• Nov 8, 2007
It was a life changing experience, coming across that pearl white 300ZX Turbo one warm summer evening. It was the first car that I ever photographed with a zoom lens, staving off boredom waiting for some fireworks to start. The Nissan Z cars had already been well established for a generation by the time I shot it on that July night back in the early '90s. This car, however, etched itself into my psyche in an instant.

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The early '90s were a time of great promise for buyers of overtly sporting cars. There were incredibly capable (and horrifically uncomfortable) new F-Bodys growling around, the RX-7 was in its third generation and sported twin sequential turbochargers, Toyota was still building the Supra, and everyone was dumping big old helpings of high-tech into their performance cars.

Contemporaries to the 300ZX were cars such as the Mitsubishi 3000GT and the aforementioned RX-7. Both the Nissan and the Mitsu had 4-wheel steering setups, turbocharged V6 engines with four valves per cylinder, and the 3000GT also had all-wheel drive that offered the advantage of traction yet with the handicap of weight. The Z32 version of the Nissan Z-car was the né-plus-ultra of its series, and until we got the 350Z it was the final gasp of what started out as the 240Z way back when.

Street parked neatly with its standard T-tops stowed in the cargo area, the particular Z that caught my fancy some 15 years ago shone like a diamond along a thoroughfare lined with late-70s Malibus, Stanzas, and the occasional slightly-sporty-but-mostly-dorky Turbo Probe. That pearl white exterior was complemented nicely by a tan-hued passenger compartment. At once, the lines were clean and purposeful without being flamboyant, almost reminiscent of a Porsche 944 but not in the direct-lift way that the second generation RX-7 was. The looks have aged well, and given the choice between a 1995 300ZX Turbo and a 2005 350Z, I'd pick the '95 on looks alone.

I keep coming back to the scene of the Z on the street in my formative years, because it's the same type of story you'll get from a Baby Boomer, only they'll be reminiscing about the first time they saw a split-window Corvette. These early-90s-near-supercars occupy the same status for some of us. You can't argue with all of the accolades that the Z32 received, either. Buff-books happily showered the Z32 with praise and positions on many "best-lists."

The 1990 300ZX was a clean-sheet rethink of what had become more of a pleasantly capable GT by the time the R31 300ZX came online in 1983. The R31 heralded a new V6 powerplant, the VG series V6; the first Nissan bent-six that made us swoon. The VG was in everything from the Maxima to the Infiniti J30. Wearing dual overhead cam cylinder heads for 1990, the VG30DETT nestled down under the sloping hood of the 300ZX. Fed by twin turbochargers blowing through a pair of intercoolers, the three liter engine pounded out 100hp/liter. Even now, 300 horsepower isn't anything to sneeze at, but at a time when the Z28 was laying down 275 horsepower from an LT1, a 300 horsepower V6 was heady stuff.

Technology was all over the '90 Z cars. Two-position variable valve timing, which advanced the intake cams at low engine speeds, smoothing out the idle and offering improved torque. All four wheels steered, either via the hydraulic HICAS system, or the much lighter electrically-actuated Super HICAS setup that appeared on later models. After the Buick Grand National terrorized roads everywhere with a single AiResearch huffer hung off the 231 V6, the 300ZX gets our vote for baddest of badass turbo V6 cars that you stand a chance of ever buying. A quick check of eBay shows prices in the $5-12,000 dollar range for something that's not a basket case. The good thing about the Zs is that they're popular, so there's lots of aftermarket and enthusiast support, unlike some other more esoteric choices.

The Zs weren't a screaming bargain, ringing up for around $30,000, a sum that still remains more than I want to spend on a car and entirely out of my reach when I was in high school. That price bought you a car that was attractive, able to run with the big dogs and well assembled. The 300ZX Turbo was and is a well-rounded package for the money. There were better handlers, faster competition, even competitors with more seductive lines, but the Z did just about everything well, and it was liveable, too. Besides, the Z had one of the best car commercials ever, with Barbie jilting Ken for GI Joe in a Z, set to Van Halen. That right there likely sold a good many Zs.

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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 47 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      First time I saw one in the sheetmetal. LA Auto Show in 1990 (it was held in January back then). I drove down to LA from Santa Barbara, and as everyone has mentioned, it was good times from a car perspective. But I remember when I first stumbled upon the Nissan display. There on the turntable was this bright red 300ZX, with the T-Tops out and a tan leather interior. As the nose of the car rotated around to face me, I stood face to face with a dream. To nobody in particular I said "wow! It's smiling at me!" To which an older guy probably in his 40s (I was a college freshman back then) said "yeah. It is." In the same, awed, little kid voice I'd just used. The new one is nice, but I'd pick a T-top twin turbo over a current 350Z any day of the week on looks alone.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I own a '92 Arctic White twin turbo. 185k miles her, and the only problem I have had is a siezed turbo at ~150k. Very easily modified to push out over 400hp for less then $1k, and up to 700hp without breaking the bank.

