You don’t know where Atascadero, California is, and you think that a ’75 280Z is pretty much the same thing as a ’79 280ZX. You not knowing where exactly off Highway 101 and California’s Central Coast Atascadero is located is entirely excusable, but you not knowing the high points and model details that make up Nissan’s 47-year span of Z cars can’t be so easily forgiven. Brush up on your Z car history and see what made last March’s annual Z Day gathering such a good one.
For us Americans, the Z car story starts with Datsun’s ’70 240Z. And more than four decades later the letter Z still means important things, like horsepower for the sake of horsepower and a well-balanced chassis that’s all rolled up into something you’d actually want to be seen in.
Datsun updated the S30 chassis by way of the 260Z, its name which is indicative of its larger, 2.6L inline-six. It came with a four-speed manual transmission and, were you to leave yours alone, would’ve looked pretty much like this.
A bigger engine—this time a 2.8L—meant a new name—this time the 280Z. The updated Z, which was still an S30 chassis, made 170 hp, was offered in a 2+2 configuration like this one that featured a longer wheelbase and reshaped roofline, and has nothing at all to do with the impending 280ZX that would be introduced later on.
The 280Z’s L28E engine is really just a bored-out version of its predecessor’s L26. The updated engines also feature fuel injection by way of Bosch’s L-Jetronic system, an early, analog-based fuel injection system that uses an air vane to measure incoming airflow volume and relay that to the Z’s on-board ECU. It’s kind of like a MAF-based system only older and less accurate.
Of course, when you’re no longer able to take all of that caveman fuel injection nonsense, there are all sorts of engine swap options at your beck and call, many of which have got nothing at all to do with Datsun or its Z car heritage, like this here first-generation 1JZ-GTE engine snagged from something like an early ’90s Toyota Chaser.
The redesigned Z was now entirely Nissan, unless you had an ’84 model, in which case you had yourself a Datsun/Nissan 300ZX. The turbocharged version was the best-handling and fastest Z to date and was responsible for all sorts of motorsports victories, including wins in IMSA and the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship that happened before you were born.
The Z31 300ZX had the sort of things you really care about, too, like a factory-turbocharged VG engine. Both the naturally aspirated VG30E that you don’t care about and the VG30ET that you do featured a V6 layout, the latter of which was good for roughly 200 hp by way of a T3 or T25 turbo, depending on the year.
It’s called Z Day for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go looking at this SR20DE-swapped 510 of which the S30 chassis, at least, owes just a little bit to.
Or a C110-chassis Skyline. Because there will never be anything wrong with a C110-chassis Skyline.
About those engine swaps – when Toyota’s 2JZ just isn’t enough heft, you look to General Motors and its LS. It’s bigger, it’s heavier, and at well over 500 hp, it doesn’t matter at all when tucked away underneath this ’75 280Z’s hood.
Unlike other domestic V8s, GM’s LS is incredibly compact, which makes stuffing it in between the frame rails of something from the mid-’70s not all that impractical. Of course, a swap like this calls for a complete do-over of Datsun’s fuel system, electronics, and cooling system.
Face it, this is when you started caring about the Z. Even today the Z32-chassis 300ZX remains one of the most special sports cars to ever come out of Japan. It’s body lines are on par with cars like the Supra, RX-7, and NSX of the era, and its twin-turbocharged V6 is still a capable performer.
Wussies will complain about the tight quarters when working on the VG30DETT, but you know it’s all worth it. Nissan went all out with this VG, giving it two turbos and a pair of intercoolers, two cams per head, and variable valve timing—all in 1990.
For years the Nissan Fairlady Z name was given to Z chassis cars in other markets, like Japan and Australia.
It’s been 27 years since the Z32 was released and the chances of you finding one that’s as well kept as this one just aren’t in your favor.
Look underneath the aftermarket hood and you’ll be transported back to the early ’90s. Here, aftermarket mods are few and everything you’d be tempted to get your mitts on and bungle up—like the factory wiring harness and OEM hardware—has been left alone.
In the mid-’90s, you told everybody you wanted the Z for its twin-turbo V6, but all you really cared about was its optional T-top.
Let’s say that, for whatever reason, that VG30DETT isn’t good enough for you. That’s where Toyota’s JZ comes in again, this time in the form of the later-generation 1JZ-GTE that’s essentially a smaller and single-turbocharged version of the 2JZ-GTE you know and love.
Nissan figured you’d had enough of all of those turbos, and when it introduced the 350Z, they did it by way of the naturally aspirated VQ35DE. Despite those missing turbos, the VQ is pretty much one of the best V6 engines ever made, by anyone, and responds to boost exactly how you’d want it to, this time in the form of a Vortech centrifugal supercharger.
Few cars are as supported by the aftermarket as well as the Z33-chassis 350Z. Aero (functional or not), bolt-on brake systems, and just about any conceivable engine bit is yours for the taking.
And that includes your choice of just about any type of forced induction system, like this centrifugal supercharger from Stillen. Centrifugal superchargers behave like turbos since they feature compressor housings and wheels that are quite similar, and superchargers, since they’re both belt driven and rely on crankshaft speed to work.
And then there’s this. The limits of which the Z33 350Z knows are virtually endless.
For the ’07 model year and later Nissan updated the VQ with larger crank journals, new cylinder heads, longer rods fit inside of a slightly taller block, asymmetrical pistons, and all sorts of anti-friction updates. Like earlier versions, the VQ37VHR engine’s dual-path intake that now features two throttle bodies and two intake tracts as well as the equal-length exhaust manifold contribute to the power bump that you’d hoped for.
The redesigned and now Z34-chassis 370Z meant more power. Those engine developers did it again when the 370Z was introduced, stroking the original VQ engine but without sacrificing the engine’s ability to rev. That means 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque are standard, which, by the way, was about 30 hp more than Ford’s V8 Mustang was good for back then but with two fewer cylinders. And for the first time, Nissan’s VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) is also standard on the VQ.
Nissan’s limited-edition 370Z Nismo has got one of the most powerful VQ engines ever along with 18- or 19-inch rims, bigger brakes, an LSD, stiffer suspension, and aero bits that work, like front and rear spoilers and a rear wing. Nismo had its way with that 3.7L engine, too, getting 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque out of it through its ECU and exhaust system.
Your Z will never be as wild as pro drifter Chris Forsberg’s and that’s okay. Here, Forsberg’s twin-turbocharged 370Z drift car’s got a heavily updated version of Nissan’s V6 underneath the carbon-fiber hood.
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Notice the pair of blow-off valves above the heat exchangers and the straight-shot intercooling piping that send boost from the pair of turbos into the overhauled VQ.