COAL: 2003 Nissan Fairlady Z – A Walk on the Right Hand Drive Side

I’m not quite sure why I bought this particular car, but I have always wanted to import a Japanese car. Ideally something unusual that is not sold here. Maybe a cute Kei class vehicle to bomb around town in? Obviously what I bought meets none of the previous criteria but follow along on this purchasing adventure.

In the beginning my target was a Suzuki Cappuccino with some thought around a Honda Beat as a backup choice. I have always been a fan of small cars as well as sports cars and the Cappuccino was both. Like a modern day MG Midget or Triumph Spitfire with a trick three position roof. Unfortunately for me Cappuccino values seem to have shot up lately probably due to their ability to be imported to the United States. I bid on quite a few and they all went for more than I was willing to pay even in less than ideal condition.

The Beat was more affordable but has extremely short gearing which would have made it a rather poor road trip car and overall is considered to be a lesser car than the Suzuki. After a few months of looking, lowering my standard and still being outbid constantly I began to get frustrated.

Eventually I widened my horizons including thinking about Nissan Zs. I remember seeing them new in the showroom when we bought my wife her Nissan Quest. I recall wanting to buy one instead of the boring minivan as they were close in price. I have always pegged them to be a Japanese Corvette of sorts. Big engine, long hood, decent chassis. I figured with less parts supply issues I could reasonably make one my daily driver. For me color choice came down to orange or blue as I ruled out any non colors like silver or white as too boring. An orange example with matching colored seats pushed me over the edge. I hated the chrome rims on it but those can be changed easily enough.

I bought the car through an importer who would handle the purchase (from a Japanese dealership rather than auction), shipping, and importing processes. The plan was to pick it up in June when we visited Vancouver, British Columbia where it would come off the boat. A wonderful drive back home through the mountains over a few days was planned. Unfortunately for some reason the shipping took an extraordinary long time and it did not arrive until mid-September. A new job meant I could not get time off so I had it shipped to nearby Calgary robbing me of the planned mountain road trip home. There I got it booked for its “out of province” inspection which is quite strict. Then after that it was the usual paperwork/registration hassle.

I coordinated with the shop remotely for the inspection while sourcing insurance and a license plate locally. When it was ready a good friend offered to drive up to Calgary with me. We took his automotive unicorn, a 2005 Subaru Legacy GT turbo, which was only offered with a manual transmission in the year 2005 making it rather uncommon.

This Toyota Corolla GTS was parked out front of the shop so I knew I was in the right place. They did a great job with inspection and brought the car out for me to lay eyes on for the first time.

The shipping folks had painted various markings on the windshield including the words “Heritage Leader” which was the boat it travelled over on. I was able to find a few details of this boat here but looker it is not. I had to scrape it off the paint with a razor blade which the shop was good enough to provide me with.

There were also all sorts stickers on windshield. I assume these folks were involved in the shipping process.

Inspection or dealership sticker? My Japanese is not great. Actually so not great as to be non-existent.

Upon export the odometer gets verified;  I also have a corresponding paper certificate.

Under the dashboard is this Panasonic CY-ET909KDZ device which is for the Japanese toll roads. When you start the car a lady says something … I am not sure what in Japanese. Likely a nag to insert an identity card. It did not take long for me to disconnect it.

A Japanese air freshener was found under passenger seat but otherwise the car was very clean and devoid of any signs of the previous owner.

A quick once over showed the car to be in very good condition. The front license plate frame immediately came off as it is not required here, but unfortunately someone had drilled a couple large holes behind it. I am unsure on how to repair those yet. I discovered the rims were an extremely large 20″ which is realistically a size or two too large. Seeing them in person confirmed that I do not care for the chrome finish or the size. Hopefully I can trade them for something more appropriate at a later date. On the plus side the rubber was practically brand new.

Before leaving I had to borrow a drill to make an additional hole in my plate as the license plate mounting holes are different for the Japanese market plates. I had come with some tools but not any I actually needed. Again the shop came to my rescue.

Why a JDM car? Well, the cost is less than the equivalent Canadian market car, the mileage lower and underside is literally like new. As a bonus all Japanese market Fairlady Zs are equipped with a limited slip differential as opposed to an open one which is common on the North American cars.