      The main problem with them is that the wiring harnesses become very brittle due to the heat under the hood, and as of last year Nissan stopped manufacturing them. Hopefully an aftermarketer will come up with a solution.

      Great lines even today, nice performance, and reliability lends itself to me agree (and hoping) that this car will indeed become a classic.
      • 7 Years Ago
      :::cough::: twin-turbo :::Cough:::

      4 cars died that same year that where all great looking.

      300z
      FD Rx-7
      Supra
      3000gt

        • 7 Years Ago
        Amen. They are missed.
      • 7 Years Ago
      i dont think these will be classic

      they have all the complexity and weight of a new car without any of the newness

      noone is going to pay $40k+ for one of these in 20 years. it doesnt offer a unique driving experience, its not lightweight (its a total porker), or particularly communicative.

      styling has already dated horribly

      the 240z will be the only z car to become a classic
        CW
        • 7 Years Ago
        I remember that commercial. Classic. Too bad they were more expensive back then than they are today. Long live the Z
        • 7 Years Ago
        Classics are the cars people loved and dreamt about, a Bel Air wasn't a performance car and it's a classic, a lot of the late 80s-early 90s import sports cars will be classics, FC and FD RX-7s, Supras, Zs, etc... these are the cars that guys my age will be buying when we're the age of 70% of the people at Barret Jackson

        Heck, it performs better than all the muscle cars on the block today, and it's still a beautiful car

        the 240Z will be a HUGE collectors car as well, I love them, amazing design, and enough of a revolution to have everyone appreciate it
      Bryan
      • 7 Years Ago
      More like classic piece of junk. Where are they today? Never see them.
        • 7 Years Ago
        @Bryan
        All the nice ones are still in garages. Others have all been wrecked or blown up by bad maintance or poor modding. Like any of the 90's turbo cars. Hard find real nice ones rolling around anymore.
      • 7 Years Ago
      My brother-in-law, who can afford just about anything, still has his white '90 normally aspirated Z as his daily driver. It's definitely a nice ride though your never forget its weight and high belt line on mountain drives.

      I agree that the RX-7 ranks significantly higher when it comes to classic status. Its a unique driving experience and sports a wonderful curvaceous body likes of which we may never see again, with the possible exception of the trickle of Alfa Competziones that make it over here. A downside, (though possibly adding to its "classic" status) is that RX-7s are not particularly easy to own. The very thing that makes its driving experience so special, the high-strung rotary, and the light-weight components, make it a bit on the fragile side. The 300X on the other hand, is a pretty solid and basic instrument, with expected Japanese QRD that is simply battling time like any 80s product.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Still a great looking car, even today. I love the 350Z but that 300ZX has the edge, if only slightly.

      Along with the NSX, I think this was the greatest car of the 1990s.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Nice write-up Dan. I agree the 300Z's are still great looking cars.

      The red car underneath the headline is actually a naturally aspirated 300Z though. The twin turbos had a small spoiler in the back and two small horizontal slits in the front. The gallery photo at the right is a twin turbo.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think it had the best lines for the 90's japanese super car killers. Modded these cars were jaw droppers to me.
      I still have a warm place in my heart for my old Z. It by far had my favorite cockpit out the 90's imports.
      Jason
      • 7 Years Ago
      I gotta say, im a BIG Z fan hince the reason I own a 94 Twin turbo. 430hp with just basic bolt on's makes it one fun ass car.



      • 7 Years Ago
      I've always thought the 4th gen Z was ugly as hell and I still do. 2nd and 3rd gen are where it's at.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The NSX was the best car from this era, which is why a 1991 in mint condition still goes for at least $30,000.

      Second up is the RX-7, followed by the Supra, then the 300 Z, then the 3000 GT.

      Round two.

      1) Nissan GT-R
      2) Lexus LF-A
      3) Honda Civic Si
      4) Mazda RX-8
      3) Hyundai Genesis Coupe
      4) Subaru WRX Sti
      5) Mit. Evo X

      Man I miss the early 90's for cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        your just ignorant how are you gonna have the civic si in the number three spot out of all these cars to choose from
        • 7 Years Ago
        Okay fine - the NSX is definitely an impressive car, and a classic in its own right. That said, it was an entirely different thing, and I'd argue that the NSX could be better deemed an exotic - or at least "near-exotic" - it's more a Ferrari than a Camaro, you know?
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