Spannerhead Dot

Thoughts on Z-Cars: The Z31 300ZX

October 20, 2011 by Matt

Nissan Datsun Z31 300ZX 300-ZX Red

The third generation of Nissan’s Z-car, the ’84-’89 300ZX—known internally as the Z31—represented a departure from the 280ZX in many ways. It was really emblematic of the times. The styling is very, very ’80s (more so than many of its rivals like the RX-7 and Supra) and the engine philosophy was characteristic of the period as well.

Nissan Datsun Z31 300ZX 300-ZX Silver Grey Gray Back Tail Lights

Boxy and geometric, the Z31 eschewed the late-’70s baroque curves of its predecessor in favor of a more high-tech look. The “sleepy” headlight treatment drew some criticism for its seeming ambiguity—it was said the stylists couldn’t decide whether to retain the typical Z-car exposed headlights or bow to the flip-up fad of the period, so they compromised with a design that was neither here nor there. Because of the new, shorter V6 engine, the cab began its inexorable march forward in the car’s profile, dampening some of the classic long-nose / short-deck sports car shape. But as evidenced by the relatively long overhangs front and rear, the overall proportions were carried over, if uneasily married with the emerging angular themes. In short, the design looks very dated, but it’s not desperately unattractive.

Nissan Datsun Z31 300ZX 300-ZX Engine VG30ET Bay Turbo

The tuning methodology with the turbo engine, in contrast to some like Porsche who got it right almost from the beginning, was very “period” as well. Nissan had some racing experience with turbocharging, but certainly not as much as some of their competitors, and were constrained by mass market demands in ways more specialized automakers weren’t, factors which undoubtedly influenced their decision-making. The net result was that the turbocharged 3.0l SOHC V6 (a first for a production Japanese car) was “undertuned” as much as possible, the goal seemingly to be able to slap a “Turbo” badge on the Z31’s decklid with the minimum amount of actual investment. Compression remained relatively high for good off-boost response (8.3:1 for the later cars), the turbo was tiny compared to the engine’s displacement, maximum boost pressure was very low (only 4.5 psi again, for the later cars) and an intercooler was notably absent.

The net result of the design and engineering decisions was a car which beat its rivals to the marketplace—the RX-7 and Supra would take until ’87 to acquire turbos—but which was completely outclassed when they arrived. As mentioned, even in its day the styling dated rapidly, and by the end of its short 6-year model run in ’89, the Z31 300ZX was all but forgotten about in comparison tests and reviews. It was a shame, since the car was generally vice-free, but a longer gestation period and more foresight employed during its development would have served it even better.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing various generations of Nissan’s celebrated Z-car series. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Datsun, Nissan, Thoughts On Z-Cars

Leave a Reply