Curbside Classic: 1988 Nissan 300ZX – The Z Tosses Its Leisure Suit

(first posted 3/11/2013)     As we saw in the recent ’83 280ZX CC, the sporty Z-cars lost their way a bit from the late ’70s to the early ’80s, donning big, ugly bumpers, velour interiors and even adding a long-wheelbase 2+2 model. But by 1984, Nissan finally decided to dispose of some of the 280’s blubber and tacked-on luxuries in an effort to recapture some of the car’s roots: the original 1970 “24-ounce.” Although the new ’84 300ZX retained a nice ride and power assists, it was somewhat closer to that original, sporty model.

Like the 280ZX, it offered plush interiors, lots of sound insulation and a comfortable ride–but at the same time was quicker and had much-improved handling. The 300ZX debuted in late ’83, as an ’84 model, and started the “Z31” generation with a bang, with the black-and-silver, limited-edition 50th Anniversary 300ZX Turbo, which was built to commemorate Nissan’s 50th year in business. The 1984 model was one of those transitional “Datsun 300ZX by Nissan” variants, but the following year it was badged solely as a Nissan.

300ZXs came with a 2,960 cc SOHC V6 in both normally-aspirated 160-hp VG30E and 200-horse turbocharged VG30ET versions, with your choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Zero-to-sixty for an ’85 Turbo was 7.3 seconds, while the portlier ’87 2+2 was a bit slower, at 8.7 seconds.

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Despite their very different appearance from the earlier 280ZX, the 300 was based off of the 280–even retaining its 91.3″ wheelbase. Also carried over was a voice-alert system (perhaps better known as “bitching Betty.”) shared with the top-of-the-line Maxima sedan and wagon.

The 300ZX was the first Z to ditch the classic “sugar scoop” headlights, which were replaced with oh-so-’80s pop-up headlights. The 1986 Zs were slightly updated with most of the cosmetic items of the 50th Anniversary Z. A more drastic restyle occurred for 1987, as you can see from our featured car.

Although more of a driver’s car than the 260 and 280Zs, the 300 was pretty luxurious inside, harkening to the Brougham Zs of just a few years earlier. Multi-adjustable power seats, power windows, leather and cruise control were just a few of the available options. That “gathered leather” on the door panel would not have looked out of place in a Chrysler LeBaron. At least this one has the five-speed manual.

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While the 1984-86 Zs are attractive in their own right, I prefer the 1987-89 restyle. The softer curves make the Z a little less severe-looking. At the same time, I like the five-spoke wheels of the earlier version better than the alloys on this one. They are way too Maxima-like for a sports car like this one.

I cannot look at one of these cars without thinking of the hilarious 1987 film Blind Date, although the one driven by Bruce Willis was a pre-facelift model–probably an ’86, going by the color-keyed mirrors and bumpers.


Who could forget John Larroquette as Kim Basinger’s deranged ex-boyfriend David, who chases them in an appropriately Broughamy Chrysler Fifth Avenue?


I tried to find the scene in which following a crash into a pet store, a stowaway monkey covers Laroquette’s eyes, causing the Chrysler to then crash into a paint store; it’s perhaps the funniest scene in the movie. Amazingly, it is not posted online, but this screen shot from should give you an idea of the travails this poor M-body was subjected to.


Actually, the Fifth Avenue had it pretty easy compared with Walter’s (Willis’s) Z. The car did not have it easy in this movie, although probably nothing a little bodywork and a new pair of doors and T-top hatches wouldn’t fix.

All in all, the 300ZX was a rousing success, with almost 330,000 built between late 1983 and 1989, its last year on the market. A new, much more purposeful 300ZX would appear in 1990; it would bring the Z saga into the 1990s as a genuine sports car, with nary a Brougham cue or velour bucket seat to be found. It was, in my opinion, the most attractive Z since the original 1970 version, but that’s a story for another time.

I found this 300 just after completing the writeup on the 280ZX. Did I have Zs on the brain that caused me to notice it, or was it the CC Effect? Either way, I was happy to check this car out. Now all I have to do is find a 1990-96 300ZX!

All movie screenshots are from