has not been kind to this car’s leather upholstery, and the white duct tape wasn’t much of an improvement.

1991 Infiniti M30 in California junkyard, front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The J30 sold pretty well, and the M45 (a decade later) boasted a 340-horse V8, but memories of the M30 have faded by now.

The first US-market ads for the Q45 and M30 didn’t even show a car. Instead, geese.

“It’s like holding a well-made, perfectly balanced tool.”

In Japan, meanwhile, the Leopard got ads like this, featuring a sultry French woman.

Private Coupé!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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70 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Infiniti M30...”


  • avatar
    brettc

    Why does the Big 2 Door Leopard have a fake Connecticut plate in an ad with an Asian voiceover? Did they see Connecticut as the epitome of success or something?

    Also since I’m first, this thing just needed HELLCAT power or something.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      It was an epicenter of ’80s yuppiedom.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      The Japanese invasion was not limited to the West Coast, but initially had the most success in the US. As opposed to the British Invasion on the 1960s, which was pretty much nationwide;but, I digress. My take is that they were seeking to generate East Coast acceptance of their brand. Part of Connecticut, the southern tip, is a very short distance from New York City. They were looking for East Coast success to follow that of the West Coast, with the rest of the country to follow. Admittedly, only speculation on my part.

      I actually liked the looks of these, back in the day, and always had thoughts of finding a nice, clean, well-cared for example after they’d been around for a while and become far more affordable.

      As for the HELLCAT, who wouldn’t like to own one? But, how many years will it take until a clean, low-miles, babied HELLCAT is at what us average Joes would consider an affordable price range?????

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The M30, even when it was released, did nothing for me. The J30 – and it seems I’m in the minority – was a beautiful car for the time.

    But when I look at a J30 pic now, I think “stretched out first generation Altima”.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the J30 and the 3rd gen Maxima were based on the same platform. The Maxima was the J30 series. I didn’t realize the Infiniti J30 was RWD and the two actually don’t have anything in common.
      I had to tuck my tail between my legs when arguing with a coworker over the fact.

      I never liked the look of the J30, I could never get over the rear end shape.

      • 0 avatar
        Paragon

        Like you, Land Ark, I just couldn’t take the look of the J30 based on the rear end. And, that was years before the weird BMW BangleButt, which I also disliked.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      I to loved the J30 look. several cars after it copied the drop tail. To me it was the 4 door coupe of its time. Stylish, slightly powerful and comfy but tight interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      The J30 always looked like a Buick to me. Not that they aren’t a nice looking car, but the shape says Buick at first glance.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      I really liked the M30 convertible. It was a reliable alternative to a BMW ragtop at the time, and did carry some cachet since Infiniti was relatively new to the market. The J30 was a cool car too, especially with a manual transmission. I even liked the original Q45 – it drove like an old school muscle car while being rock solid and super quiet. The only thing it was lacking was a cupholder!

      • 0 avatar
        Synchromesh

        The J30 was never available with a manual, they were automatic only. Which is a shame!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The take rate would have been nearly nil. Not like they sold many of these with the SC300 around anyway though.

          Always felt the M30 was just a bit too small when your only other brand offering is the massive Q45. They should’ve brought over either a smaller sedan right away, or a larger coupe.

      • 0 avatar
        Paragon

        SSJeep, yes, back in the day, were I able to afford a (foreign-brand) luxury automobile, I’d have gone for a Q45. I liked those a lot, and still do to this day.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    that plate is not nearly as classy as the “6-3/4 Litre, harrumph” under the hoods of Rolls/Bentley cars with that engine.

