Hooniverse Asks- What's the Best Z-Car?

Born out of the hippie-dippy sixties, the lithe Datsun 240Z presaged a generation of sports cars from the land of the rising sun. That Jaguar XKE-aping coupe found favor with both boy-racer and mid-life crisis-er alike, and each progressive generation built upon the last in performance and features until the ultimate expression of the breed – the 300ZX, now carrying the Nissan brand – no longer expressed the mantra of a small, spritely, toss-about car. The hiatus between the 300ZX and the 350Z allowed Nissan to re-think the marque and that new car, the 350 and successor 370 harken back to the original’s reason d’etre, while still providing blistering performance. Out of all these cars, which one do you think has been the best?
Some  may appreciate that first 240Z with its 2,393-cc SOHC straight six and S.U.-aping Hitachi side draughts. The 240 offered 150-bhp in a lightweight 2,355-lb package for an affordable price – when the dealers weren’t gouging you. Performance was excellent for the day, but like many cars of the era, it may seem underwhelming now.
The 260 and 280 derivations were not dissimilar, but did attempt to keep pace with the onus of emissions and safety standards. Those later cars introduced the wiener dog 2+2 body style to the U.S., but that car served more to dilute the brand than bring new converts to it.
The end of the ’70s also saw the culmination of the S60 series of Z-car. Nissan greeted the New Wave era with both a new name and a new Z. Seeing as there was so much new to go around, the company also appended an X to the name, creating the 280ZX and offered the first factory turbo version of the car. Styling of the new series paid homage to the earlier cars, but added many not so elegant elements as well. Weight also crept  up by nearly a quarter ton.
The 280ZX only lasted 5 years, and was replaced by the 300ZX in late 1983 which introduced an engine that was both larger and in a different configuration from every Z that came before. The 2,960 VG30E remained SOHC initially, but its V formation allowed a shorter and lower hood line, requiring pop-up headlamps for the first time in the car’s life.
While the name stayed the same, little else did when the 300ZX was re-done yet again in 1989. The new car looked like no previous Z, and brought with it a technological tour de force offering four-wheel steering, twin turbos, and variable valve timing on the now DOHC V6. The car also tipped the scales at nearly two tons.
That complexity came a price, and the 1990-96 Z priced itself right out of many buyers consideration set. That spelt the death knell for the Z-car, and the century turned without a brand-leading sports car from Nissan.
Fortunately, you can’t keep a good car down, and Nissan has returned with the 350Z in 2003, and the current 370Z refresh just a year or so ago. These cars are significantly lighter than the 300ZX ever was, and provide horsepower and handling that beats the earlier cars handily. That being said, there’s a certain level of gravitas that these cars lack which the bigger, more ostentatious Zs possess.
So which do you think is the ultimate Z, the car that not only could be held as the most stellar example of the marque, but the one that, if a friend were to say they were thinking about buying a Z, you would steer them to? And which one would you like to have sitting in your driveway?
Image sources: [zilvia.net, carscoop.blogspot.com]

66 Comments

    1. I can't stop staring at it!
      I have to make a trip over to the Datsun museum in Temecula/Murrieta…

      1. There's a Datsun museum in Temecula/Murieta??? That's 15 miles up the road from me!
        I'm feeling rather n00bish tonight.

  1. The 370Z is a new car, for the most part, rather than a refresh of the 350 as stated.
    That said, I have to agree with the others and say 240Z. The new Z seems like it would be a fun car to thrash but I'd rather have the original parked in my garage.

    1. The new Z IS a great car to thrash around, in all three forms but most assuredly in the NISMO variant.
      However, I agree with you… The 240 goes in the garage.

  2. While I love the original 240Z for its simplicity and light weight, the X32 300ZX with technology packed into it's bulging body panels and twin turbos will always have a soft spot in my heart. When I see one I don't just glance at it, but I linger on it a bit longer than most cars. To me, this car represents the hope and promise of the 90s and the end of my youth.

    1. Z32 was the designation.
      I owned a Z31 and miss it to this day…it wasn't even a good one but I loved it. I had a 1985 non-turbo two-seater with manual trans and analog gauges. I would love to find a nice 88 Shiro Special these days…

  3. "The 300ZX Turbo is a dance; it's a song; it's rolling, roaring automotive art. There is no color that doesn't suit it. There is no mood-lifting chemical substance it can't replace." Automobile Magazine All-Stars, 1990
    <img src="http://www.niot.net/niot_570/nissan_fairlady_300zx_iot.net%20%282%29.jpg"&gt;
    Motor Trend's Car of the Year upon introduction, "One of the Top Ten Performance Cars", Car and Driver's 10Best winner every year in production, "One of the Ten Best Cars", Automobile Magazine "All-Star" 5 times in a row, "100 Coolest Cars", "25 Most Beautiful Cars in History", "20 Greatest Cars of the Past 20 years", Road and Track's "One of the Ten Best Cars in the World", and it beat out Mitsubishi 3000GTs, Dodge Stealths, RX-7s, Corvettes, and Porsche 968s.
    You can buy one for pretty cheap, the VG engine is near-bulletproof (even if the turbos aren't), and they're still fast, sleek, comfortable, and even less bloated than the preceding Z31. Also, originated one of the best car commercials ever.

