The Fascinating and Astonishing History of the Nissan Z

June 10th, 2022 by

A blue 2007 Nissan 350Z is shown from the front while it drifts through dirt.

With the all-new 2023 Nissan Z revving its engine temptingly before us, perhaps it’s time for a brief lesson in Nissan Z history. After all, the latest iteration of this captivating sports car not only makes its own mark in the automotive industry; its styling pays homage to the previous six generations of Nissan Z cars. While you await the opportunity to experience the 2023 Z for yourself here at Ryan Nissan, your top Nissan dealer in Minot, take some time to get a leg up on your knowledge of the Z models of yore.

It might surprise you that the 2023 Nissan Z can trace its ancestry back to 1969 when the 240Z made its debut in America. It may further surprise you to learn that Nissan has always kept both performance and affordability in mind when creating the next generation of Z car. Take a look at the new 2023 Nissan Z’s impressive family tree to learn more about how this vehicle changed the concept of sports cars for millions of drivers.

The Early Days of the Nissan Z Car

Cars have always been an important part of American history, but the 1960s were a particularly key moment in the development of sports cars. Coupes, specifically, were a very hot commodity. With just two doors and two seats, these smaller vehicles were designed to accommodate bigger engines, giving them intense levels of power and performance. Automobile manufacturers were racing to get the newest, hottest, and fastest vehicle on the market.

Originally, the 2000GT concept car was pitched to––and rejected by––Nissan. Toyota released the 2000GT in 1967, marking the first world-class sports car to come from Japan. Based on the wild popularity of that model, Nissan engineers and designers created the 240Z. Also referred to as the Fairlady Z or the Datsun 240Z, the first generation of Nissan’s sports car hit the US market in late 1969. Within its four years of production, the 240Z would sell over 160,000 models, demonstrating the public’s hunger for an affordable sports car.

Equipped with a 2.4L inline-six engine, the 240Z offered 151 horsepower, which resulted in a 0-60 time of around 8 seconds and a top speed of 125 miles per hour. With this type of performance and an introductory price tag of $3,601 (less than $27,000 in 2022), drivers were impressed. The first generation of Nissan Fairlady Z/Datsun 240Z cars sold over 520,000 models in just ten years of production.

A Different Kind of Datsun

By 1979, the automotive industry was facing new challenges. Emissions standards and oil shortages changed the public appetite for speed and performance, and drivers were becoming more fascinated by the wide variety of luxurious trappings that could be optioned onto their vehicles. Therefore, the 280ZX made its 1979 model year debut not as a sports car but as a grand touring car. Now offered with a 2+2 seating configuration, the 280ZX was larger and longer than the previous 240Z, resulting in a heavier vehicle. Also making its debut in the second generation is the now-famous T-top, which would become a hallmark of Nissan Z cars through the 1990s.

A 2.8L engine provided only 135 horsepower, which meant slower acceleration when combined with the extra weight and size. Nissan remedied this issue in 1981 with the introduction of the 280ZX Turbo, with a turbocharged engine that offered 180 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque. In 1982, Nissan tweaked this equation with a naturally aspirated engine and the addition of an American Borg-Warner five-speed manual transmission, as well as a re-tuned suspension that provided a sportier response. The result was a 0-60 mile per hour acceleration time of 7.4 seconds.

A black 1993 Nissan 300ZX is shown from the side while parked in a warehouse.

A Return to Its Sports Car Roots

The 300ZX made its grand entrance in 1984 as the third generation of Nissan’s Z car. As a product of its time, it lost its curves, taking on an almost Cubist appearance. With a squared-off body style, pop-up headlamps, and the traditional T-top, the 300ZX was all about the angles yet offered superior aerodynamics and road handling.

The 2+2 body style continued to prevail, though Nissan updated the engine to provide plenty of thrills for all four passengers. A turbocharged 3.0L V6 provided a generous 180 horsepower in 1984 and was re-tuned for the fourth generation release in 1990 to provide 222 horsepower.

At the same time, the public had developed a taste for luxury features, so Nissan made items such as air conditioning and a leather interior standard. Nissan also offered a computerized alert system that provided vocalized warnings about the vehicle’s status, such as reaching low fuel levels or leaving a door open. A digital dashboard could even be programmed to monitor lateral g-force as you drove.

The Z32 300ZX Turbo model of the fourth generation actually surpassed the base Chevy Corvette in power. While the Corvette offered an impressive 245 horsepower, the twin-turbo version of the Z-car calmly offered 300 horsepower, making the trip from 0 to 60 miles per hour last only 5 seconds.

Join Us Again After This Brief Intermission

The modern, curvy Nissan Z as we know it appeared on the US market in time for the 2003 model year. Following a 6-year production hiatus in the US, the Z car had been missed by sports car aficionados. Luckily, the Z was back and better than ever.

The 350Z debuted without the traditional T-top, but a convertible version was offered in its place. This would pave the way for the 370Z Roadster, which hit the roads in 2010 as part of the sixth generation. The Roadster convertible would continue production for ten years, holding its own in the Nissan model lineup.

Nissan also took the opportunity to market the return of the Z car to track enthusiasts. Not only did they offer a specific Track trim, but a 350Z Nismo joined the lineup, as well, with a Yamaha-tuned suspension, seam-welded chassis, Nismo custom exhaust system, and specialized Brembo brakes. In 2009, the Nismo 370Z took on a new level of structural rigidity that eliminated the need for seam welding, now traveling with up to 350 horsepower.

A yellow 2022 Nissan Z is shown from the front at an angle after leaving a Nissan dealer in Minot.

The Seventh Generation Starts Now

2022 will see the dawn of the seventh generation of Nissan Z cars. Aptly known by just one letter, the new Nissan Z keeps a few traditions while starting a few of its own. Those who have followed the Z car since its 1969 debut will notice a quiet bow to each of its ancestors in the exterior, which is aerodynamically designed with curves and edges in all the right places.

With power in mind, the new Z is powered by a 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 engine, which should sound familiar. What may astonish you is the 400 horsepower it is capable of producing. Offered with a 6-speed manual or 9-speed automatic shift-by-wire transmission, the new Z provides a hands-on, pedal-on-the-floor experience for drivers who are all about the thrills. With all-new launch control and slip-resistant performance seats, drivers will be able to enjoy that experience even more.

When the 2023 Nissan Z hits the streets here in Minot, the crowd will surely be buzzing, that is, if they can be heard over the revving of engines. Drivers are already looking forward to sitting behind the wheel of this new and completely reinvented version of the Z car. Incorporating a little something from each of the previous generations, the next-level Nissan Z promises to be a completely new sports car experience for drivers who enjoy the road and can be found here at Ryan Nissan.