In 1984, the 300 ZX appeared in America with the “ZX” designation, following a convention started by the Nissan S30, (which was marketed in the US as the 240Z), with the “X” in the designation denoting certain luxury features in trim and equipment. Overall, the 1983 through 1989 Z31 model proved the more successful in commercial terms, with 100 000 more units traded than the later, upgraded Z32. The higher floor price, as well as steep annual price increases for the Z32 eventually eroded its target market to the point of it becoming unprofitable to produce.
However, Car and Driver magazine thought about matters differently, and placed the Z32 on its list of TOP TEN sellers for 7 straight years running- which period represented the model’s availability in the American market. In 1990, the Z32 was regarded as the “Imported Car of the Year” by Motor Trend. In 2003, the Z32 was officially replaced by the 350Z ( Z33) incarnation of the Z-range of sports cars.
Nissan 300 ZX (Z31) Specifications.
Also known as the Fairlady Z in the Japanese market.
Total number produced: 329 900
Export: 294 516
JDM: 35 384
Body and chassis configuration.
2.0 L VG20ET V6 (200Z, 200ZG, 200ZS)
2.0 L RB20DET I6 (200ZR)
3.0 L VG30E V6 (300ZX)
3.0 L VG30ET V6 (300ZX Turbo)
3.0 L VG30DE V6 (300ZR)
Although the 1984-1989 Z31 model years were fitted with five different engine choices, only the VG30E and VG30ET engines were available in the American market. The table below lists the specifications of these engines.
5-speed FS5W71C manual
5-speed FS5R90A manual
5-speed FS5R30A manual
4-speed Jatco E4N71B automatic
2 320 mm (91.3 in) (SWB)
2 520 mm (99.2 in) (LWB)
4 410 mm (173.6 in) (SWB)
4 605 mm (181.3 in) (LWB)
1 725 mm (67.9 in)
1 260 mm (49.6 in)
2 888–3 027 lbs (1 310–1 373 kg)
Performance and Handling.
Although the 300 ZX looks like greased lightning, it is no pocket rocket by any stretch of the imagination due to its high curb weight of 3299 lbs, which requires a lot of energy to get moving. The automatic versions were particularly sluggish, but once moving, the 300 ZX is capable of effortless acceleration for overtaking slower moving traffic. In fact, during closed circuit track tests, the automatic versions sometimes improved on the lap times set by manual versions, provided the engine was not allowed to run at less than 4000 RPM.
As far as handling is concerned, opinions differ, but the consensus seems to be that handling was average for its time, and thus acceptable for a car in this price bracket and market segment. One reviewer summarized the 300 ZX’s handling thus- “For a relatively large "lump" of a car, the 300ZX displays a remarkable agility when pressing on. Even when driven with considerable exuberance, it corners flatly, with excellent adhesion provided by the fat tyres.”, which is another way of saying that the 300ZX handles predictably, and provided the driver is not unusually incompetent and/or careless, there are no surprises in the form of over-, or under steer.
The 300 ZX in Motorsport.
Although the 300 ZX is not as popular among drifters, street racers and other sub-cultures as the Skyline and some Toyotas, it did achieve some notable successes nevertheless. On such was the Trans Am win scored by Paul Newman at the Lime Rock event in 1986 for Bob Sharp Racing. Unfortunately though, this would be the only Trans Am victory for a relatively stock 300 ZX.
In other disciplines where the extensive modifications required to be competitive can cause a car to bear no relation to the stock version, 300 ZX’s fared a little better. For instance, a Fairlady Z developed by Electramotive dominated the IMSA series between 1985 and 1987. This example, that ran a VG30ET engine with a single turbo, developed in excess of 1000 hp (750+ KW) in a power band that stretched from 4000 RPM all the way to 9000 RPM. Another notable win by a severely modified 300 ZX was that at the 1994 24 Hour Daytona endurance race for Clayton Cunningham Racing.
Other successes were the two IMSA GTS Driving Championships, and two IMSA GTS Manufacturer's Championships during the period 1990 through 1995. However, the powers that be in the IMSA series ruled the twin turbo VG engine to ineligible for further participation in a move that was widely seen as unfair, and an attempt by other teams to have the playing field levelled.
In the 1995 Bonneville Speed Trials, a Z32 that was developed in a joint venture by JUN Auto and BLITZ, established a land speed record of 260.87 mph (419.84 km/h).
Compare to the 350Z?
There seems to be no middle ground where the 350 Z, the successor to the 300ZX is concerned. Part of the problem lays in the fact that most comparisons between the two cars involve trials between modified 300 ZX’s and stock 350 Z’s- a circumstance that tends to confuse several issues.
Nonetheless, in order to compare apples to apples, this article will remain silent on what has been described as the “quirky”, “ridiculous”, “stunningly beautiful”, “peculiar”, and even “ill-considered” body styling and interior of the 350 Z. These matters are subjective, and everyone is free to either love or hate it. Instead, this article will look at some practical, objective facts- such as power delivery, handling, and driver satisfaction.
At first glance, it would seem a done deal that the 350 Z would smoke the 300 ZX in terms of performance, and it does. With the advantage of higher available torque- 268 ft-lbs @ 4800 rpm for the 350 Z, the 300 ZX cannot compete with a mere 198.00 Ft-Lbs (268.5 NM) @ 4800.00 RPM, and 283.00 Ft-Lbs (383.7 NM) @ 3600.00 RPM respectively for the American engine versions. Below are some acceleration figures for the respective base models.
Since most owners of either model are not professional race drivers or car reviewers, the question of which model handles better must be left to the professionals. One such professional opinion by LARRY WEBSTER from Road & Track, stated that- “The handling is crisp at turn-in, but then the Z resolutely plows the front end, forgoing any notion of an agile, tossable car. Some sedans are better balanced. I expect more from a sports car.” In translation, this means that if the 350 Z showed tendencies to under steer with him ( a professional) at the wheel, it would do so with less experienced drivers as well. By comparison, the 300 ZX’s steering was neutral, with no over-, or under steer. On this score, the 300 ZX is the clear winner.
This is definitely the most difficult as aspect to cover fairly in a comparison of any two cars, since almost all drivers are biased towards their own cars. Thus, we will leave the final word to Daniel Pund, also from Road & Track- "Dude, this car rules!" With its short shift throws, linear throttle response, excellent torque, excellent steering, and excellent ride and handling responses, this car totally books.” (rocks?)
There you have it- in some respects the old 300 ZX is the better car, with neutral steering, a time-honored design and loads of accolades On the other hand, the 350 Z with its avant-garde styling is the more powerful, and as the figures show, the faster car- albeit with somewhat less than perfect steering characteristics. Which is best then- the 300 ZX or the upstart 350 Z?
Perhaps you had better decide this for yourself!