1984-’89 Nissan 300ZX Turbo | Hemmings Motor News

5 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 1984-’89 Nissan 300ZX Turbo | Hemmings Motor News
Nissan 300ZX

Blending High-Tech Performance and GT-Car Accourtrements

Feature Article from Hemmings Sports Exotic Car

By 1983, the fabled Datsun Z-car that took our nation by storm a dozen years earlier had largely faded into memory–and was sorely missed. Big bumpers added length and weight to later iterations of the original Z, and by the late 1970s, Nissan (then using the Datsun name) decided to take the Z upmarket. The result, perhaps as much a result of worldwide emissions legislation as a way to drive up profitability in the face of Japanese car quotas here in the States, was the 280ZX.

On the one hand, a turbocharged powerplant was available to help reinstate some of the immediacy and vigor of the original Zs. It also had much of the style of the previous Zs. On the other, it had grown soft with luxury options–it was often decried as being the sort of car your orthodontist would drive and think was sporty. (Mine had a brown, naturally aspirated 2+2 that was in perpetual need of a wash.)

A fresh approach was needed, so when Nissan announced that they wanted to continue the comfort of recent ZX models but offer performance in the spirit of the original Z, enthusiasts grew hopeful. Everything about the all-new 300ZX, internally coded Z31 and launched in the fall of 1983, was fresh yet familiar: It was still rear-wheel-drive, but while the engine still had six cylinders (and a turbocharged option was maintained), it was a V-6–the first V-6 engine that Japan had built.

The iron-block, SOHC aluminum-head VG30 allowed for more modern construction methods and tighter tolerances as well as a lower hoodline, allowing both a more aerodynamic profile and an 80-pound weight savings (compared to the competitive Supra’s inline-six) over the front wheels. Production VG30 blocks and head castings powered the thrice-IMSA-championship-winning GTP-ZX Turbo and NPT-90 racers.

The turbocharged version utilized an oil-cooled AiResearch unit putting out 6.7 p.s.i. and was rated at a healthy 200hp–a number that many enthusiasts never thought they’d see again as they entered the 1980s, much less from a six. (Mid-’87 and later engines were rated 5hp higher, thanks in part to better coolant flow and fully floating wrist pins; 1988 and ’89 turbo models also featured a lower-boost Garrett T25 turbocharger and higher compression.)

Suspension remained fully independent, but more modern chassis design allowed a wider track, an additional two degrees of caster in front and two more degrees of negative camber in the rear, offset springs for the MacPherson struts in front and springs completely separated from the shocks in back, a more linear rate of toe change from bump to rebound, and 20 percent less roll stiffness than the 280ZX. The result was both a smoother ride and better handling.

The style was sharpened up with hard-edged early 1980s aesthetics, including pop-up half-hidden headlamps, integrated bumpers and (for the turbos) a hood scoop. Designer Kazumasu Takagi took advantage of the lower hoodline allowed by the VG-family engine, and managed a cutting-edge drag co-efficient of .030. (A steady diet of body changes throughout the car’s life altered that number slightly over time.) The aero-friendly sheetmetal worked in concert with the engine to produce an electronically limited 137-mph top end in the Turbos. A 2+2 was still available, but not as a Turbo.

Whether Nissan’s gambit worked or not can be debated by Z-car enthusiasts until the end of time, but buyers spoke: 75,351 two- and four-seat 1984 300ZXs were sold in the United States; by the time the run of this generation concluded, some 329,000 were built, including more than 294,000 for export, 270,000 of which ended up in the States. For the purposes of this story, we will discuss only the two-seat turbo models, as they’re the most desirable.

The 1984 and ’85 models are visually indistinguishable from each other; they are also the most plentiful, with nearly 150,000 sold in the U.S. between these two model years. The ’85 turbo taillamps went from red to smoky gray, with a center tail panel callout above the license plate that reads 300ZX Turbo, and the turbo became watercooled. These two years are the Zenki (early) style Z31s.

Model year 1986 was something of a transitional year and is sometimes known as the Chuki (middle, or as-is) year: standard 16-inch wheels, the scoop shaved from the hood, a new rear spoiler with integrated third brake light, and the flared front fenders (now with similarly blistered rears) and side skirts from the 50th Anniversary 300ZX.

