Curbside Classic: 1992 Infiniti M30 – Swallowed Up In The Memory Hole

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(first posted 7/11/2011; updated and revised with original pictures by P. Niedermeyer)    It’s hard for some of us to concede that it has now been a full generation since Japan’s Big Three decided to move out of the entry and mid level space and trespass in the tonier sport/luxury strata that once sneered at the phrase “Japanese Luxury”. If you’re experienced enough, you’ll recall when “Made in Japan” was a punchline, not a status symbol. But conventional wisdom is the one thing that you can count on to change – if you just wait long enough. So it is/was with today’s CC: The 1991 Infiniti M30.

I’ll just get my biases out front here: I think that the M30 coupe and convertible are two of the best looking cars I have ever laid eyes on. The proportions are right, the sharp, angular fender lines and the “B” pillar (on the coupe) seem to set the car in motion even while at rest. This car seems to be the Japanese take on the Mercedes 280/560 SL. That’s pretty good company to be in.

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When Nissan decided to join rivals Toyota and Honda in a move upmarket in the late 80’s, it was pretty much assumed that they would need a line of cars to populate their new luxury divisions, not just a model. These were to be new car companies, with their own dealers and service organizations, not to mention marketing and advertising.

Trying to sell a single platform and make money would be well nigh impossible, so there would need to be some linemates to draw in the paying customers that might not totally fall in love with the flagship. Honda had proven this strategy as a first mover. The Vigor and Integra had charmed a different set of buyers, but had still claimed a price premium over the donor cars from down market. (Lexus would follow suit. The Camry based ES 250 shared showroom space with the world class LS 400).

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Meanwhile over at Nissan, there was no question about the top rung of the sales ladder. The Q45 would debut in the fall of ’89 with a powerful V8, rear wheel drive and state of the art ergonomics and equipment. Then and now, developing two clean sheet cars is a risk that no executive wants to take, so the Q’s running mate would have to be a lash up job, a place filler until the marketplace sorted out winners and losers in the high end sales wars. Cue the M30.

The M was based on the Nissan Leopard with the main mods being left hand drive and a half liter larger displacement in the V6. The 3 liter that went in the ’30 belted out 165 HP while being eerily quiet and smooth. The only transmission on offer was the smooth-but-mushy 4-speed autobox (a major marketing faux pas). These cars were heavier than their Japanese forbears – EPA and DOT regulations saw to that.

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Alas, Infiniti got off to a rocky start in the U.S. The first mistake that Nissan made was to introduce the new division with a weird, zen-like touchy feely ad campaign that made many viewers turn to the person next to them and ask what the hell it was that they just watched. For the M series, a towering $24K sticker price and no options list left buyers bewildered.

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The M30 suffered from lack of any real national advertising to speak of, since it was never thought that the car would have a permanent place in the lineup. At least they got that part right- the M30 was available for the 90/91/92 seasons and then sent packing stateside, although it would be produced for a little while longer in Japan. 1992 saw the introduction of the G20, which,with 4 doors and actual options available, held more potential for sales and real profits. The M30 is all but forgotten today and survivors are cheap, even in top nick.

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For the small number of these imported, (about 11,000 of all flavors), you still see a surprising number of survivors today. The mechanicals are well built and reliable. Parts are a breeze and the body was built for the long haul (although rust is known to make their lives short in the Midwest).

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Related reading:

CC Infiniti Q45 – I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggonit, People Like Me

COAL: 1991 Infiniti G20 – The Infinitely Big First Lesson