The Nissan Proto Z Concept car is finally here to preview the next Z to enthusiasts excited to see what the company is going to cook up after 11 years of the 370Z. The heritage-inspired Proto Z previews what we’re thinking will be called the 400Z—the latest in a long line of Z cars stretching back to 1969.
Over the years, the regular Zs have been special enough, but occasionally Nissan built (or collaborated with a company who could build) some special, limited-edition models. Rare, interesting, and definitely unique, these run the gamut from go-fast specials to luxury cosmetic packages. Take a trip through Nissan’s special Z car history with us.
1970 240Z Fairlady Z432/Z432R
The original 240Z’s inline-six was potent enough for the period, but no one could blame Nissan for trying to hot-rod. That’s exactly what the Z432 is. Under the hood is an S20 engine making 158 horsepower. That engine was pulled directly out of the legendary, range-topping Skyline 2000GT-R, giving it even more mystique. It could rev out to 7,000 RPM, wild for the time. The “432” part of the name refers to its four valves per cylinder, triple carburetors, and twin camshafts, respectively. Extremely rare and very expensive at the time (nearly double the price of a regular 240Z), only a few hundred were made for the home market. They are quite valuable now.
1972 Fairlady 240ZG
The 240ZG is a legend, and its inspired countless aftermarket and special edition homages in the years since it went on sale. The primary differences between a 240ZG and a regular 240Z are the “G-nose”—an extended composite nosepiece with glassed in headlights for lower drag at high speeds—and the bolt-on fender flares. The coefficient of drag dropped to 0.390, and the ZG achieved a top speed of 130 mph. The ZG was never sold here, but plenty of aftermarket companies offered G-style nose conversions in the period and right up to the present day.
1977 280Z ZAP Edition
While the 240ZG and Z432 weren’t sold here, the ZAP Edition 280Z was. Unlike those other two, it was really just a package of cosmetic add-ons that didn’t affect drag or make any more power. Even so, the ZAP cars were a dose of period cool, with bold graphics and rear window louvers. Nissan referred to it as a Special Decor Package, and offered the ZAP Editions through dealers. There were even “race mirrors”, and all ZAPs were painted a bold yellow called “Sunburst.”
1980 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition
“Very few will posses its limited number. So lavishly appointed there are virtually no options. The 280ZX is Datsun … driven to the ultimate!” That’s the voiceover for one of the most delightfully campy car commercials of all time, singing the praises of the 10th Anniversary Edition. While these “Black Gold” cars are collectible today, they also show how the Z evolved from a true sports car to something heavier, slower, and more luxurious by the dawn of the ’80s. Comfortable and kitchy-cool, but no hot rod, that’s for sure. 2,500 of these cars wore the distinctive black and gold paintwork, and a further 500 wore a similar two-tone job using red and black.
1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Turbo
The Z31-generation Z car, the first 300ZX, was a radical departure from the cars that came before. In addition to the wedge-y body shape and pop-up headlights, the inline-six bowed out, replaced by a V-6 engine with an optional turbocharger. The 50th Anniversary car—celebrating 50 years, of course, of the company itself and not the Z car—was built around the 200-hp turbo V-6 model. These special editions didn’t feature any radically different mechanicals, but did sport commemorative badging, unique exterior graphics, special fender flares, and unique gold-accented alloy wheels. The interior received similar custom touches.
1988 300ZX Shiro Special
Powerful, laden with eye-popping tech—the mid-1980s 300ZX was a real flagship for Nissan, but it wasn’t the budget E-Type that the 240Z had debuted as, offering serious performance and style at pennies on the dollar. The Shiro Special was a limited-edition model that hinted that Nissan realized the Z had strayed from its roots. Mechanically, the Shiro Special ditched the heavy electronically-adjustable suspension in the regular car for stiff non-adjustable springs and Koni dampers. Larger anti-roll bars helped control lean in corners. The luxurious power seats were replaced by cloth Recaro sport buckets. And the digital gauge cluster was replaced by a analog gauges. Want an automatic? Too bad, you couldn’t get one in the enthusiast-oriented Shiro Special. A limited-slip differential helped channel the Turbo’s unchanged power output to the ground. Cosmetically, the Shiro featured a European-market front air dam and was only available in a pearlescent white paint—shiro, after all, is Japanese for “white.” Overall, the Shiro lopped 125 lbs off the somewhat portly standard turbo. Relatively rare, just over 1,000 were made and are highly collectible today.
1995 300ZX SMZ
The Z32-generation 300ZX brought Nissan’s sports car to another level, a tech-laden performance powerhouse featuring available twin-turbocharging and Super HICAS four-wheel steering. With performance already stratospheric for its time, Nissan didn’t offer any in-house special models, but they allowed a few aftermarket outfits to create officially authorized conversions. Longtime Nissan racer and aftermarket producer Steve Millen’s Stillen company sold the 300ZX SMZ through dealers—although the package wasn’t cheap at $14,000 over a standard 300ZX Twin-Turbo. It featured a big wing, some front end revisions, new rocker skirts, a revised rear bumper—and—more importantly, Stillen exhaust and a few extra pounds of turbo boost upped the SMZ by a claimed 65 hp. Stiffer springs and roll bars aided handling as well. The expense of the SMZ (on top of the already extremely expensive Twin-Turbo) meant that few were built.
2005 350Z 35th Anniversary Edition
The Z car took a hiatus in the early 2000s, but the 350Z brought things back to basics. Much less tech-heavy and expensive than its predecessor, the V-6-powered 350Z still brought a stout 287 hp to the table, wrapped in retro modern styling. The 35th Anniversary Edition (this time celebrating the Z car itself rather than Nissan as a whole) was more than just a special package. There were real, tangible performance upgrades, too. Nissan teased 13 more hp out of the 3.5-liter VQ engine and Brembo brakes added stopping power. Commemorative badging was, as you’d expect, also part of the deal. Three colors were offered: Ultra Yellow, Silverstone, or Super Black.
2010 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition
In 2009, the 350Z made way for the restyled and up-engined 370Z. The next model year, a 40th Anniversary Edition dropped based on the Touring trim. No performance upgrades were offered, but some distinct cosmetic ones distinguished the 40th Anniversary cars. 40th Graphite Gray over a red interior set these cars apart, and red accents and stitching inside further made this edition unique. All 40th Anniversary cars also get the Sport package and “smoked” 19-inch wheels, as well as a shock tower brace with special badging.
2020 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition
Ten years after the 40th Anniversary car, the 370Z is still on sale, and so it gets a very special 50th Anniversary package. Interestingly, this limited edition model can be equipped on four different trims, including the NISMO—but doesn’t bring any performance enhancements to either. Instead, it’s purely a retro-themed package of cosmetic upgrades that are an homage to the BRE Racing, Pete Brock’s outfit that saw success with various Nissan models, including the Datsun 2000 Roadster and the 240Z. At $2,600, the package isn’t cheap, either. A host of special touches, badgers, and other call-outs complete the look.
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