An affordable amount of power, sleek lines that complement the chassis, a face that glows, and a staple in Japanese Tuner Culture. Today we take a look at Nissan’s famous Fairlady, from the humble datsun roadster to the edgy 370Z that we have today. Join us on a journey through the past 40 years of Nissan’s still classic sports car.
In the 1960’s, Nissan was just breaking into the international market for car sales. They partnered with Yamaha to design a new sports car that would act as an update to the Datsun Fairlady Roadster, which was already competing with European sports cars and roadsters since 1959.
The product line that Nissan had envisioned was a new line of Grand Tourer cars that would be stylish, innovative, fast, and relatively inexpensive through the use of interchangeable parts with other Nissan vehicles, and in 1964 decided that Yamaha’s DOHC 2.0 motor was not meeting their expectations, so they used their own engineering experience with the recently acquired Prince Motor Company, which manufactured the original Skyline.
In 1969, the first of the Z cars rolled off the line and onto showroom floors. That year, it retained the “Fairlady” nameplate as it sold alongside the previous iteration in most parts of the world. However, the US market had all shipments held until all the badges were replaced with Datsun ones.
The first generation called the 240Z, had 3 different engine types, the =Japanese version got a 2.0 SOHC called the L20A in-line 6 which featured 130hp, while the US market got a 2.4 L24 in-line 6 cylinder with twin carburetors that produced 151hp. A third variant was produced with a performance version of the S20 2.0 litre engine found in the Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R, it was called the Z432. The first generation Z was a success, and sold 45,000 units through 1971, and then 50,000 in 1972 and 40,000 in 1973.
The first generation Z was replaced 2 times during its run, once in 1974, called the 260Z, and again in 1975, called the 280Z (not to be confused with the 280ZX which was the 2nd generation vehicle) both times the engine size changed, once to the 2.6 litre engine, and again to a 2.8 litre one. The first generation Z was a success, and sold 45,000 units through 1971, and then 50,000 in 1972 and 40,000 in 1973.
In 1978, the next car to don the “Fairlady” moniker was called the Datsun/Nissan 280ZX. The entire car, minus the 5-speed transmission, got a complete overhaul to meet growing consumer demands. The 280ZX got a complete body re-styling, as well as the introduction of T-tops, and the introduction of a turbocharged variant in 1981, which complemented the other 2 naturally aspirated models. The turbo model produced 180hp over the naturally aspirated versions which produced 135hp. The 280ZX was wildly popular, being named Motor Trend’s car of the year in 1979, and hailed record sales of 86,007 units in the first year of its sale. This would continue as the vehicle was given a clean-sheet redesign for the third generation that followed.
The 300ZX was released in 1984, and introduced Nissan’s new 3.0 litre V6 engine dubbed the VG series. It was available in the VG30E naturally aspirated which produced 160hp, and the new turbocharged variant called the VG30ET which made 200hp (228 in the us due to a longer camshaft and less emission restrictions). The vehicle offered the most horsepower in Japan for a production car, and was also wildly successful, selling over 70,000 units in its first year due not totally in part to its new styling, but also with the addition of new luxury features and that new powerful motor. The vehicle went through some minor style changes in the following years, getting the Datsun name dropped from the car in 1985, and wider flared wheels and body color bumpers in 1986.
In 1990, the 300ZX saw a huge overhaul in terms of the vehicle. Although it retained its name, the new version called the Z32 only retained the engine from the previous iteration. With the turbocharged application, it was changed to a Garrett twin-turbocharger setup with twin inter-coolers. The new variant produced 300hp, which once again gained it Motor Trend’s car of the year, and becoming a huge success with consumers. Sadly, the downfall of the 300ZX was in part the same as other Japanese sports cars of the 1990’s, but a large part of it was the ever inflating price tag of the vehicle through its later years of production. The final 300 units were sent as a commemorative sale to the US, and the Z-Car was put on hiatus. It sold for a few more years in Japan however, until the new variant was released in 2002.
The newest version called the Z33 or better known as the 350Z in the US market, was again completely restyled, offering a long hood and short deck, which competed with 2 other designs before being chosen. It was sold initially with a 6 cylinder motor producing 284hp, which was later updated to 300hp a few years later. This version sparked the Z-Car’s success yet again, and offered a 30,000 price tag which Nissan hoped would get the car back on it’s feet. The 350Z was offered in several trim packages, with the higher ones boasting things such as leather seats, Brembo brakes, and additional wheel packages. The model was updated in 2007 and offered a new, 3.5 litre VQ35HR engine that produced 306hp with dual intakes and a 7500rpm redline. This version is the more coveted with Nissan enthusiasts due to the better power-band and a revised transmission which made for an overall faster car.
On December 30, 2008 the newest and current version of the Z-Car, called the Z34 or 370Z, was announced. It went on sale in 2009 with its roadster version following later that year. It maintained the basic overall design of the 350Z, with subtle additions and a facelift. The biggest change was Nissans new 3.7 litre VQ37VHR engine which ranged from 328hp to 350hp depending on the market. The new 6-speed manual transmission was the first of its kind to offer a system that Nissan refers to as “SynchroRev Match” which blips the throttle to match engine and transmission speed during downshifts, achieving the same result as the “Heel-toe” downshift technique.
Nissan has not yet produced a concept for the next generation of the Fairlady Z, but the vehicles constant reception by enthusiasts and consumers alike make it a vehicle that likely won’t be going away anytime soon. Some of us just wish that a turbocharged production model will come back someday.