The interior was luckily smoke free, which from what I understand is not always the case as many Japanese enjoy smoking. The seats are an orange leather which ties in nicely with the exterior LeMans Sunset color.

How to open hatch was a bit of a puzzler for us initially.  There were no buttons or handles inside the car or on the remote/key. After a quick search we found a button outside, above the license plate. Again, inside the car looked a couple years old, not seventeen.

The engine fills its compartment pretty well and is a VQ35DE 3.5 L (210 cu in) V6 producing 287 hp (214 kW; 291 PS) at 6,200 rpm 274 lb⋅ft (371 N⋅m) at 4,800 rpm. The engine appears to have an aftermarket intake tube to a factory intake box. We did a quick check of fluids before heading out for lunch. The oil and coolant had been changed before leaving Japan and it had a brand new looking air filter.

A quick car wash knocked off the shipping related dust and grime.

The Z got its first fill up on the North American continent. My slightly off centre plate is likely to trigger anyone with even a mild case of OCD. The tank is a fairly large with an 80L (21 gallons) capacity so it should have decent range.

Note that the numerical speed markings only go up 180 km/h for the Japanese market. The Canadian market ones go to 260 km/h and have miles per hour in smaller markings. This might be more practical however as how many times to you actually use the far right of the speedometer?

A quick stop for a photo before hitting the highway.

It is just over a 220 km (140 miles) drive to home but mostly just flat plains.

The trip home was relatively smooth and speaking of smooth I was shocked that the ride was fairly reasonable despite the big, stupid wheels.

The top trio of gauges are inspired by the original Z series. The stereo has both a tape and CD player but radio frequencies are different in Japan than North America.

The one on the far right has a select-able function but switches to temperature and displays an icy warning when at or below about 3C (37F).

Luckily the radio selection is not great around here so I added a Bluetooth transmitter to stream music from a phone instead. Interestingly there are a couple smaller storage compartments as well as one bigger compartment. The largest one has a hidden tray under the carpet for hiding documents.

The fuse box is, of course, in Japanese. Fortunately there are folks in the United Kingdom who have done the translation already which I printed out and stored in the car.

Here is another interesting tidbit. I knew the Z had an aftermarket exhaust but did not know which brand. The tips do not say anything but on the muffler it says Jasma 047. Jasma is not a brand but rather stands for Japan Automotive Sports Muffler Association. JASMA set rules and regulations on exhausts for Japan. Looking up the code of 47 I get Akiyure Inc.


Here is the engine start up video in which you can hear a bit of the exhaust note. I am not sure what a stock one sounds like but in person this one is meaty but not too loud or annoying at cruising.

While the Fairlady was supposed to be my summer ride but it arrived right before winter, so it saw limited use in 2019. I did manage to properly fix the offset license plate at the rear by drilling a few new holes in the mounting bracket. The Fairlady is by far the fastest, more powerful car I have owned with fantastically high levels of grip combined with a powerful yet flexible engine. The gearbox can sometimes be a little clunky and notchy when cold but my other car is an Acura TSX which is famous for its sublime gearbox action. The transition to RHD is not that bad especially since I owned a Toyota Hilux years ago. The one thing that does catch me once in a while is turning on the wipers instead of signaling, as their positions are reversed. As spring and summer approach around I plan to do a substantial road trip in the summer 2020. It just remains to be seen if I take the Z or the motorbike.

Wheel shopping proved to be more tricky than I expected because while the bolt pattern is very common the rear wheel drive Z needs a low offset and most of the available wheels have a high offset more suited to front drivers. Over the winter I managed to obtain an aftermarket set of 18″, less ugly, aftermarket rims with good front rubber. My dream rims? No, but they were very cheap and if my COAL tells you anything it is probably that I enjoy a good deal. It does mean I can run a staggered wheel configuration in the stock sizes. I plan to paint the inside of the rim paint black while leaving the barrel/lip alone as well as replacing the rear tires. They were previously on an Infiniti G35 coupe which is, of course, the Z’s fancier dressed sibling.

That concludes my COAL series (for now). You can read the whole thing at the link below.

My whole COAL series so far