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PREMIER HAPPENING OF 1989S IS NOW: THE UNVEILING OF THE 1990 NISSAN 300ZX

Friday evening, perhaps even as you are reading these words, Rick Warner Nissan will be conducting what many in the automotive world - sports car branch - consider the premier happening of the 1980s: the unveiling of the 1990 Nissan 300ZX.

The 300Zx that Warner's has had covered on their new showroom floor at Seventh South and West Temple for the past two weeks is a call-the-cops RED (I peeked) version that will have followers of the long and honorable Z car legend getting second mortgages and putting the kids to work - whatever it takes to get one intheir garage.But the Aztec Red bomb has a brother: a Gold Pearl sibling that a few lucky Salt Lakers - including your humble columnist - have been buzzing around twon in for the past week or so. Even in a world grown blase over new car introductions - there are too many of them - the 300ZX turns heads and drops jaws.

What, you may be asking yourself at this point, is Knudson so worked up about? However nice the new 300ZX may be, its' just another car, right? Bite your tongue. The new Z is just another car like cold fusion resembles a 12-year-old fooling around in the basement with his chemsitry set.

"I've just driven one of the best sports cars in the world; one that's refreshing in style, balanced in feel and exhilarating in performance." That's the way Dennis Simanaitis, engineering editor for Road & Track describes his first encounter with the new 300ZX and I'm not about to disagree.

My problem is that I used up all of my superlatives in a review on these pages last winter of Nissan's wonderful new Maxima SE - the one touted in the TV commercials as "the four-door sports car."

Now I regret not having them because the 300ZX does everything better than the Maxima but one: it doesn't have room for four passengers. (A 300ZX 2+2 version is coming this summer, but back seats in 2+2s are invariably useless for human beings not still in pre-school.)

Incidentally, I should point out that the '90 Nissan 300ZX is a different animal (what an animal!) from its predecessors of the same nomenclature. The boulevard cruisers that were previous 300ZX are no more. This one is a sports car.

That's how the legend began, of course, back in 1970 when Nissan - then badging its cars Datsun - introduced the 240Z. It was about $3,200, and you didn't just walk into a showroom and buy one. You put your name on a long list, said your prayers each night, and maybe, just maybe, six or eight months later the dealer would call and tell you your name had come to the top and a car was waiting. What color? No one bothered to ask. You took what came.

Then there was the 260ZX in '78and finally the 300ZX in 1983. With each "new and improved" iteration, the Z care lost some of its karma as Nissan made it heavier added more "luxury" equipment and bumped the price in 5 grand chucks until it was up in the $20,000-plus range where driving enthusiasts bow out and cruise-control addicts take over.

Not that Z car was alone in the doldrums. The entire Nissan line spent most of the '80s suffering from the automotive equivalent of the heartbreak of psoriasis and waxy yellow buildup. Nissans were clunky, funky and worst of all, boring.

NO MORE! First the snazzy affordable 240SX rolled out last winter, then the tour de force Maxima and now the 300ZX - an automotive hat trick of amazing proportions. The folks at Nissan have awakened just in time to get back in the hunt with Honda, Toyota and even Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and yes, Ferrari.

OK, you get the idea. Now, if your heart beats a little on the wild side, if Chevy Celebrities are not your idea of a great ride, get on down to your nearest Nissan dealer and check out the 300ZX. If you're lucky, they might let you go for a long test ride. I recommend East Canyon. The signs say it's closed. It isn't. Just watch out for road graders.

The car will do the rest.