    and that reminds me how much longer the Japanese manufacturers clung to distributors long after DIS arrived.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      That generation of Leopard came out in 1986 in Japan, so it was already at the end of its life cycle by the time it got here. The engine was a carryover from the ’80s 300ZX (probably for emissions reasons), so we didn’t get the DOHC turbo mill.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        My ’98 MPV had a SOHC 3.0L V6 mill (155hp) that had a distributor and 60k timing belt intervals. The ’96 4Runner that replaced it has a 3.4L DOHC V6 making 183hp and a lot more torque, with 90k intervals and a paired-coil ignition system. The Mazda’s V6 came from that late-80s generation of 3.0L japanese V6s making 150-160ish HP along with the VG30 and Toyota’s earlier 3VZ, whereas the 4Runner’s 5VZ was a brand new motor for ’96. To be fair the Mazda’s distributor never gave us a lick of trouble. Mazda 18 valve 3.0L is a pretty durable if underpowered workhorse, noisy lash adjusters and valve cover leaks were annoying to deal with but ultimately not detrimental to how the engine itself runs. Overall the ‘yota motor is head and shoulders better: no oil leaks, runs quieter, makes more power and torque across the board, and gets better mileage (a function of that better torque curve and transmission gearing, plus lower vehicle weight no doubt). From indirect knowledge, Nissan’s VG30 and later VG33 in SUV/truck applications has always been a thirsty and fairly gutless but reliable motor, the Pathfinder was transformed once it got the Maxima’s VQ35 and later the VQ40 across the board did Nissan’s truck/SUV line much good (aside from the timing chain tensioner failure thing on earlier motors).

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    I totally remember those first Infiniti commercials. Now there was a serious “WTF” moment! If I recall correctly, the Q45 commercial was just an extended shot of wind blowing through a grassy field. No car whatsoever.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      And unfortunately this is one of the reasons they continue to fail. Nothing lasts like a first impression and they never got over that part of it. I loved the cars but I have never been the average person that looks at cars just like most of us here. The average Joe did not get it and so he went to the local Lexus dealer where he knew what the cars looked like before hand.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Infiniti had a good thing for a while with the G35/37: 9/10s of a ’90s BMW at 7/10s the price and 1/2 the maintenance costs. Then the cars got weird, everything got renamed, and the market moved away from sport/performance.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I think the new Q50 is a looker, though.

          • 0 avatar
            HotPotato

            Really? The Q50, to me, looks like a car of half the price–like a tranquilized Mazda 6.

            Infiniti has had some inspired ideas (FX35) and insipid ones (G20). The brand never seems to know what it wants to be. We’re establishing uniquely Japanese luxury with the Q45 and J30! No wait, we’re reinterpreting the soul of 1970s Detroit muscle sedans with the early M35 and G35! No wait, we’re reinterpreting the soul of 1980s Jaguars with the M45 and EX35! No wait, we’re de facto just a trim level for Nissans with the I30 and QX4! No, we’re…what are we?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I take issue with a couple (make that several) things here:

            -The “early Mxx” based on the Gloria was the 45. None of those had a V6.
            -The G20 (Primera) wasn’t a bad car, and was pretty good for entry level luxury back in the day. People love that engine in there.
            -Nobody ever thought the G35 was even remotely “Detroit muscle.”
            -The EX35 being a small RWD/AWD SUV isn’t really anything like -any- 1980s Jaguar.
            -You listed the QX4 and I30 out of historical order in your rant, but both of those were different than the Pathfinder and Maxima. Especially in the case of the QX4, which received a very different interior and exterior treatment.

          • 0 avatar
            Paragon

            I agree Kyree. Looks pretty nice to me.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I love the M30, J30 and the first M45. Three of my favorite Nissan/Infiniti products, along with the 95-9 Maxima and two door G35/37, of the 80s+ (I liked some of the old RWD Datsuns from the 70s).

    I’ve driven an M30, briefly owned a J30, and have sat in an M45 (didn’t have a chance to drive one). I liked them all.

    I see J30s with bad transmissions going for cheap. Mine also had issues with its transmission. I thought if I picked up a good runner (bad trans) for like $800 or less, I’d do a manual swap from a 300ZX. I know that neither the J30, nor its JDM cousin Leopard, offered a manual, but it’s be neat to make one work in it.

    Of course, I’d need JDM badges for my M30, J30 (both Leopard) and M45 (Laurel? Cedric? Can’t remember off hand).

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      M45 was a Y34 Cedric/Gloria with a Q45 front clip to accommodate the V8.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Nissan transmissions were a bit iffy back then, I passed on a somewhat nice Maxima due to their flaky autos, well and the car having a worn out suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        The J30 used a RWD-specific Jatco, shared with the pathfinder/D21 pickups and Mazda used them on their MPV and 929. Nothing inherently bad about them IMO, although I’d prefer a Toyota-sourced Aisin of that era given a choice.

