Simeone Museum adds 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo to permanent collection
The 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo donated by John J. Case. Photos courtesy Simeone Museum.
By the late 1980s, the Nissan (formerly Datsun) Z had morphed from low-cost and light-weight sports car into a semi-luxurious grand-tourer. The 1990 Z32 version, a clean-sheet design, would change all that, becoming a car that “marked the dawn of a new era of high-performance, world-class sports cars from Japan” in the words of the Simeone Museum. Thanks to the generosity of donor John J. Case, a 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo has been added to the permanent collection of the Simeone, becoming the Philadelphia institution’s very first Japanese sports car.
The Z32 Nissan 300ZX was an odd mix of old and new. Like the original 240Z, its focus was once again on performance, particularly when equipped with the 3.0-liter, 24-valve twin-turbo V-6, rated at 300 horsepower and 283-pound-feet of torque. Mated to the five-speed manual transmission, the car was capable of sub-six-second runs to 60 mph, putting it on par with much more expensive sports car offerings from Europe. On the “new” side of the coin, the Twin-Turbo introduced a sophisticated four-wheel steering system known as Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering), and came with features like anti-lock brakes, digital climate control and an available BOSE audio system.
Even base models were respectable performers, and the normally aspirated 3.0-liter V-6 still produced 222 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. Factor in the range of models, which included two-seat coupes and 2+2s with a variety of roof options (and, in 1993, a convertible), and it became clear that Nissan wanted to be a dominant player in the import sports car market. For 1990, the company’s plan worked, and sales of 39,104 units pushed the Nissan Z over the one-million sold (since its 1970 introduction) mark, making it then the best-selling sports car of all time.
High production costs, a strengthening yen and a weakening dollar meant that Nissan’s celebration over the Z32′s success didn’t last long. At the model’s 1990 introduction, the base coupe stickered for $27,300, or $5,001 more than the previous-year equivalent. The Twin-Turbo 300ZX began at $33,000, a jump in price of $8,301 over the 1989 single-turbo model it had replaced. By 1994, prices had jumped to $33,699 for a base model and $40,099 for the Twin-Turbo; consumers reacted accordingly, buying fewer examples each year from 1993-’96, and Nissan pulled the plug on 300ZX sales in North America after the 1996 model year. By then, sales had fallen to just 2,629 Z cars per year.
Finding a Z32 Nissan on the used market may not be particularly difficult, but finding one in clean and relatively unmodified condition can be challenging. The 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo donated by John J. Case to the Simeone Museum is just such a car, and its four modifications from stock (JVC head unit, Stillen exhaust, Stillen brakes and rotors and aftermarket intake) are easily reversible, though the museum prefers to keep its cars in as-donated form. It’s seen just 34,900 miles pass beneath its wheels over the past 25 years, and the Z has been titled in the name of just two owners. As a period example of a range-topping Japanese sports car, the 1990 300ZX is an interesting artifact, but as the harbinger of change for the Japanese auto industry, and the forerunner of such later performance cars as the Mark IV Toyota Supra and the FD Mazda RX-7, the Nissan carries even more significance. It’s fitting that such a car has found a permanent home at the Simeone.
Andy Wiskes is a sound engineer with his own studio. He does production and post-production mixing for feature films, commercials and documentaries. He also volunteers with the Maritime Radio Historical Society In Point Reyes. Photograph By Stephen Finerty.
Photos of Andy Wiskes and his 1972 Datsun 240Z Coupe. Photographed on April 2, 2015 at the Nicasio Town Center, Nicasio, CA. for SFGATE.com
I had always wanted to buy a Datsun 240Z, originally called a Fairlady Z in Japan. From the moment it was released, there was a waiting list. In 1970, it was nothing short of revolutionary: a two-door, six-cylinder sports car weighing 2300 lbs. Not only that, there was generous legroom and cabin space, a necessity for those of us who are proportionally challenged. It also had beautiful lines and handled like a dream.
As a youth in Wisconsin, my first car was a 1963 TR4. It was the only one in southeastern Wisconsin. It was pure technological mysticism in the land of Harley Davidson and big block Chevys. It was a great car and my introduction to Lucas electrics-enough said.
The Triumph sale funded a Chevy van that moved me to San Francisco. I was 20 years old and had just gotten my first job working in a recording studio. In those days, the pay wasn’t great but the projects were. I got to mix Charlie Brown specials and work with great Bay Area producers and musicians, including my favorite, Vince Guaraldi.
Driving a van in San Francisco got very tiresome, and with more hope than salary I started looking for another sports car. I still dreamed of the 240Z, but it was unobtainable. You could get on a waiting list and then watch them sell for way over MSRP.
I was never patient enough to wait for one. My brother waited and got one. My neighbor waited and got one. Even my boss managed to get one. I was young and impatient and tired of my Chevy van, so I found a well-maintained 1969 Alfa Romeo Spider. Even with its Auto Delta engine it couldn’t keep up with my boss’s 240Z, but it was a convertible! It met an untimely demise in the hands of a fool (not me), but I always had the idea in the back of my mind: The 240Z.
Fast forward 38 years. I was looking at photos from the good old days and I decided that the time was right. My son and I started looking for one. It took a while to find an original that hadn’t been modified or rusted out. We found one that had recently been restored to a very high level. It was located 2 ½ hours away in Morgan Hill. The day we went down it was raining and the owner didn’t want us sliding around on wet roads, but it was the car for us.
Over the next month we kept trying to get together for a test drive, but it kept on raining. Finally, we got to do our test drive and the rest is history. Since acquiring the car I’ve put on five-slot mags, a new adjustable suspension, new brakes and a lot of wax. It has been shown at the Marin Sonoma Concours, the Hillsborough Concours and it won the Best Stock Z award from the Z Owners of Northern California. I still drive it and show it, but the best time I had with it was when I took my 82-year-old mom for a few hot laps at the Sonoma Raceway. With a camera rolling all she said was, “I’m not going to scream!” And she didn’t.
Yutaka Katayama, the former president of what’s now Nissan Motor Co.’s U.S. branch, has died at the age of 105, the Associated Press reports. “Mr. K,” as he was known to company insiders and Datsun and Nissan fans, established the Z line of sports cars that guaranteed the racing and sales success of the company in the U.S.