David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/22/19 9:27 a.m.


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story by David S. Wallens• photos as credited

editor's note: This is an article from a past issue of the magazine. Some of the entities provided in "Parts & Service" section either do not have a working website or no longer exist.

When it comes to Z-cars, everyone wants the original 240Z. It’s viewed as the true athlete of the family thanks to its minimal mass and lightning-fast reflexes. Plus, it’s the one that made automotive history, displacing traditional European sports cars from their perch while scoring countless race wins.

What about the 1984–’89 Nissan 30ZX, the first real redo for the Z-car line? Today this Z31-chassis Z is shunned and ignored by the hardcore sports car elite, who view it as a boulevard cruiser or perhaps LeMons fodder at best.

What if we told you that the 300ZX offers more performance than you think? Way, way back in 1996, a little magazine called Grassroots Motorsports pitted the 240Z against a 300ZX. The test cars were prepared for SCCA Improved Touring S competition, and our drivers included the day’s best: Grayson Upchurch Jr., a supporter of the newer alternative, and longtime 240Z driver and tuner John Williams. We performed the test at Road Atlanta, back before they filled in the dip.

After his session in the 300ZX, Williams proclaimed it the slower sibling. Then we looked at the lap times: It circled Road Atlanta just as quickly as his trusted steed.

What the what?

The softness of the 300ZX, our drivers concluded, seemed to mask its speed. More good news for 300ZX fans: Its brakes were less prone to failure and its then-revolutionary V6 offered more torque.

The 300ZX didn’t take over the class, though, since it was the more expensive option at the time–funny how the tables have turned. The 240Z also offered more race development. Perhaps the final strike against the 300ZX’s racing pedigree was the prevalence of T-tops. Most cars came so equipped.

Looking for even more performance? Nissan also offered a turbocharged model–although like all other turbocharged cars, it was prohibited from the SCCA Improved Touring ranks, hence its omission from that comparo.

Fast-forward to today, and most 300ZXs have been unceremoniously driven into the ground. A few good cars do remain, though, and we’re going to call them off-the-radar Japanese collectibles. Find a good one and you’ll stand out.

Which one to buy? Our friends at Acadiana Sports Car Orphanage recommend a 50th Anniversary Edition car. “[They’re] fantastically equipped ’84 Turbo models that definitely look the part of an ’80s import street machine,” they explain, “fender flares and skirts, awesome black-and-gray paint scheme with gold trim, and decadent options that are truly from the ’80s, like a Body Sonic integrated seat/subwoofer system.”

Roughly 5000 Anniversary Edition cars were made, they add, although they warn that some dealers slapped the same badges onto regular-spec cars.

Their next recommendation is the Shiro Special, a stripped-down 1988 Turbo model with a stiffened suspension, limited-slip diff and traditional gauges.

Hagerty actually shows that prices are on the rise for good examples of the 300ZX, with the best Turbos on the planet now worth a surprising $20 000 or more Closer to reality, we have seen nice 300ZXs advertised around the $5000 mark.

Read the rest of the story

te72
te72 Reader
2/24/19 10:12 p.m.

True story, an 84 Turbo 300ZX was the car that opened my eyes to the reality of how fast old sports cars could be. This was in the early 2000's, a good friend of mine had one. Had a lot of fun in that car.

 

I forget why he ended up selling it, I could have picked it up for a song, but I didn't know which end of a wrench to stick on the bolt back then, so I declined his generous offer. Looking back, it was probably something simple.

 

Few years later, another friend in another state picked up an 88 Turbo. He tried to kill the VG30 so he could stuff in some SBC variant or another. That VG just laughed at his efforts... If there's one company that does a good V6, I'd say it's Nissan.

rattfink81
rattfink81 New Reader
2/24/19 11:57 p.m.

I keep eyeing these on Craigslist but talk my self out of it as I’ve never personally owned a Japanese car(the wife has had many that I do maintenance on) and I think It would end in a yard full of old Japanese cars parked next to all my vw’s. 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
2/25/19 8:34 a.m.
te72 said:

True story, an 84 Turbo 300ZX was the car that opened my eyes to the reality of how fast old sports cars could be. This was in the early 2000's, a good friend of mine had one. Had a lot of fun in that car.

