In late 1969, Nissan underwent a step-change. It introduced the first-generation Z-car known as the Datsun 240Z or Nissan Fairlady Z depending on where you lived.
As time went on, the Nissan Z-car went on to become one of the most successful sports car families of all time.
Now that legacy is set to continue with the Nissan Z Proto. This concept car has been designed to provide some insight into what the next seventh-generation car is going to offer us.
We thought it would be only fair to do a quick recap on the six generations of Z-car that have come before.
Generation 1: S30
The first S30-generation Z-car launched in 1969. It was the product of two legendary Japanese executives – Yoshihiko Matsuo, the chief designer on the Fairlady Z project, and Yutaka Katayama, the president of Nissan USA at the time.
It’s Katayama, informally known around the traps simply as ‘Mr. K’, who is credited as being the father of the Nissan Z-car.
It was with his influence that he pushed the brand into the risky decision to produce the S30 – a decision that ended up paying off in spades. Almost overnight, Nissan’s ‘made in Japan’ origins went from taboo to accepted in the US market.
It was a complex car for its time, making use of independent suspension on both the front and rear axle. All iterations of the S30-generation Z-car were powered by the glorious L-series engine family, which has its cylinders arranged in-line. Displacement initially started at 2.4 litres, and grew as high as 2.8 litres in some markets.
Later 260Z models introduced a 2+2 body type, which was essentially a stretched-out four-seat version of the regular car.
Generation 2: S130
1978 saw the debut of the new second-generation car known to us as the 280ZX.
The ’80s were imminent, and they struck early with this particular version. The 280ZX shifted into more of a grand touring (GT) car, becoming more refined, more comfortable, and more universally appealing in the process.
Its styling was in keeping with the first car, only now more sharp, jagged, and thus less organic than before. Gone were those beautiful, sweeping ’60s curves.
Underneath, the car was all new. The biggest change was found out back, as this new car adopted a semi-trailing arm suspension system in lieu of the previous Chapman-style A-arm and strut rear design as found on the earlier 240Z.
The two main themes that were carried over to the new S130 version were the continuation of 2+2 four-seat variants as per the later 260Z from generation one, and that buttery-smooth L-series engine. That was about it.
In Australia, we were sadly lumbered with a non-turbo 2+2 version only. We did, however, benefit from the Targa top; a novelty that was introduced to the Z-car range with the 280ZX.
Generation 3: Z31
Pop-up headlights. You’ve gotta love them. Even if they’re semi pop-up, like the ones found on the third-generation Z-car.
Most significant to this generation was the new set of engines shoehorned under the bonnet. The majority of cars around the world, including every example delivered to Australia, were powered by a new VG family of V6 engines.
With this new V6 engine, Australia received its first, and last, taste of official turbocharged Z power. On top of that, all Z31 models delivered here new featured a targa top as standard.
As for options, a cool digital dash was one of them. Underneath, the Z31 was similar to the previous car. It wasn’t until the later Z32 where things began to evolve quite heavily.
Fun fact: The Z31 generation was the last time we saw straight-six power in a Nissan Z-car.
A special edition, called the 200zr, employed a 2.0-litre turbocharged Nissan RB straight-six engine. This RB-generation engine was ideally suited to the car, as it was the spiritual successor to the legendary L-series that powered all Z-cars before it.
Generation 4: Z32
Have you ever played a PlayStation game called Gran Turismo 2? Of course you have. That’s why when I say 300ZX, you think of this particular car and not the one that came before it.
On the topic of computers, Nissan engineers used the most powerful supercomputer at the time, a Cray Research Cray-2, to aid the design process of the Z32.
They used this machine to analyse the size and weight of each component of the body structure. Why? So they could then identify where the best savings in weight could be made if they were to employ other materials such as aluminium, advanced polymers and high-tensile steels.
They also simulated crash tests, too, using a Cray-2 supercomputer.
Advancements in general technology saw the Z32 move back to its sports car roots more so than the two generations that preceded it.
Adaptive dampers debuted with twin-turbo models, as did Nissan’s rear-wheel-steering technology called ‘Super HICAS’ (Super-High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering).
The same VG family of engines was used; however, now they were topped with double-overhead-cam cylinder heads and a rudimentary form of variable valve timing.
In Australia, we only received a naturally aspirated version over a production period of six years, from 1990 to 1996. Once discontinued, the flood gates opened with many privately imports, including twin-turbo versions, finding new homes here in Australia.