        The FWD Jatcos are likewise not bad from a reliability point of view, of course long term abuse would bring about their demise. The 142k unit in my beater Maxima seems to shift smoothly and operate as designed, in spite of what I assume is zero maintenance. I’ll be doing some drain and fills at some point.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          What year was your Maxima?

          It was mostly the 89-94 models that I read about (the 4DSC era), neat cars transmission aside.

          The generation after that is a pretty reliable model if often under serviced, 200k is not abnormal for them.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            2000, first year of the 5th generation, which is more or less just a restyled and cost cut 4th generation. Later years got the 3.5 but mine has an identical-to-4th gen 3.0L.

            Yeah the one thing that really does these in is rust. The bodies rust more than contemporary Hondas and Toyotas, but more importantly actual structural components are affected by said rust (lower radiator support). I’d argue Nissans of this era rust every bit as much as Mazda Proteges and 626s and MPVs.

            Aside from the rust, and some cheap sensors/auxiliary components(crank position, MAF, coils) these things are total tanks. MacPherson strut front couldn’t be more durable or simpler/cheaper, rear torsion beam that handling snobs poo-poo is likewise beyond durable and has very few components to wear out or replace. Engine has a timing chain and thrives on neglect and abuse.

            Now, overall I’d say a similar vintage Camry will hold up better with age in terms of how well it rides on worn shocks, how well interior materials hold up, etc. But the Maxima has its own sort of appeal, it has a slightly harder edge to it, a smattering of sportiness and character if you will.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At gte:

            To the Torsion beams credit it holds up better vs the fourth gens gimmicky “super solar suspension”, better engine choices too.

            For me, The biggest pro to a used Maxi over a Camry is the simple fact it’ll be cheaper, and it uses a timing chain.

            Rust-wise, I think Mazda and Subaru are a bit worse honestly. Toyota seems a bit better in this regard.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      Yes, John, the original M45 is another of my favorite older Infinti models. Seems like they never caught on as well as they seemingly should have. Would still love to own a nice, clean, well-cared for M45.

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    I took an M30 convertible for a test drive. It had more cowl shake and chassis flex than the Triumph Spitfire I learned to drive in, despite being many decades newer and waaaay more advanced. I think Nissan hired a firm to chop roofs off with a Sawzall without regard for structural rigidity.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Seems very odd they’d show the Japanese executive in the Leopard with a white woman? Conservative Japanese would frown on this quite a lot I’d think.

    And the French woman was clearly a hooker.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, the correct color for this car was pearl white with gold badges, followed by maroon with gold badges, and then black. With gold badges.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Gotta love how the M30 makes a wee 2hp more than other Nissans with that same engine, including the 300zx!

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Betcha anything that the lifespan of this car took a sharp, fast dive after it ended up in the hands of “Yosemite Survival Girl”. :-P

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I wish we’d gotten the Toyota Soarer (the one before the SC300/400) in the states, that thing looks way better than this to me.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I love and appreciate the keening irony produced by accompanying these grimy postmortems with the dreamy image-weaving of the original ads.

    Prestige doesn’t last as long as a cheap coffee maker.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Back in the day the convertible version was popular with “women of a certain age” who couldn’t quite swing a Mercedes SL and needed something to drive to Chico’s.

    Later on these same women would feel bad about not being able to afford a Lexus SC430.

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    We never got these M30s in Australia. The only Infiniti we got at the time was the Q45 (introduced in 1991) and it flopped, partially due to it’s high purchase price (A$140,000) and was subsequently withdrawn in 1993. They have since returned however.

    As for this car, it’s reached the end and probably looked like it well before it ended up here…

  • avatar

    The owner of one of the big dealerships here in Portland owned one of these in white before he passed so I’m assuming his son has it now. Not that they ever drive it. Last I saw it the thing had been crammed into the corner of one of their temporarily unused showrooms away from the public eye. I believe it only had something like 27,000 miles on it.

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