Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo

Chassis Number : JN1CZ24A9LX005861             Horsepower : 300           Displacement : 6 cylinders, 3.0 Liters           Wheelbase : 96.5 inches

These Cars

In 1914, the Kaishinsha Motorcar Works produced a vehicle in Tokyo, Japan, named the “DAT”. This represented an acronym of the first initial of the surnames of the 3 partners: Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama, and Meitaro Takeuchi. After several reorganizations through the 1930s, the company was rebranded as Datsun, and they produced several small cars that were closely patterned after Austin products. Datsun survived a war against China, as well as WWII, by building military trucks. In 1947, car production resumed and again they were styled after Austins. Datsun entered the USA market in 1958 with small trucks, followed by small cars in the mid 1960s. In the 1970s, due in no small part to the Gas Crisis, sales of their products grew exponentially. After a $500 million rebranding campaign from 1982-85,  the company officially was known as Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A. in 1986.

Yutaka Katayama, the first president of Nissan, is credited with expanding the company’s offerings beyond economy vehicles to include sporty cars. Katayama, who is still alive and well at the age of 105, is often referred to as “Mr. K”, and the “Father of the Z Car”. In the late 1960s, Mr. K pushed Datsun to produce a lightweight, low-cost, 2-seat sports car with a modern design and well-balanced handling. This car was known as the Datsun 240Z for the worldwide market, and also as the Nissan Fairlady in the Japanese market. It was a huge success and quickly became the #1 selling sports car in the world. However, as later generations of the “Z Car” evolved through the 1970s and 1980s, they got further away from the roots of the original 240Z. By the time the late 1980s rolled around, the Z Car became more of a grand touring boulevard cruiser that was burdened by a heavy weight, tepid handling, and a dated design.

That all changed in 1990.

When the Nissan 300ZX made its debut in 1990, it took the sports car world by storm. Most importantly, it marked the dawn of a new era of high performance, world-class sports cars from Japan.  It served notice to the storied European makers such as Ferrari and Porsche that the Japanese were here to stay. The 300ZX graced the cover of nearly every major automotive magazine in the world, and universally received high praise and excellent reviews. Car & Driver nicknamed the car “Godzilla” on the front of their February 1990 issue. Car & Driver also nominated the car to their world-famous “10 Best” list for 7 straight years from 1990-96, representing every year it was sold in the USA, and Automobile named it to their “All Stars” list from 1990-94.

The engine was 3.0 liter V6 with 4 valves per cylinder, dual overhead cams, and it was available in 2 distinct versions. The 222 hp naturally aspirated engine was available across all roof and seating configurations, while a 300 hp twin-turbocharged engine was only available in the 2-seater coupe versions. When properly maintained, the engine is virtually indestructible and can last well over 300,000 miles. Some heavily modified examples are known to generate well over 900 hp using the stock block. There were 2 available transmissions: 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic. The car was available in several distinct configurations for the roof and seating.  For the roof, there was 3 options: t-top, convertible, and the extremely rare “slicktop”.

There were also 2 different seating options: 2-seater, and the elongated “2+2” 4-seater. The 300ZX Twin Turbo was a technological wonder for its time. One of its most innovative features was a 4-wheel steering system known as Super HICAS, for High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering. It also featured 2-way adjustable suspension, anti-lock brakes, digital climate controls and BOSE stereo system. Unfortunately all of this technology had a negative impact on pricing. The MSRP in 1990 was around $30,000 however by 1996 it had ballooned to over $50,000. In 1996, due to low sales, the 300ZX was discontinued by Nissan in the USA, however production continued in Japan until 2000. The Z-car series went on a 6-year hiatus in the USA from 1997-2002, only to be revived in 2003 with the new 350Z.

Japan takes on the world at Le Mans

During the mid 1980s, in a true illustration of “The Spirit of Competition”, the 3 major Japanese auto manufacturers, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda, all set their sights on winning Le Mans. Although each company made substantial factory-backed efforts, they were simply no match for the armadas of Porsches and Jaguars which had decades of development behind them. Between 1986-89 at Le Mans, Nissan could manage no better than a 14th place, with many ignominious DNFs along the way. Then, in 1990, Mark Blundell put the 1100 bhp R90CK on pole at Le Mans. We enthusiastically encourage you to watch the video of his efforts for a true illustration of “on the edge” car control. That same year, a similar R90CP finished 5th in the race, which at that point was the best finish by a Japanese manufacturer, until Mazda won the 1991 race.

Meanwhile, back in the US-based IMSA series, Nissan’s official racing division, Electramotive, developed a series of prototype racers. Originally built by Lola in 1985-86, Electramotive took over the program in 1987, and in 1988 they began building their own cars in-house with immediate success. (You may recall a similar situation with the Lola/Ford GT40 in the 1960s.) Electramotive later became known as NPTI, for Nissan Performance Technology Inc. With these prototypes, NPTI and Nissan dominated the IMSA GT series, winning 4 consecutive championships in 1988-89-90-91. They also won the 12 Hours of Sebring 3 consecutive times in 1989-90-91, and the Daytona 24 Hours in 1992.

The 300ZX Turbo participated in the IMSA GTS class with tremendous success. The Clayton Cunningham Racing team, with backing from Nissan, developed a purpose-built racing version of this car and made it into a champion. Led by Steve Millen, the team won 24 races between 1990-95, as well as both the Driver and Manufacturers championships in 1992 and 1994. Their best year was 1994 when the car incredibly took 1st overall at both the Daytona 24 Hours, and the Sebring 12 Hours. Also in 1994, in its lone appearance at Le Mans, the car finished an amazing 5th overall and 1st in class. However 1995 was a different story, as IMSA outlawed the V6 turbo engine, so instead Nissan replaced it with a V8 and still won 3 races. Unfortunately, Steve Millen suffered a career ending injury in an accident at Road Atlanta and the program was finished at the end of the season.

Our Car

This 300ZX Twin Turbo has the distinction of being the first Japanese sports car to join our permanent collection. It was a most generous donation by Mr. John J. Casey from Pearl River, NY. This magnificent machine has traveled only 34,900 miles and 2 owners. It retains its original engine, transmission, chassis and body, all of which are near showroom condition. It is quite difficult to find an unmolested or unfettled example of the Z32 300ZX. Due to the wonders of depreciation, as well as an influx of low-cost performance parts, a high percentage of these cars were heavily modified and unceremoniously beaten into the ground.

Our 300ZX Twin Turbo has only 4 total modifications, including an aftermarket JVC stereo receiver (we still have the original BOSE unit in a box), a STILLEN stainless steel cat-back exhaust, STILLEN brake pads & rotors, and a Jim Wolf POPcharger air filter. Of course these would be easily reversible, but our preference is to keep the cars in their “as found” condition.  We have a dossier of documentation including service records, as well as a batch of 1st place trophies from Nissan Z car shows.

The car feels right at home in our Sporty Cars exhibit, taking its rightful place among the world’s greatest sports cars. It is a worthy representation of the 1990s decade, as well as the rise of the Japanese as producers of world-class high performance sports cars.