Nissan’s high-tech supercar of the 1990s is a bit of a bargain today
Nissan’s sporting Z cars were legends of the 1970s, but by the early 1990s, they had developed into a pretty mundane range of faded stars. The 300ZX, launched in 1990, restored that reputation with aplomb.
This big 2+2 monster looked the business, and the business end was equally potent: the 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 had twin intercoolers and variable cam timing, and its high-end chassis even had four-wheel steering – almost unheard of even today, never mind the 1990s.
It could do 0-62mph in just over five seconds, either with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. But it was no stripped-out racer, either: UK cars had ABS, air conditioning and cruise control as standard; electric leather chairs were optional.
All this was partly its undoing, though. Such technology didn’t come cheap and, back in the early 1990s, a list price of £35,000 was fearsome for a car maker better known for its Micra superminis. Sales were thus slow, and fizzled out entirely barely four years later.
Today, this means there aren’t loads of official UK cars on the market – but there are more so-called grey imports: these are models shipped over from right-hand drive Japan (Nissan built the 300ZX right up until 2000). They can be great purchases but it’s buyer beware, particularly if someone’s tuned them up to 400bhp or more…
So what should you look for? There are two key things to check on any 300ZX: the condition of the cooling system, which wasn’t quite man enough to cope with the turbo engine’s high output, and rust – particularly around the sills. The cool targa roof drains into them, meaning it literally rusts from the inside out.
We’d also give the brakes a good look over – they’re powerful, but suffer from neglect. If the front tyres are worn, that’s a sign the suspension is too, while the rear suspension dampers can leak. Suspension bush wear is also common: experts say replacing them with Nismo bushes will fix it for good.
If you’re keen, a test drive may be enough to get you hooked. But don’t get too excited. Take a look at the boost gauge on the dash. When ticking over, it should sit to the far left – if it’s in the middle, that points to engine compression problems. On the move, it should point to a maximum of 9psi no more or less.
One man who did take the plunge was James Thomas, who picked up an import in 2005. It was fully standard, and Thomas says that although it generally does around 22mpg, it can hit 30mpg when running on a motorway. Not that he spends a lot of time on them: “the attraction of the 300ZX for me is the performance, the roadholding and the styling.”
If you want to take the plunge, you can spend as little at £1500. But you’d definitely be brave to do that. There’s far more choice at the £5000 mark, and we’d favour standard original-look models over those with big wheels and big power. If you’re really lucky, you might even discover the rare Japanese-only short-wheelbase model, but you’ll pay the premium for it. One drive should be enough to convince you it’s worth it.