    1. "ZOMG" is possibly the perfect license plate for that car. If I were going to reserve a slot for a Datsun/Nissan in the ptschett fantasy garage, it'd be for some form of the '89-'96 300ZX.

    2. YES SIR YES SIR YES SIR!!! Every time I see one of these it makes me itchy to get behind the wheel of one. They are gorgeous, nice sound, lovely and still pocket friendly. Long Live the 300ZX!

      1. And there is one for sale in the Michigan Auto&RV this week for $2400 OBO. I saw it and immediately started sifting the couch cushions…needless to say, I'm still $2399.87 short.

    1. I linked to the VIR article in Jeff's review of the Z.
      The only bad review I've heard about the Z is the cabin noise. Cabin noise isn't noise when you have 8-10 cylinders making it, but I don't want to hear a thrashy 4-6 cylinder.

        1. The noise the car makes in the clip when it passes the camera, and is AHEAD of the R1… is scrumtrulescent

          1. I love when he's going up that same hill alone…. just SURFS the car around leaving ridiculous long fatty black marks.

  4. I agree with that logic and I would do the same I'm just not sure if it's only because a new 370z costs almost 5 times what a decent 240 would. I still have to say the newest iteration has more soul than most current cars on the road and that speaks volumes.

  5. I just have to get in on this. I owned a 260 – put 240 carbs on it…It was a rust bucket. My next Z was a 1977 that I put Bob Sharp headers on+glass packs=very loud. Next was a 280ZX (boring) & then I got a na '92 300ZX. After I drove my friends TT, sold my '92 & got a '93TT – which was prob the overall "best", but for just pure fun driving, I still miss the 1977 280.

        1. See those 3 boxes and 3 sticks on the Porsche plate? If you are ever in the Tokyo area and get lost on the trains, all you need to know are those 3 boxes & 3 sticks. It spells Shinagawa. All trains lead to Shinagawa, and you can find your way back there from nearly anywhere, even when you are lost, disorientated and hopelessly drunk.. Makes the ultimate "reset" button while traveling in Japan.

  6. We have a 1887 NA z31, and though it is a bit slow, its easy to drive hard, and dead reliable. 251000 miles as of this weekend. (Daily driver with LA commute.) On the original engine, and new shocks mean it handles pretty well. I just wish it was 600 pounds lighter.

      1. Yeh, it had those. But hey, it was 500 bucks from my aunt, and it's the best z ever purchased for 500 bucks!

        1. Also, i'm Sixteen, and i would be out of my mind to turn down a immaculate stick z, even if it was a na z31, it was a great thing compared to the beater 90s buicks i could by for 500 bucks!

  7. The original 240Z
    The rest are posers yes even the 370 It has the performance but not the looks.
    Hope they do a retro look Z soon before its to late.

  8. While the first 240Z would be the obvious (and best) answer, its age and collectibility make it a difficult choice to recommend as a casual daily driver. The 1989-1996 ZX is a second choice, but for reliability, I would go for the stick, the non-T roof, and the normally-aspirated engine. From what I understand, the trick HICAS steering didn't work all that well either. If you can afford new, sure, go for the 370Z. It looks far better and less bloated than the blob-of-fat 350Z, which I regard as the ugliest Z ever – yes, even worse than the 1979-1983 280ZX. The best-looking Z in my opinion was the first generation 240 with the long G nose and covered headlights – unfortunately never really offered on US cars.

      1. The longer nose helps a lot, but it doesn't fix that awkward arched roofline that breaks downward too far forward or the heavy tail.

    1. About the HICAS: many drivers feel it's too twitchy near the limit, so there's a relatively cheap bypass kit available to eliminate it from being used.

  9. The neighbors across the street got a black Z32 (can't remember what model it was for certain, but I would guess a non-turbo 2-seater) when they first came out, and I thought it was a cool car. I still do.
    I also dig the 240Z and the later Z31s with the taillights that went all the way across. The two generations from this century don't really do much for me for some reason.

  10. Orange 240Z with a set of those bitchin slot mags and window louvers. A Black Gold 280ZX would be a distant second. Either would allow me to keep my mutton-chops with dignity.
    You can keep your high-techno-doo-ma-hickies. I love me some old school soul. It's like the difference between an iPod and an old tube amplifier. Analog VU meter for the win!

  11. epic!!!!!!! lol i have driven every z car there is and owned both a z31 z32 and am working on a 74 260 project it doesnt have an engine goin to put godzilla under the hood (RB26/30dett) ^_^ can i get a hell yeah!!!!!

  12. Z32 300ZX all the way – my personal favorite – I've never owned a Z car, but I've always felt like a Z car guy. I've owned a 240sx and a TT Supra – I've always felt like there was something missing. I'm going to try and purchase a 300ZX in the near future – TT or NA, not sure yet, I want a fun daily driver… They're just cool, turbo or not – They're Zs.

  13. i slowly learned that in the late 1970s when i was a young boy that the stars were starting to be mapped out. the imprints of the astronomical patterns went well on my 1986 Zs side fairings – they were strong and well rounded.

  14. 17 of my children were well developed nutria rats, i bathed them, clothed them, cared for them… but none came as close to my heart as my 280z. It was spectacular. I now drive a 260z but my wife left me, i feel as though I am connected to it – It is in my spirit.

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