The Nissan Fairlady (also called Fairlady Z) is a front-engine, rear wheel drive sports car in production since model year 1970. In other markets outside of Japan, this model was also known by many other monikers, such as Datsun/Nissan 240Z, 260Z, 280Z, 280ZX, 300ZX, 350Z, and 370Z. These numeric names (much like those renamed from the Japanese-counterpart Silvias to American-spec “S-cars”) are indicative of the vehicles’ engine sizes, in liters (example: 240Z = 2.4 liter; 370Z = 3.7 liter, etc.) This lineup is also known as “Z-cars“.
The Fairlady model actually dates back to 1959, when Nissan Motor Co debuted the Datsun Sports as a roadster model. This roadster lineup had its own series of generations, and was produced until 1970.
October 1969 saw the debut of the first generation “Z-car”. This was the S30 generation, produced 1970 to 1978. The initial series was the 2.4L “240Z” model in North America. The car’s power was 151 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and torque was at 146 lb/ft. This initial 240 series was in production from 1970 to 1973.
The next car in the S30 lineup was the 2.6L “260Z“. Worldwide, this model was in production from 1974 to 1978; though the American 260Z was produced in 1974 only. The increased engine displacement meant that this model would make 10 more horsepower (162 hp @ 5,600 rpm). The torque was also increased, to 157 lb/ft.
1975 saw the release of the more empowered 2.8-liter 280Z. The “280Z” name is not to be confused with the S130-generation “280ZX” which debuted in 1979. The third series of the S30 generation would again see a power and torque bump; 170 horsepower and 163 lb/ft. This model remained in production until the end of the S30’s run in 1978.
1979 saw the debut of the second generation Z-car, as well as Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year. This generation is known as S130. The North American spec S130 retained the same 2.8L engine carried over from the previous generation; however, power was reduced (135 horsepower for the base model, versus the 1975’s 170 horsepower). 1981 saw a slight power boost: 145 horsepower for the base, and new that year was the Turbo, which threw out 180 horsepower to rival the likes of its previous-gen naturally-aspirated counterpart. The Japanese domestic Fairlady Z got both 2.0L and 2.8L engines. The 2.0L version was named “Fairlady 200Z“. The S130 generation ended production in 1983.
The third iteration of the Z-car was more appropriately designed for the 1980’s. In 1982, Kazumasu Takagi led a design team in order to create the Z31 generation model. It entered production in 1984, and in Japan, it was available with both 2.0L and 3.0L engines, and in North America, 3.0L only, and named 300ZX. At first, this car generated between 160 and 200 horsepower; and 174 lb/ft to 227 lb/ft of torque. Special editions of this car included the 1984 50th Anniversary Edition and the 1988 Shiro Special. The Anniversary Edition model was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Datsun/Nissan brand, and the 1988 Shiro Special featured a special white coat, special heavy-duty anti-sway bar suspension, Recaro seats, and a viscous limited-slip differential.
1989 saw the launch of the Z32 Fairlady Z in Japan, and launched in North America in 1990, still as a 300ZX model. The revised “Import Car of the Year” for 1990 came available with two engine options: a naturally aspirated VG30DE V6 good for 222 horsepower; and a turbocharged VG30DETT making 300 horsepower. The Japanese-spec turbo was restricted to a maximum output of 276 horsepower. Besides the coupe model, a T-top was also available in the lineup. In 1992, a popular aftermarket conversion of the Z32 300ZX convertible model was made available. The mid-1990s saw a market trend favouring sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and the rising Yen:Dollar ratio. The unstable economy at the time had forced Nissan (and other Japanese automakers with their sports cars) to jack up the price of the 300ZX more and more. At first, it was priced at $30,000, but the rising Yen:Dollar ratio eventually caused the car to cost $50,000. North American sales of the 300ZX would suffer (along with other popular Japanese sports cars of the time), and the Z-car would terminate sales in 1996. Despite this, the Japanese domestic Fairlady Z remained in production until 2000.
Despite the unstable financial situation in the 1990s, the memory of the Z-car had not been forgotten. In 1999, Nissan debuted a bright-orange concept car aptly named “240Z“. It paid homage to the original 240Z of the early 70s, sporting a 70’s style fastback/hatchback body style like the old model. It featured a working drivetrain which included a 2.4L KA24DE borrowed from the 240SX. The 240Z didn’t enter production, but served as a footstep towards future production of a Z-car.
After the production hiatus, Nissan returned the iconic “Z-car” to its lineup, this time displacing 3.5 liters. The Z33 generation Fairlady Z saw production from 2002 to 2008. The North American 350Z entered production in 2003. This car shared its VQ35DE engine with the Infiniti G35. Initially, the base model 350Z made 276 horsepower and 274 lb/ft of torque. 2005 saw a slight power upgrade. A lesser base model now made 287 horsepower, and a special model, the 35th Anniversary Edition (celebrating the anniversary since the very first Z) made 300 horsepower. This 35th Anniversary Edition was also a tie-in model for the Playstation racing video game Gran Turismo 4, and was available in two exterior colors: “Ultra Yellow” and “Pearl Black”. The drivetrain for this 35th Anniversary Edition model was available again in 2006, still throwing 300 horsepower. The 2007 model saw a revision to the lineup; namely an updated version of its 3.5L V6, renamed VQ35HR, which now made 306 horsepower. This update coincided with Infiniti’s introduction of their new G35/G37 lineup, with which the Z shared the VQ35HR engine.
In December 2008, Nissan debuted the next iteration of the 21st-century Z-car, the Z34. In Japan, the model still retained its “Fairlady Z” moniker, but the American spec was renamed accordingly to the increase in engine size. The 3.7L 370Z debuted for the 2009 model year, and in June that year, a NISMO variant was released. The base 370Z developed 332 horsepower from its VQ37VHR engine, and the NISMO model provided 350 horsepower. The NISMO model did not come with an available roadster version. In 2012 (for model year 2013), Nissan gave the base 370Z models a cosmetic upgrade. The aesthetically refreshed model featured standard LED daytime running lights on the front fascia; however, the base model still developed 332 horsepower from its 3.7L V6. The NISMO variant remained unchanged from its 2009 debut.
2015 saw a cosmetic upgrade to the NISMO model. The front end featured horizontal LED lights which differed from the base models’ vertical bars. The power remained at 350 horsepower for the NISMO.