Nissan Z family

Through Z Years, the History of Nissan’s Z Car [Infographic]

With the introduction of the 370Z Heritage Edition at the New York International Auto Show, it’s a good time to look at the storied history of Nissan’s Z car – a sports car that has a place in the heart with more than a million owners – past and present.

As Nissan President Carlos Ghosn stated upon the unveiling of the all-new 350Z at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, “In the fall of 1969, Nissan introduced a two-seat sports car that revolutionized the automotive world at the time. It had European styling, American muscle, Japanese quality and global desirability.”

infographic nissan z car - 240z, 280z, 300zx, 350z, 370z

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He was talking, of course, about the Datsun 240Z in North America and Europe and the Fairlady Z in Japan and Asian markets. Introduced to the U.S. markets in the fall of 1969, this vehicle – designated by its Nissan code name, the S30 – featured a 2.4-liter engine that produced 150 horsepower with a 4-speed manual transmission.

The original Nissan Fairlady Z was conceived using parts and components the automaker already had available to keep the car affordable. Yutaka Katayama is credited with coming up with the Z car concept and with choosing the 240Z name for the American version of the car. The first-gen Z would come to encompass the 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z.

1984 was the year that the Nissan 300ZX was to America. The Datsun label was eliminated and the car’s body shape softened slightly into a more squared version of the Z. This year’s model included a 3.0-liter V6 and pop-up headlights, and the 1985 model had T-tops as a standard.

The 1990-96 300ZX was lower, wider, and softer around the edges. The base 3.0L DOHC V6 delivered 222 horsepower. Its front A-arms and new multilink rear struts improved the Z’s handling to new levels. With better handling performance, monster brakes, wide tires and 16-inch wheels, the goal to be the number one sports car was realized. The 2+2 version returned shortly after the coupe, and a convertible was introduced in 1992.

In the late 90s, SUVs and larger passenger vehicles were the focus of many car buyers. Thus, Nissan didn’t bring any Z cars to the United States from 1997-2002.

Using an established chassis and a version of their VQ-series engine, Nissan reintroduced the Z car to America with a base price under $30K. The 2003 model was labeled the 350Z. Over the next few years, Nissan kept making style tweaks to the body.

In 2004, NISMO introduced its version of the Fairlady Z. The Z won its first race, and in 2007, as the 350Z NISMO, it was offered in the U.S.

Maintaining its high-performance reputation, the 2009 370Z was introduced with a 330 horsepower rating. Nissan reduced the body size and weight slightly too. The convertible was added in 2010, and, as mentioned earlier, 2018 brings the Heritage edition. The Z car has proved its staying power and Nissan has kept it affordable. is offering a free Z car poster download that represents the evolving profile of Nissan’s iconic sports car. This modern, minimalist art is also offered as a computer background and is available in a variety of sizes.

Contributing Author at Fuel Curve

Before becoming an automotive journalist, Derek was diving into engine bays and wiring car audio systems for competitions since high school. Granted, there were a few leftover pieces after reassembling everything but nothing ever fell apart on the road. Today Derek applies his enthusiasm and gearhead knowledge into the latest cars, unraveling today's complex automotive technology, and learning the rich history behind classic cars.