The next year, 1987, saw another facelift, this time with a new hood and headlamp doors, foglamps moved from inboard the headlamps to the front bumper, smoother bumpers front and rear, and the taillamp panel going full-width across the back of the car. The ’87s also got 16×7-inch wheels, larger front brakes, vented rear discs, and standard-power front seats.

Late ’87s (after April) received a clutch-type limited-slip differential that’s a bolt-in to earlier Z31s and features a 3.7:1 final drive; 1988 models got gray wheels, a compression bump to 8.3:1, a Garrett T25 turbocharger with 4.5 pounds of boost, and a 5hp boost (though torque numbers were unchanged). The ’89 models were carryovers.

Two special editions were available during the Z31-generation’s run: the 1984 50th Anniversary Edition, and the 1988 Shiro Special. The Anniversary Edition, seen here, celebrated Nissan’s 50 years of building cars. A total of 5,148 50th Anniversary Zs were built for the American market; Canada got an additional 300 cars of their own.

Drivetrain was the same as other Turbo ZX models, and beyond the 10-percent stiffer springs, recalibrated adjustable shocks, and turbo-finned 16-inch wheels with Pirelli P7 rubber, the special model also added silver-over-black paint with gold decal trim and emblems, ground effects, fender flares, mirror-glazed T-top roof panels, bronze-tinted windows, black leather interior with special embossed emblems, the digital instrument display, leather door inserts, an 80-watt AM/FM eight-speaker stereo with steering wheel controls and the Bodysonic sound system, a car cover, floor mats and a golden key. Later model year Zs received some of these upgrades, including the wheels, wider front fenders (1986-’89) and fender flares. Sticker price was a stiff $26,000; the only option available was swapping out the Borg-Warner five-speed transmission for a four-speed automatic.

The Shiro Special offered stiffer springs with matched shocks, heavy-duty anti-roll bars, a viscous limited-slip differential, Recaro seats, paint-matched 16-inch wheels that matched the Shiro’s pearl white body and a special front fascia, and deleted the adjustable shocks that every other Z31 Turbo came with. All had T-tops, analog gauges and a five-speed manual transmission.

Motor Trend tested one with the electronic speed limiter disabled and got it up to 153 mph in 1988, the fastest car in Japan at that time. Just 1,002 were built in early 1988, with 75 more built for Canada; for a Z31 enthusiast, this is arguably the most enthusiast-friendly Z31 the factory offered in North America.

And Greg Smith thinks that it’s just a matter of time before the Z31 generation catches on. Smith runs Motorsport Auto in Orange, California, a parts supplier for all Datsun and Nissan Z-cars for more than a quarter-century, and he sees the early 300ZX coming up. The first 300ZX was a sports car, but it’s got plenty of grand-touring touches in it.

There are more electronic accessories. There’s better fit and finish in the interior. And people are starting to discover that right now.

Some new parts are coming on line now, like weatherstripping, but keep in mind that these cars were made of higher-quality materials than some of the earlier cars, so there’s less that needs replacing.

Other than the Anniversary cars (like the one shown here, owned by Menifee, California, resident Allen Bauchner) and the Shiro Specials, which ones are people after? The early ’84 cars often came without T-tops, and people look out for those. Later cars have a little extra power and a limited-slip differential, and those ’87-up cars are getting a real following in the Z31 market.

So is this the time to buy? Absolutely, especially if you look at it long-term. It’s something you can work on, enjoy and drive for years. As far as Zs go, the Z31s are a bargain. They’re one of the few good-performing cars from the late ’80s.

It’s not something you’ll want to take to Barrett-Jackson in January, but if you’re looking to get into something inexpensively, you can really enjoy a good example at a reasonable entry price.

Nissan 300ZX


ENGINE (1984 Turbo Model)

Type: SOHC V-6, iron block and aluminum heads

Displacement: 2,960cc (190.6-cu.in.)

Bore x stroke: 87 X 83mm

Compression ratio: 7.8:1

Horsepower @ rpm: 200 @ 5,200

Torque @ rpm: 227-lbs.ft. @ 3,600

Turbocharger: Garrett T3, air-cooled, integral wastegate, 6.7 p.s.i.

Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
Nissan 300ZX
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