Having never sat in a Z of any kind, I went into this drive totally unaware of what to expect. This particular example stuck out in the looks department at our first Cars and Craft event at Canyon Club Brewery a few weeks back, so we asked the owner, Monty, if he’d be down to let us take it for a spin. These are my impressions of the Z31 experience.
Monty’s current example is a 50th anniversary edition. In the collector department, it’s got the restricted volume box checked off the bat with just 5,148 of these making it to the US market (and another 300 to Canada). This special edition was outfitted with meaty fender flares, a special two-tone colorway, turbo fan alloy wheels, 50th anniversary embroidered badging on the seats, an iconic digital dashboard, and electronically controlled sport suspension (pretty amazing for 1984). By 1984, the Z platform was the best selling sports car in the US.
Inside the cockpit, you are greeted with an incredibly 80’s digital dash. In Monty’s showroom quality example everything on the dash works perfectly, creating a certain futuristic vibe. The seats are very comfortable, yet bolstered enough for moderately hard driving. They wear the 50th anniversary badging on the backs and are wrapped in a soft black leather. The shifter feels great in your hand and all the other touch points are adequate, especially considering the year and price point this car was produced at. One thing that was a bit of a let down was the look and feel of the woodwork in the console and rest of interior. Of course, it’s not supposed to be that luxurious. However, for a sporty GT car, I would’ve preferred bare plastic or some vinyl instead. The steering wheel leather is perfect (not too soft and not too hard) and the dashboard material is very similar to a new Japanese market car, giving me confidence that it won’t crack as easily as you’d think.
Where this example shines is it’s striking exterior. The z31 is considered an underdog in the world of Z cars, but I don’t understand why. The original Light Pewter Metallic and Thunder Black colorway is accented with gold turbo script and gold pinstripes along the body. The rear fender flares give the car an exceptionally sporty profile. The T-Top provides a unique experience and is a great way for tall people to fit inside the 300 (at 6’2”, my head would be gracefully touching the roof if it was a hardtop). The pop up headlights are partially visible when closed, making them feel extremely purpose built. For some reason, this was my favorite part of the car. The hood scoop ads to the experience both audibly and aesthetically. Around town, the z31 attracts constant attention. This is truly a high sense of occasion experience for both the driver and those around them.
Driving this example of the 300zx was a treat. With around 50,000 miles, everything is very tight and feels strong. The engine doesn’t produce too much power (200hp), but has a surprisingly smooth power curve considering 80’s turbo technology. This offers the user 100% of the power on a backroad, making it very easy to drive at the limit pretty much at any time. Redline seems to be somewhere around 6k rpm, but because the exhaust note is hampered by the turbo, it’s not super thrilling to get to and offers a relatively uninspiring sound. Most of the time, it’s fan noise. You get to hear the turbo whistle under high boost, but the exhaust note is minimal (expected for early turbo cars). The car was fitted with an un-tuned coil over suspension at the time of our test, which made it quite stiff and bouncy. However, with the addition of some suspension tuning or a new shock/strut/spring combo, I reckon this would be incredible to drive. Shifting is smooth, but the clutch feel is a little vague. Gearing was great and in the backroads I didn’t really need to shift too much.
Overall, this car offers a period-correct experience at an accessible price. But these Z31’s don’t seem to appear that often in the car scene. For people like Monty, who is on his third one, this is a bummer. Aftermarket support is weak because of this low volume, so finding parts can be a bit of a nightmare. Despite that this still an incredibly underrated car. With the right example and good suspension, this could be your one car solution. At their current valuation, I believe that they’re pretty undervalued and will have their time in the limelight within the next 5-10 years. If you’re looking into buying one of these, acting soon might be in your interest.