21st June 2022

Our Fairlady: The Nissan Z-Cars

For over fifty years, Nissan’s Z-Car coupes have been delivering affordable thrills in the UK, from 240Z to 370Z – Footman James explores the Fairlady Z recipe for success.

What springs to mind when you think of 1969? For some, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon; for others, The Beatles’ final steps across Abbey Road. But the final year of the swinging sixties also saw a giant leap for Nissan, with the launch of a sports car series that would boost the manufacturer’s image over the following decades.

Sold in the UK as the Datsun 240Z, and later 260Z, the first ‘S30’ generation of Z-car had more than a passing resemblance to another star of the sixties – Jaguar’s E-Type FHC. Beneath the long bonnet, sloping roofline and recessed headlights, the S30 even took inspiration from the Jaguar’s straight-six manual configuration. Here was another successful Japanese cover version of an existing European formula… Over the next six years, over 600,000 first-gen Zs were sold worldwide – more than enough to warrant a second edition.

Conquering the American market was always high on Nissan’s agenda, demonstrated with the second generation S130 of 1978. Known to most as the Datsun 280ZX, it was a larger, more refined total redesign, retaining the 2.8-litre engine seen in the final first-gen models. Period road tests noted the new lardier Z’s blunted performance, but Nissan had done enough to scoop US title Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year award.

Credit: NMGB

In 1983, another brand-new generation established what many regard as the ubiquitous Z-Car formula. As the first Z to be launched under the Nissan name in the UK, the 300ZX (Z31) premiered Nissan’s first mass-produced V6, later available in 225bhp turbocharged specification. By now, the Z’s performance matched its looks with the 300ZX Turbo capable of a seven second sprint to sixty mph.

The 300ZX name was retained with the launch of the 1989 Z32, though its performance and technological capabilities had been taken to a new level. The immensely tunable VG30 V6 was now available with two turbochargers, delivering 300bhp and catapulting the big Z to 60mph in just 5.2 seconds. Featuring adjustable suspension and Nissan’s famed ‘HICAS’ four-wheel steering system, the Z32 twin turbo remains among the finest moments in Z-Car history.

A new 350Z arrived in the UK in 2003, another total redesign born out of the Renault-Nissan partnership of 1999 - although its new 3.5-litre V6 was not a Renault-derived unit as is commonly thought. Despite a lack of forced induction, the 350Z offered a fantastic blend of performance and affordability, winning it legions of fans in the UK. Today, its lauded by experts as a future classic. Indeed, it’s unlikely the attractive rear-wheel drive, manual coupe will remain affordable for long.

Experts also believe the 3.7-litre 370Z of 2009 will also go on to future classic status, as the last naturally aspirated V6 Nissan Z-Car… An idea likely cemented with the news that the UK will not receive the new, seventh generation 2023 Nissan Z.

For now, at least, the UK has received the final Z-Car chapter… Take comfort in the hundreds of examples of Z-Car classics on the market, that can still be enjoyed for years to come.

Which generation of Nissan Z-Car is your favourite? Perhaps you're already a proud owner? Let us know in the comments below…