By the time Nissan introduced an all-new 300ZX, the Z32 variant, for the 1990 model year, the once game-changing sports car had — in the eyes of many — lost its way, growing more comfortable but less entertaining. The new generation brought a fresh and modern look, and a focus on performance that replaced the prior model’s turn toward luxury. It’s been 23 years since the last new Z32 300ZX was sold, and the model has become a staple of auctions catering to the newest generation of car collectors. Does that mean it’s time to start shopping for one?
Like the Z31 model it replaced, the 1990 Nissan 300ZX came in three basic variants for the U.S. market: a normally aspirated coupe, with two seats; a normally aspirated 2+2, with seating for four; and a twin-turbocharged coupe that sought to return the 300ZX to its sports car roots. The Twin-Turbo model produced 300 horsepower and 283 lb-ft of torque, and when ordered with the five-speed manual transmission proved capable of getting the car from 0-60 mph in under six seconds.
Even without the twin intercooled turbochargers, the base VG30DE V-6 engine produced 222 hp and 198 lb-ft of torque, a significant step up from the previous base model’s 165 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque. The base Z32 engine even made more horsepower than the previous Turbo model (222 hp versus 205 hp), though not quite as much torque (198 lb-ft versus 227 lb-ft). While earlier generations had packed on the pounds, the Z32 300ZX remained on par with the previous model, lighter in some cases and slightly heavier in others.
The Z32 rode on a 96.5-inch wheelbase (101.2-inch on 2+2 models), compared to the previous model’s 91.3-inch and 99.2-inch wheelbases, respectively. Despite this, the Z32 was slightly shorter, measuring 169.5-inches from bumper to bumper in coupe models and 178.0-inches in 2+2s, compared to the Z31’s 173.6-inches (coupe) and 181.3-inches (2+2). The new Z rode on a wider track (roughly 71 inches versus 68 inches) and measured lower in overall height, both dimensions reinforcing the new model’s sportier intentions.
Sales were strong during the Z32’s first two years on the American market, driven by an aggressive advertising campaign, styling that set the car apart from the crowd and performance that rivaled sports cars costing considerably more money. However, a strengthening Japanese yen and weakening U.S. dollar cut the Z32’s lifespan short on these shores, and while the model remained on sale in its home country until 2000, 1996 was the final model year for American buyers.
1989 Japanese market 300ZX Twin Turbo interior.
In 1990, the 300ZX coupe carried a sticker price of $27,300, which was already $5,001 higher than the model it replaced. By 1996, however, the same 300ZX coupe had risen in price to $37,439, making it more expensive than a base model Chevrolet Corvette (which stickered at $37,225). For the Twin-Turbo, pricing had jumped from $33,000 in 1990 (over $8,000 higher than a 1989 300ZX Turbo) to $43,979 in 1996, which greatly reduced the pool of potential buyers.
Counting all model variants, Nissan sold 39,104 Z32s in 1990, which propelled the Datsun/Nissan Z past the one million sales barrier, making it the best-selling sports car in the world (until later surpassed by the Mazda Miata). In 1991, that total fell to 18,534, sliding further to 7,172 units in 1992. The introduction of a 300ZX convertible helped boost sales to 12,374 units in 1993, but sales dropped to 5,415 cars in ‘94, 3,628 cars in ’95, and a truly dismal 2,929 cars in ’96.
For years, prices of Z32 generation 300ZX models remained low, making the cars attractive to a new generation of enthusiasts. Finding unaltered examples today can be a challenge, and such cars — particularly those with low mileage – command premium prices.
1989 Japanese market 300ZX Twin Turbo interior.
In 2017, NADA put the average value of a 1990 300ZX coupe at $8,700, with a high value of $11,800. Two years later, NADA says that same 1990 model carries an average value of $10,000, and a high value of $13,650. At the opposite end of the model’s U.S. production run, a 1996 300ZX coupe carried an average value of $9,150 and a high value of $12,700 in 2017, compared to an average value of $10,500 and a high value of $14,750 today.
The 300ZX Twin Turbo models are more expensive, with NADA publishing values of $9,050 (average) and $12,300 (high) for 1990 models in 2017, compared with $10,400 (average) and $14,350 (high) today. For 1996 Twin Turbo models, pricing rose from $14,200 (average) and $19,800 (high) in 2017 to $16,400 (average) and $22,800 (high) today.
Recent auction sales seem to (mostly) agree with these numbers. A 1993 300ZX coupe with an automatic transmission and just under 41,000 miles sold at a March 2019 Arizona auction for a fee-inclusive $8,800, a 1990 Twin Turbo with a manual transmission and unspecified mileage sold at an October 2018 Texas auction for $13,750, and a 1990 coupe with a manual transmission and 37,000 miles bid to $11,000 without meeting reserve at an August 2018 Pennsylvania auction. At Amelia Island in March 2019, however, a 1996 300ZX Twin Turbo with a manual transmission and less than 2,800 miles sold for a truly impressive $53,200 with fees.
The Z32 Nissan 300ZX did well in competition, too. Here, the IMSA GT Nissan driven by Scott Pruett, Paul Gentilozzi and Butch Leitzinger runs at Daytona in 1994.
A total of 16 Z32s are currently advertised in the Hemmings classifieds, including three private party sales and 13 at dealers. These range in price from $5,600 for a 1990 2+2 with 112,000 miles and an automatic transmission at a Florida dealer to $37,500 for a 1990 Twin Turbo with less than 7,000 miles and an automatic transmission, advertised by a Las Vegas dealer. On a similar note, a Michigan dealer is advertising a manual transmission 1990 Twin Turbo, with less than 11,000 miles, for $36,000.
It’s a relatively safe bet that prices are going to go up from here, so the sound advice is to buy now. As always, if future value is a concern, it pays to find the cleanest, most original and lowest-mileage example you can. For those merely seeking an enjoyable weekend driver with a reasonable amount of performance, the Z32 Nissan 300ZX represents a sound buy at the moment.