IAIN ROBERTSON 

Nissan Z

Nissan Z

Nissan’s 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition, complete with distinctive racing livery, has been unveiled in New York, states Iain Robertson, the same city where the original Datsun 240Z made its North American debut no less than fifty years ago.

Sadly, I can just about remember when ‘Z-Cars’ was a television soap in the ‘black & white’ era, featuring the early performances of the illustrious Brian Blessed. Fortunately, I can also recall, as a student in Canada, my first sight of a Z-car, as produced by Datsun, which would become Nissan in due course. It was the stuff of dreams. A pointy snout and fastback rear, with the most glorious straight-six engine tone, allied to full-throttle tail-dipping and exuberant tail-wagging, seemingly on demand.

While I survived as a passenger for a brief round-the-block ride, it would be another two years before I sampled and drove the 240Z…as it happens, in the UK; a Kirkcaldy Datsun dealer’s example registered as ’24 OZ’. The driving experience could not be improved upon! I adored its silky engine and the slickness of its 5-speed manual gearbox, while its handling was everything that I imagined it to be.

Nissan Z

Nissan Z

The next generation 260Z was never as sweet, or raw, as the original but did grow the reputation of the Z-car, while also growing a pair of vestigial rear seats in the +2 variant. The next 280ZX, while now gaining in modern classic value, was a softer and less focused coupe, which developed into 300ZX (bulkier and even less energetic). Only when the 350Z appeared in 2003, which was a bumper year for new coupes, joined as it was by both Mazda RX8 and Chrysler Crossfire (based on the Merc SLK), which were interesting in their own ways, could the flags be re-erected for the Z-car. The 350Z was a very special machine indeed, replaced by the 370Z six years later.

Reflecting an homage to the No.46 BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) Datsun 240Z that won multiple SCCA National Championships (with John Morton driving), it is hardly a secret that the 240Z started the ball rolling for Japanese sports cars in the US market. The Austin Healey-influenced sports coupe (straight-six petrol engine, rear-wheel drive) also provided a more cost-effective route to Jaguar E-Type style and is now a hallowed classic in its own right.

Nissan Z

Nissan Z

Considering how long-in-the-tooth is the lightly revised 370Z, it will be available in four trim levels: base, Sport, Sport Touring and the 370Z NISMO. The 370Z Sport version is the foundation for the 50th Anniversary model, as it represents the true enthusiast spirit of the original 240Z. Naturally, its show car livery, in a choice of white with red accents, or silver with black, is available as an option to a full palette of garish and more subtle paint finishes.

Retaining the sleek profile that has defined Zs of the past, characterised by its low roofline, upswept quarter-windows and slope of the rear hatch, the latest Z-car has only been lightly altered for a new generation, for which some potential buyers are sure to be exceptionally grateful. High-intensity discharge bi-functional xenon headlights (far better than LED equivalents), with an auto on/off feature, allied to LED daytime running lamps, blend with the well-known 370Z face.

Nissan Z

Nissan Z

The car’s driver-centric interior is framed by a sporting instrument panel that is attached to the steering column and thus moves up and down with adjustments, while a full-length centre console separates the driver from the passenger. Above a modest storage box in the upper section of the centre stack are three ancillary dials pointed in 240Z style towards the driver. Special touches include a 50th Anniversary steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara, with a centring stripe. The heated, four-way power seats are leather and suede clad and feature adjustable lumbar support, unique stitching, attractive graphics and the 50th Anniversary logo embossed into the backrests. Dark chrome accents are used throughout the interior, including special kick plates adorned with the Z-logo and synthetic suede door panel inserts.

Nissan’s famed 3.7-litre V-6 engine produces 332bhp and 270lbs ft of torque. It is hooked-up to a close-ratio, 6-speed manual gearbox that features a synchronised downshift ‘rev-matching’ system that automatically controls and adjusts engine speed to the exact speed of the next gear position. It blips the throttle automatically. A 7-speed auto-box is also available optionally, with paddle-shifters. The glorious V6-multivalve intake and exhaust roar lacks the character of the 240Z’s original six cylinder engine but remains silky smooth and provides enough verve to despatch 0-60mph in a smidgen over 5.0s, the car running out of steam at around 160mph.Mind you, it helps if you possess deep pockets, because its fuel economy will dip from the mid-20s to single figures, if you indulge too frequently.

Nissan Z

Nissan Z

Suspended by lightweight aluminium, double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension (also produced from aluminium), the 370Z’s handling balance is of a traditional classification that is aided by a viscous limited-slip differential. While it can be urged into oversteer on a whim, the car’s grip levels remain quite high. Stopping power is provided by four-wheel ventilated disc brakes and Bridgestone Potenza S007 tyres connect the car to the road, on a set of Rays, 19.0-inch diameter forged alloy wheels.

While it has not been altered much since its launch in 2009, the 370Z is one of those character cars that many potential owners may have forgotten about. Yet, reacquainted with it, the character is hard to disguise and indulging in its abundant driver rewards soon becomes a default position. It is great to see that it is a living classic, with a life ahead of it.

Conclusion:     To be honest, I thought that the 370Z was no more, with it having been retired quietly a few years ago, as Nissan developed its cleaner and greener aspirations. Yet, perhaps sight of these versions may encourage Z-car owners to re-emerge and even consider one for their motoring futures. The 370Z is still a worthy machine, even though it is finding it harder to disguise its dinosaur scales these days.