It’s seen 6 generations. And it has transformed a single letter into a status symbol. It is the legendary Nissan Z and in case you haven’t driven one yet, you haven’t truly lived. To grasp the impact and size of Nissan’s sports icon, you must go back in time to where it all began…
The early sixties… Nissan was still a relatively small company when it joined forces with Yamaha to design a new halo sports car prototype that would enhance the company’s image. By 1964 however Nissan scrapped the project and concentrated on the development of a cheaper sports car. Already producing a line of Fairlady roadsters, it started planning a new line of GT cars that would be equally fast and stylish but also not too expensive via the use of interchangeable parts with other Nissan cars.
The first generation Z’s production started towards the end of 1969 with two versions: the Fairlady Z (96kW) for the Japanese market and the Datsun-badged 240Z (113kW) for the US market. It was an immediate hit in the States, selling over 45 000 units in 1971 and over 50 000 units in 1972 alone. More tweaks like raising the motor size and adding 2+2 models resulted in the launch of the 260Z and 280Z in this time.
The second generation Z has been released as the Datsun/Nissan 280ZX in 1978 which left the 280Z engine unchanged but the interior and exterior revamped to make it even more lavish to comply with consumer demands. This creation Z saw the release of T-tops, a turbocharged model and a 10th Anniversary Edition, which featured gold emblems and gold alloy wheels.
In 1984, the Z was completely redesigned to bring us into the third generation, the 300ZX. Sporting a 3.0L V6 engine it offered three variants producing 120kW, 150kW and 170kW respectively. Its new styling, enhanced performance and extra features made this the second-best selling Z-car ever. It was during this model’s reign that Nissan aggressively promoted the brand’s name change from Datsun to Nissan. A special 1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Edition, marking the company’s 50th anniversary season, was released with every luxury feature accessible.
The fourth generation Z, still retaining the 300ZX name and the V6 engine, was released in 1990. With double overhead camshafts and VVT, it produced 166kW in naturally aspirated form. The turbo variant, featuring upgraded twin turbochargers now delivered a staggering 224kW. It raked in numerous names and place sales soaring, hitting the 1 million sales mark in 1990 and which makes it the one time best selling sports car. The rise of the Yen, soaring sales prices and the SUV-trend saw a decline of earnings towards the mid nineties.
From 1997 – 2002, Nissan shifted focus towards SUVs though it established the 240Z Concept in 1999 at the North American Auto Show to keep the interest alive. Though it would take the initiative of new CEO, Carlos Ghosn in 2001 to promise reporters that they would build a new Z and make it profitable.
In 2002 the fifth generation Nissan 350Z was released with a 3.5L V6 engine initially producing 214kW and 371Nm, which was increased to 220kW and 353Nm in 2005 and up to 228kW in 2007.
Powered by a 3.7L V6 engine, and partnered with either a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed auto with paddle shifters, it delivers 248kW of power and 370Nm of torque, which makes it the fastest Z yet.
Where will Nissan take its iconic Z sports car next? We can only wait and see.