The Nissan Z has been a staple Japanese sports car for decades. It’s been something of an icon in the U.S., too, despite disappearing from the market for half a decade. Let’s walk back in time and trace the iconic Z-car’s steps through history with the help of Donut Media.
The most interesting tidbit about the Nissan Z is its name. When it began selling cars in North America in the late 1950s, Nissan went by the name Datsun in case the brand failed. Although Datsun had never built a sports car, it tried and released the Datsun Fairlady in 1959. This name came from Nissan’s president, who had seen “My Fair Lady,” a hit Broadway musical at the time. Americans loved the musical, but didn’t like the car.
So, Yutaka Katayama, head of Nissan’s West Coast operations and widely known as Mr. K to Z-car fans, began to push for an affordable sports car. He championed a design from the head of Nissan’s sports car styling studio, and Nissan designed the car to be fast, reliable, and fairly inexpensive. Thus, the Nissan Fairlady Z was born. Nissan didn’t think Americans would go for the name, so it simply became the Datsun 240Z. Powered by a 2.4-liter inline-6 engine with 151 horsepower, the market adored it.
The 260Z followed in 1974 and the 280Z arrived in 1975, the latter sold only in North America. However, things soon changed. Nissan turned to the luxury market rather than the sports car market, and released the Datsun 280ZX in 1978. It was more grand tourer than sports car, and it was hardly what Z-car fans had come to know and love.
The Z got its groove back when a turbocharged variant was released, mirroring the history of the Toyota Supra. In 1984, the Datsun name was retired, and the Nissan 300ZX came on the scene, now with a some real power.
The Nissan 300ZX really found its stride in 1990 with the final 300ZX generation. It was sporty, quick, and luxurious, though it was pulled from the market in 1996 due to high prices and a declining sports car market.
I wouldn’t be until 2002 that the Z car would return as the 350Z and it completely encompassed its sports car roots. The 350Z, of course, led us to the current 370Z.
The future of the Nissan Z isn’t as clear, however. It’s been rumored to take the form of a crossover, go away entirely, and even become a hybrid. All signs point to a new Z concept at this year’s Tokyo motor show, so we’ll be watching carefully.
This article, written by Sean Szymkowski, was originally published on MotorAuthority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.