 

I forget why he ended up selling it, I could have picked it up for a song, but I didn't know which end of a wrench to stick on the bolt back then, so I declined his generous offer. Looking back, it was probably something simple.

 

Few years later, another friend in another state picked up an 88 Turbo. He tried to kill the VG30 so he could stuff in some SBC variant or another. That VG just laughed at his efforts... If there's one company that does a good V6, I'd say it's Nissan.

I had an '88 non-turbo in high school. I beat on that car mercilessly and it never skipped a beat. I think I got it with 70k miles on it (in '98) and sold it in 2002 with 155k miles on it. 

I used to do ridiculous stuff like start it on a 30F day to go to school, and would immediately start going full throttle to redline while it was stone cold. It still didn't even burn oil when I got rid of it. 

te72
te72 Reader
2/26/19 10:10 p.m.

In reply to rattfink81 :

Like all things, some are good, some, not so much. These old Z's are pretty solid. I wouldn't want to work on one, but I'm not too big on V-engines anyway. Have only owned... three V8's over the years. Figure as long as you get one that's been cared for, might be worth a shot. Like any car from this era, replace the old rubber, keep an eye on the fluids, and it should treat you well.

te72
te72 Reader
2/26/19 10:13 p.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Soon as I read your cold start to redline comment, I thought to myself, "this guy's a maniac with no mechanical sympathy whatsoever" ...and then I saw your username. How apt, I love it. Truthfully I did the same thing in my first car, a 94 Cavalier 4 door. Not sure how that turd survived me driving it for 5 years.

 

Like I said though, VG engines, good stuff. How bad was working on them, in your experience?

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
2/27/19 7:37 a.m.

Not bad, the plugs are a big of a pain since they are up on top of the head wedged in between the intake manifold and valve cover. Suspension stuff was no big deal, I was 18 without much knowledge at the time so I let me mechanic replace the clutch and timing belt/water pump.

My friends and I did the eibach springs/koni's and ST swaybars.

They have horrible rear suspension geometry and the diff mounts were trashed 20 years ago if it hasn't been replaced or welded solid.

te72
te72 Reader
2/27/19 9:52 p.m.

That sounds like a strange location for the plugs to me, but I'm used to Toyota M and JZ engines, where they're right between the cams, somewhat deep into the head. Suppose that same sort of location doesn't quite work the same way on a single cam head. All about perspective!

 

Sounds about like a Supra, front end stuff on a VG shouldn't be too terribly bad I wouldn't think, no more so than most longitudinal engines anyway.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
2/28/19 11:00 a.m.

My father had one before the ocean claimed it. It consistently ran great when everything else was dying. He replaced it with a 260z which the ocean also claimed as it's own. (we lived on a flood prone barrier island)

Tomwas1
Tomwas1 New Reader
2/28/19 11:03 a.m.
z31maniac said:

Not bad, the plugs are a big of a pain since they are up on top of the head wedged in between the intake manifold and valve cover. Suspension stuff was no big deal, I was 18 without much knowledge at the time so I let me mechanic replace the clutch and timing belt/water pump.

My friends and I did the eibach springs/koni's and ST swaybars.

They have horrible rear suspension geometry and the diff mounts were trashed 20 years ago if it hasn't been replaced or welded solid.

The car came with a foot long spark plug removal socket under the rear carpet along with wheel chocks lug wrench and lug nuts in a thick sponge rubber mat that just loved to hold moisture and promote rust under it... The plugs were no problem using the socket, just had to remove a bolt that held the accelerator cable to access the rear plug. Timing belt was a pita but absolutely necessary being an interference engine. When the rear crossmember bushings and diff bushings wore out the suspension would bang and shift all over the place... I did the bushing  replacement in my driveway with numerous scissor jacks holding everything up. Nissan wanted $1000 bucks to do it. I got the parts and spent about eight hours on it.  I have owned 17 ZX cars, a mix of Z31 and S130s. Had one 84 ae in the mix. Just last year I owned a 1980 280zx for nine months. If a nice Z31 comes along i would not hesitate to pick it up... Enjoy

nutherjrfan
nutherjrfan UltraDork
2/28/19 12:52 p.m.
nutherjrfan
nutherjrfan UltraDork
2/28/19 12:53 p.m.

to be honest i'd be tempted to offer a straight trade for the SVTf if he could trailer to me.  At least I'd have my heart in the Nissan. smiley

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
2/28/19 1:56 p.m.
Tomwas1 said:
z31maniac said:

Not bad, the plugs are a big of a pain since they are up on top of the head wedged in between the intake manifold and valve cover. Suspension stuff was no big deal, I was 18 without much knowledge at the time so I let me mechanic replace the clutch and timing belt/water pump.

