The Z Proto’s/400Z’s design pulls heavily from Nissan’s Z car heritage, especially from the 240Z. But it also has style elements from the Z32 Nissan 300ZX. Compared to its contemporaries, like the Acura NSX, the Mazda RX-7, and the original Miata, the 300ZX is often overlooked. However, thanks to some features borrowed from the Skyline GT-R, the Z32 300ZX could more than stand up to its fellow sports car luminaries—including the C4 Corvette.
The 1990-1996 Z32 Nissan 300ZX: when the Z car got Godzilla tech
Although the 240Z, especially in Z432 trim, is a well-regarded classic, and both the 350Z and 370Z have strong followings, Nissan’s first 300ZX was something of a low point, Automobile reports. Although the 1984-1989 Z31 300ZX was the first V6-powered Z car, it wasn’t particularly fast. It was more of a GT than a sports car, Hagerty explains. Though on a positive note, the Z31 300ZX Turbo offered 205 hp and electronically-adjustable suspension.
The 1990-1996 Z32 Nissan 300ZX, though, was a welcome return to form, Automobile reports. Even its styling was state-of-the-art; like the Alfa Romeo SZ, the Z32 300ZX was styled extensively using computer-assisted design. And when Nissan designed the Z32 300ZX, it benchmarked the Porsche 944 and C4 Corvette, Motor Trend reports. Which explains some of its performance features.
The base Z32 Nissan 300ZX has a 3.0-liter V6 rated at 222 hp and 198 lb-ft. But shortly after its launch, Nissan unveiled the 300ZX Twin Turbo. Thanks to two intercooled turbochargers, the V6 puts out 300 hp and 283 lb-ft. That was as much power as the contemporary Ferrari 348 had, MT reports. At least, it made that much power with the 5-speed manual. The 4-speed automatic could only handle 280 hp.
But the turbos aren’t the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo’s only party trick. The Z32 has the same rear steering as the contemporary Skyline GT-R, Autoweek reports. It also has upgraded 4-wheel disc brakes, electronically-adjustable suspension, and a limited-slip differential, Hagerty reports.
Driving the Z32 Nissan 300ZX vs. the C4 Corvette
At the time of the Z32 Nissan 300ZX’s release, the C4 Corvette only had 245 hp, Automobile reports. Admittedly, the C4 ZR-1’s 5.7-liter V8 made 375 hp and could match pace with the contemporary 911 Turbo, Hagerty reports. But the ZR-1 was double the price of the regular C4 Corvette, Hagerty reports.
But the C4 Corvette ZR-1’s extra power didn’t help it when it came to handling. In a 1995 MT comparison test, the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo beat the ZR-1, the Porsche 944 S2, the Toyota MR2, and the NA Miata. It came in 2nd only to the Acura NSX supercar. In fact, supercar-level handling at an affordable price is exactly why it won MT’s 1990 Import Car of the Year award.
Even today, Autoweek reports, the Z3 300ZX is a delight to drive. The turbos have remarkably little lag, and the car seems to get lighter as you carve through corners. And because of the optional T-top Targa roof, you can feel the wind in your hair while you do so. Unfortunately, the Twin Turbo model wasn’t available as a 2+2, like the base model was. But it was still a fairly luxurious car for the time. In addition to the adjustable suspension, it has cruise control, automatic climate control, and even wheel-mounted controls.
Getting one today
Due to their extra performance, the turbocharged Z32 Nissan 300ZX models command the highest premiums. And with the rise of Radwood and continued Hot Import Nights presence, 300ZX values have been growing recently.
However, apart from a few pristine low-mileage special-edition examples, the Z32 isn’t terribly expensive. Most turbocharged examples on Bring a Trailer hover around $10,000-$20,000. It’s a similar story on CarsAndBids, where a modified 1993 model sold for $10k and a stock 1993 model sold for $21,800. Even imported JDM models fall into this price range, Japanese Classics reports.
If you do want to buy one, make sure to get a pre-purchase inspection. The Z32 Nissan 300ZX was a fairly-advanced car for its time, GarageDreams reports, and it requires regular maintenance. That means regular oil, timing belt, and water pump changes. If you’re after a turbocharged model, the post-1993 models are arguably the better buy. By that point, the engine’s oil lines had been upgraded, and the rear steering changed from hydraulic to electric. These models also avoid the valve issues which plagued early Z32s.
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