The car that put the Z back on the map. 160mph for £5000 is astonishing value
Launched in 1989, the Z32 wowed the motoring press, though this popularity was never reflected in numbers sold. UK sales ceased in 1994, but production didn’t end until 2000. UK Z32s were all 2+2 twin-turbos (TT) with a T-bar roof, usually with leather interior. Imports can be two-seater or 2+2, with, or without the T-bar and even without turbochargers. There is also a non-turbo drophead. Transmission is manual or automatic but be wary because complexity is high, with many on-board computers.
Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo
Power (bhp@rpm) 280bhp@6400rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 274lb ft@3600rpm
Top speed 158mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Like many cars of the time, the rear wheelarches are a weak point. Rot here can spread into the sills, and don’t overlook the fuel filler. It’s easy to miss a right mess. The sills also suffer when the drains for the T-bar roof break up. Instead of passing water through the sill, it fills the cavity instead, so they rot from the inside out.
The front inner arches can also rot. If there is any sign of corrosion, you can guarantee that it’s much worse once you start digging. The best advice is to find another car.
Check the interior for dampness in case that T-bar roof has been leaking and check the car all over for parking dings. The nose is low and easily pranged, and can be costly to repair correctly. Watch also for accident damage. Creased flanks suggest a lack-of-talent incident. Check the rear spoiler. They can break up with time and damp.
Regular care is essential and given their relatively low value people may be tempted to scrimp. A full service history is imperative and you’re best advised to buy from an enthusiast, even though cars do come up for sale elsewhere with temptingly low prices. Timing belts should be changed every 60,000 miles or every five years. Keep an eye on the many gauges. Overheating could be many things but can lead to head gasket failure. Low turbo boost is a cause for concern – the car will go into a safe mode if it detects an issue. That said, some are tempted to tweak up the boost – 9psi is the original setting. Engines can handle more, but only if fully healthy. Watch out for a blue haze from the exhaust, especially if it has been left to idle for several minutes. It might just be worn PCV valves, but worn turbochargers cost around £2000 to replace.
There’s a lot of power to handle here, so the automatic gearbox gets a very hard time of it. Check the fluid – pink is good, brown and burnt smelling suggests it is rebuild time, something that can cost more than £1500. Fluid ’box changes every 30,000 miles are sensible. The manual is tougher, but make sure the clutch isn’t slipping. Otherwise the drivetrain is robust.
The HICAS rear-wheel steering system fitted to all TTs should be barely discernible from the wheel. Some opt to do away with it, but handling problems – a loose, floaty-feeling rear end – are usually down to wear in the balljoints and/or bushes. Watch out for a warning light on the dashboard, though this can sometimes simply be down to low fluid. Run an on-board diagnostics check.
Brakes have a lot of work to do but were lauded when new. Poor braking might be seized calipers. A wobble through the brake pedal may be warped discs. Stick on new grippy tyres as soon as you buy.
The trim is generally hard wearing, but there’s an awful lot of equipment to check. Make sure it all works, including the fully automatic air conditioning. Again, there’s a diagnostic check available. Check with the club. Alternators can have a short life, so it’s a good idea to take a multimeter and make sure you get 14v out of the battery with the engine running.
Nissan’s complete lack of sex appeal meant far too many people ignored this car when it was new, despite many glowing reviews from the press. However, forget the badge, the Z32 really is a driver’s car with stupendous levels of grip and strong performance. The current 370Z is helping revive the reputation of the earlier ZX and people are finally taking the car as seriously as it deserves. It’s a robust car too, but not one you can get away with neglecting. The noise, looks and performance can distract the brain when you need it most. Buy a good one and you really won’t regret it.