Our Fairlady “Z” – The Z32 Years (1990-1996)

While the Z31 may have been the better seller in terms of volume, the Z32 was the “Z” car that would truly redefine Japanese performance and luxury in the 1990’s. Praised by critics and journalists throughout its production lifetime, the Z32 set the standard for performance, styling, comfort and use of technology in the world sportscars market.

The Z32 300ZX was praised by critics and journalists during its lifetime for its performance, styling, comfort and use of technology. Car and Driver placed the car on its Ten Best list for 7 consecutive years, meaning it made the list during every year of its availability in the United States, while Motor Trend awarded it as the 1990 Import Car of the Year. Pictured above is a 1990 Twin-Turbo 300ZX featuring the 1998+ JSPEC front fascia.

The only thing that remained unchanged from the previous generation 300ZX was the displacement of the 3-liter engine, now with dual overhead camshafts (DOHC), variable valve timing (VVT) and producing a rated 222 hp and 198 lb·ft in naturally aspirated form. The big news for enthusiasts, however, was the turbo variant, now upgraded with twin Garrett turbochargers and dual intercoolers. This was good for 300 hp along with 283 lb·ft  of torque. Performance varied from 0-60 times of 5.0-6.0 seconds depending on the source, and it had a governed top speed of 155 mph.

Among other firsts the Z32 300ZX was one of the first production cars to be developed in a CAD program

Nissan utilized the Cray-II supercomputer to completely design the new 300ZX with a form of CAD software. This made the 300ZX one of the first production cars to be developed in a CAD program. In return, it featured a whole host of technological advancements. On the twin turbo models, four-wheel steering was available under the name Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering). The twin turbochargers, intercoolers, and requisite plumbing made for a cramped engine bay.Upon its release, the new 300ZX became an instant hit, winning Motor Trend’s “Import Car of the Year” in 1990 as well as “One of the Top Ten Performance Cars”. Automobile Magazine honors the 300ZX/300ZX Turbo as its “Design of the Year” and adds it to their “All Stars” list. Road & Track names the 300ZX Turbo “One of the Ten Best Cars in the World”, and Car and Driver adds it to their 10Best for the seven years in which it was in production in America. American Z-car sales reach the one million sales mark in the 1990 model year, making it the all-time best selling sports car.

Like previous generations Nissan offered a 2+2 model with the Z32. In 1993, a convertible version was introduced for the first time in the Z-car’s history, as a response to aftermarket conversions. All 300ZXs now featured T-tops as standard, yet there were some rare hardtops (known as slicktops) produced as well.

The 300ZX was doomed to the same fate of many Japanese sports cars of the time. The mid-1990s trend toward SUVs and the rising Yen:Dollar ratio were both influential in ending North American 300ZX sales in 1996 at over 80,000 units sold (production for other markets continued until 2000). In 1990 the 300ZX was priced at about $30,000, but in its final year this price had increased to around $50,000. This left many people questioning its value, and despite a final Commemorative Edition for the final 300 units shipped to America (complete with decals and certificates of authenticity), the Z-Car was on hiatus. In Japan, however, the 300ZX lived on until 2000 with a face-lift in 1998 including a new fascia, tail lights, head lights, rear spoiler, and a few other minor changes.

Enjoyed by a large and active enthusiast community the Z32 300ZX has enjoyed a rich life after production, regularly being tracked and shown at events across America and abroad. Pictured above, a modified 1991 300ZX Twin-Turbo featuring the 1998+ JSPEC front fascia enjoying some track time.

The Z32 chassis would likewise undergo several changes throughout its US production run between 1989 and 1996. Among the milestone safety additions are the inclusion of standard driver and passenger-side airbags and true pillar-mount seat belts. The Z32’s extended model year sales in 1990 reached 39,290 units.

From 1990 to 1995, Steve Millen drove the twin turbo 300ZX for Clayton Cunningham Racing. The car dominated the IMSA in its GTO, then later GTS categories due to its newly designed chassis and engine. Millen would rank as the #1 Factory Driver for Nissan for 7 years and earn two IMSA GTS Driving Championships and two IMSA GTS Manufacturer’s Championships. Among enthusiasts and the team themselves, the biggest triumph for the race Z32 was the victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona. In the same year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 300ZX ranked first in the GTS-1 class and 5th overall. In an attempt to level the playing field in the GTS-1 class by reducing the allowable horsepower, the IMSA declared the twin turbo VG engine ineligible. The 1995 GTS 300ZX car would debut with the V8 Nissan VH engine at Daytona and would place first in the GTS-1 class at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Mosehead Grand Prix in Halifax.

In racing trim, the 300ZX achieved several notable victories, including the 1994 24 Hours of Daytona. However, auto sports politics and a GTS-1 class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that same year prompted the International Motor Sports Association to declare the twin turbo engine illegal for future competition.

The JUN-BLITZ Bonneville Z32 holds the E/BMS class land speed record of 260.87 mph (419.84 km/h) set at the 1995 Bonneville Speed Trial. The vehicle was built as a partnership between JUN Auto and BLITZ. This record remains unbroken. In 1990 JUN’s first Z32 went 210.78 mph (339.2 kph) at their Yatabe test course and hit 231.78 mph (373 km/h) after some tuning at Bonneville.