Robert Bowen
Robert Bowen
12/31/12 12:27 p.m.

The late ’90s and early ’00s were dark days for American fans of the Nissan marque. Their 300ZX and its twin-turbo V6 died out in 1996, the Sentra SE-R became fat and slow, and the 240SX had pretty much fizzled out. The brand that had once been red-hot had lost much of its mojo.
However, Renault and CEO Carlos Ghosn came to rescue the ailing Japanese automaker in 1999 thanks to the Renault-Nissan Alliance. First order of business was to inject some excitement into the American lineup.
Nissan had toyed with the idea of a new Z-car a few times over the years, showing a 240Z concept in 1999 to lukewarm reception. The concept car was powered by the ubiquitous KA24 four-cylinder engine—the same one used in the Altima, 240SX and pickup.
The all-new production Z-car arrived soon after for the 2003 model year. It was a clean-sheet design sporting a totally new chassis, fresh looks and a V6 engine—like its predecessors, this one would have six-cylinder power. That’s not to say the 350Z didn’t share anything with other cars. The new FM chassis was common to the Infiniti G35 coupe and sedan as well as the FX and EX crossovers. Its engine was set well back in the chassis for favorable weight distribution, and sophisticated multi-link arrangements suspended both ends.
Under the hood of the new Z-car was a 3.5-liter version of the corporate DOHC aluminum V6, which had powered the Maxima and Pathfinder models since the late 1990s. In the 350Z, it initially produced 287 horsepower thanks to a revised intake and exhaust plumbing.

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