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50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

10 occasions that Datsun/Nissan spiced things up with the beloved Z-car during its 5-decade run.

Alex Kierstein
Sep 23, 2020

Rodrez: After over 50 years of Nissan's beloved Z-car, it's only fitting that a few special editions would've made their way into the lineup. Backed by one of the most die-hard, loyal fan bases of any vehicle in history, it's really no surprise that Nissan managed to serve up a handful of extra special models to spice things up.

Admittedly, not all of these models are loaded with changes that add up to much more than cosmetic differences. Nevertheless, the group steps away from the crowd and it's pretty damn cool to look back to the Zs of yesteryear. Some of the more modern examples seemed to upset enthusiasts more than excite them, probably due to the fact that they wanted an emphasis on performance increases which, in modern times, under strict EPA-regulated guidelines, weren't likely to happen.

On the heels of Nissan's new Prototype Z-car smashing into your newsfeed last week, we figured what better time to dig into the archives? Enjoy

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1969 Nissan Fairlady Z Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

1970 240Z Fairlady Z432/Z432R

Alex Kierstein: The original 240Z's inline-six was potent enough for the period, but no one could blame Nissan for trying to increase the performance and that's exactly what the Z432 was all about. Under the hood is an S20 engine making 158 horsepower—that engine 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1972 Fairlady Z Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1977 280Z ZAP Edition Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

1977 280Z ZAP Edition (photo by Bring-a-Trailer)

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 bold "Sunburst"

We Get It, You Need More "Z"
Top 5 Z-Car features from the Super Street archives
400Z staff opinions & a list of features from every Z generation

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1980 280ZX 10th Anniversary Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

1980 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition

"Very few will possess 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Turbo Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

1984 300ZX 50th Anniversary Turbo

The Z31-generation Z car or, 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1988 300ZX Shiro Special Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

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 and 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 an analog version. 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 1995 300ZXTT SMZ Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

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 company, Stillen, 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 side skirts, a revised rear bumper—and—more importantly, Stillen exhaust and a few extra PSI 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 2005 350Z 35th Anniversary Edition Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 2010 370Z 40th anniversary Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

2010 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition

In 2009, the 350Z made way for the restyled and more powerful 370Z. The next model year, a 40th Anniversary Edition dropped based on the Touring trim. No performance upgrades were offered, but some distinct cosmetic updates 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.

Special Edition Nissan Z Cars 2020 2020 370z 50th anniversary Photo 11/11   |   50 Years of Nissan Z-Car Special Editions

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 in 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 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, badges, and other call-outs complete the look.

By Alex Kierstein
12 Articles

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