My friends and I did the eibach springs/koni's and ST swaybars.

They have horrible rear suspension geometry and the diff mounts were trashed 20 years ago if it hasn't been replaced or welded solid.

The car came with a foot long spark plug removal socket under the rear carpet along with wheel chocks lug wrench and lug nuts in a thick sponge rubber mat that just loved to hold moisture and promote rust under it... The plugs were no problem using the socket, just had to remove a bolt that held the accelerator cable to access the rear plug. Timing belt was a pita but absolutely necessary being an interference engine. When the rear crossmember bushings and diff bushings wore out the suspension would bang and shift all over the place... I did the bushing  replacement in my driveway with numerous scissor jacks holding everything up. Nissan wanted $1000 bucks to do it. I got the parts and spent about eight hours on it.  I have owned 17 ZX cars, a mix of Z31 and S130s. Had one 84 ae in the mix. Just last year I owned a 1980 280zx for nine months. If a nice Z31 comes along i would not hesitate to pick it up... Enjoy

Ah this reminds me of the gas tank latch cable breaking, and then having to pop the hatch to grab the cable to open it.

te72
te72 Reader
2/28/19 11:07 p.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Heh, the cables don't break on the Supra, but the plastic bracket that it attaches to on the end that pops the door open... those tend to be brittle haha. Or, you could just be like me, and forget to reattach that particular cable when putting the interior back together, then you get to do the same thing and snake your arm in behind the interior panels to manually open the gas door.

edizzle89
edizzle89 SuperDork
3/1/19 8:26 a.m.
z31maniac said:

Ah this reminds me of the gas tank latch cable breaking, and then having to pop the hatch to grab the cable to open it.

When that happened on mine I just removed the latch mechanism for the gas door so that i could just pull it open whenever i needed, got tired of pulling the cover from inside the trunk to open it

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
3/1/19 8:53 a.m.

You didn't have to pull any interior pieces, just pick up the piece of carpet in the hatch and pull. 

That was one of the few things on the car that broke I never fixed.

evildky
evildky SuperDork
3/4/19 11:56 a.m.

My first Z car was an 84, N/A, shortly after getting it I learned about autocross and GRM. I have since owned a few more Z31's and a several other z cars as well. The Z31 is underappreciated. It was the best selling z car model, It had the highest single year sales of any z car. It had a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, The turbo model could make gobs of power with very few mods. The 87.5-89 turbo had the clutch type LSD, the only z car to receive anything better than the terrible viscous still used today. The plugs weren't so bad to change by modern standards, especially if you used the tool that came with the car. The IRS was terrible, semi trailing arms with soft springs and bad geometry meant that acceleration was met with toe and camber gain. Once you add some power to these cars traction can be challenging. They can actually fit a fair amount of tire, their +20 to +30 offset was odd at the time but is more common now, only the 84-85 cars used the less common 4x4.5 bolt circle with their mid positive offset. The seats are mediocre at best unless you got the 88 SS with the recaro's. The shifters always felt a bit vague due to the isolated shifter. The 87-89 turbo cars also had a beefier transmission and bigger brakes. The 84 AE and the 88 SS might be the collectors but aside from the seats the 87.5-89 turbo was the best of breed. 

 

Tomwas1
Tomwas1 New Reader
3/6/19 8:26 a.m.

An 87 2+2 I put 17inch 350z rims on...

Tomwas1
Tomwas1 New Reader
3/6/19 8:31 a.m.

My 80 280zx 2+2 I had for 9 Months in 2018. Swapped these Konig rewind rims on it... My 17th zx... What can I say.!!!

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