Some critics argue that some versions of the Z car were no true sports car. But it's hard to argue with success. And the Datsun/Nissan Z has had plenty of success as it continues to add to its record as the best-selling sports car in history. And with a more powerful 370Z rumored, it's a good time to take a brief look at the role the legendary two-seater has played for Nissan.
Called the Fairlady in Japan but always badged here simply as Z, the first model, the Datsun 240Z, debuted in the U.S. in late 1969 and found immediate success. A great-looking car, it had luxury features and performance - an inline six producing 151 hp, 0-60 mph in less than nine seconds - that were surprising for a car priced at $3,526. It was so prized that, a year later, used models sold for more. The Z also began to have racing success, winning the first of many Sports Car Club of America national titles.
When the engine got larger in 1974, the model name changed to 260Z. It gave way just a year later to the 280Z, with Bosch fuel injection. That model stepped aside in 1979 for the 280ZX, the first second- generation model. It may have had the same engine and drivetrain components, but the car impressed Motor Trend so much that Z won the magazine's coveted Import Car of the Year award. It also won its 10th straight SCCA title and registered the model's best sales year - 86,007 models sold.
The all-new third generation, the 300ZX, came out in 1984 with the first V-6 producing 160 and 200 (turbo models) hp. The second-best seller in Z history, it was the last Datsun Z because Nissan dropped that nameplate for 1985.
As the market for sports cars declined in the late 1980s, Nissan countered in 1990 with the fourth generation Z, one of the first cars designed on computers. The turbo, with an impressive 300 hp, won Z's second Motor Trend Import Car of the Year trophy. The car also made Car and Driver and Road & Track top 10 lists and garnered Automobile magazine's Design of the Year award. When cumulative sales passed a million cars, the Z became the best-selling sports car ever. Total sales to date, including various 2 + 2 and T-top models, reside in the 1.7 million units neighborhood.
The first convertible, surprisingly, wasn't made until 1993 and 1994 saw modified Z-cars sweep the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the GTS Class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But Z sales declined, at least in part because the "affordable" sports car's sticker price was now north of $50,000. The model went on hiatus after the '96 model while Nissan sold restored 240Zs.
It's hard to keep a good car down, however. The current model, the 350Z, returned in 2003 with a 3.5-liter V-6 making 287-hp (a number reaching 300 by 2005). With 2003 prices starting below $30,000, the Z was back where it started. Additionally, as mentioned, industry sources report that a 2010 Nissan 370Z is in the works.