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Nissan 300ZX buying guide (1990-1994)

Nissan 300ZX buying guide (1990-1994) Classic and Performance Car
Nissan 300ZX Nissan 300ZX Nissan 300ZX interior Nissan 300ZX engine Datsun isn’t alone in trading on past glories in an attempt to shift metal, but with its ZX series it was in danger of never being taken seriously by the time the twin-turbo 300ZX appeared in the nick of time in 1990. The 260Z went down pretty well, but the 280ZX wasn’t a car that was ever taken seriously by most, and the original 300ZX (codenamed Z31) – well, the less said about that, the better.

What was needed from the company was a clean-sheet design that was great to drive, fast, well-equipped, reliable, easy to tune and with knock-out looks. It’s fair to say that the second take on the 300ZX (codenamed Z32) offered all these things and more.

In the nose was an all-new twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, at the back there was multi-link suspension and with 276bhp on tap the car could top 155mph – the 0-60mph sprint was despatched in just 5.6 seconds. But this isn’t a car that’s about acceleration and top speed; despite its size the 300ZX handles fabulously, with poise and balance. But despite the Nissan’s abilities on twisty roads, it makes a good motorway cruiser too, and thanks to its hatchback configuration the 300ZX is also decently practical, even if the rear seats are next to useless.

Which one to buy?

If you want to stick with original UK-supplied cars your choice is fairly limited as we got just a twin-turbo coupé that was sold here between 1990 and 1994. That’s why there have been so many grey imports into the UK over the years – the car was sold for a much longer period in other markets, where the 300ZX came in a multitude of other forms such as a two-seater short-wheelbase edition, a convertible and Japan got a normally aspirated model too.

All UK cars are 2+2s so they have the longer wheelbase; the shorter cars feel more responsive and they’re lighter too, but unless you’re buying the car for fast B-road blasts or track days, there’s not much point seeking out a shorter 300ZX.

About half of the cars sold here got an automatic gearbox but the vast majority of buyers want a manual transmission, so if you’re on a budget you’ll find the autos more affordable – if probably less satisfying to drive.

Performance and spec

Engine 2960cc, six-cylinder
Power 276bhp @ 6400rpm
Torque 286lb ft @ 3600rpm
Top speed 155mph
0-60mph 5.6sec
Consumption 18mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual/Four-speed automatic

Common Problems

• Lots of power, rear-wheel drive and low values all add up to one thing – the chances of buying a car that’s been crashed are high. That’s why it’s worth investing in a vehicle history check and also look for ripples in the front inner wings as well as the boot floor. Also make sure the panel gaps are tight and even; if they’re not, suspect foul play.

• Corrosion shouldn’t be an issue, although the sills and wheelarches might be looking the worse for wear on cars that haven’t been garaged. The tailgate can also rust thanks to the rear spoiler absorbing water then allowing corrosion to bubble away unseen. Anything more than this suggests poor crash repairs though, so inspect all of the bodywork very closely.

• The 3.0-litre V6 is very reliable but it should have had a fresh cam belt within the last five years or 60,000 miles; look for evidence of this having been done. Very early engines (up to spring 1990) could suffer from cylinder head and valve problems, but any such engines should have been fixed by now.

• A compression test is worthwhile, but if you can’t do this the boost gauge will give a good indication of the engine’s health. At idle it should read around 14PSI while at full boost there should be 9PSI showing. Anything less than 7PSI suggests the engine is running in safety boost mode – and that’ll need investigating.

• Turbochargers tend to last around 70,000 miles before they need to be replaced. New turbos needn’t be too costly and if the car has been really looked after it’s possible to get closer to 120,000 miles out of them before replacement is needed.

• Be wary of engines that have been significantly upgraded rather than just tweaked for better efficiency; one giveaway might be the boost gauge going off the scale when you floor the throttle. The standard unit is reliable and plenty powerful enough; tuned powerplants can still be reliable, but there’s a much greater chance of problems if major changes have been made.

• The rear suspension comes with the tag Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering) and it’s complicated. Controlled by computer, there’s a multitude of sensors which need to be checked – although the system is generally reliable.

• What can cause a problem is leaks from the four silicon-filled bushes, on which the rear subframe is mounted. If there are problems here, expect a big bill to put things right.

• The brakes have a hard time of it, with warped discs par for the course. Upgrades are essential if you’re to drive a 300ZX as intended, but there are plenty of options and you needn’t spend a fortune to get more reassuring anchors installed.

Model history

1989: The Z32 300ZX goes on sale in Japan, with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 engine
1990: The 300ZX arrives in the UK with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
transmission. Standard kit includes 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel steering, air-con, CD player, electric windows plus cruise control and central locking.
1992: The Series 2 brings Super HICAS tweaks and a driver’s airbag is now fitted.
1994: The final new cars are sold in the UK, through official Nissan dealers.
1998: There are now revised front and rear spoilers, white dials and HID headlamps; by now the car is sold only in Japan.
2000: The final cars are built for the Japanese market.

Key clubs and websites

• www.300zx.co.uk
• www.300zxclub.com
• www.300zx-twinturbo.com

Summary and prices

Like a lot of Japanese performance cars of this generation, the 300ZX offers a lot of car for the money. Project cars can be found from around £1000, but spend around £3000 for something presentable. £4000-£6000 should be enough to grab an absolute belter.

Words: Richard Dredge
Nissan 300ZX Nissan 300ZX Nissan 300ZX interior Nissan 300ZX engine
Last updated: 20th Aug 2015
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