It was not long after the introduction of the Datsun 240 Z in 1969 that the term Z-car, became a part of the language. For many, the Z-car represented a perfect compromise between the large size of American "personal'' vehicles and the primitiveness of the traditional sports car. The 240 Z was within the financial reach of many who could not afford a traditional grand touring car; it sported the overhead cam engine, fully independent suspension, exciting appearance and performance which had been dreamed of.
Datsun called the 260 Z an encore to the 240 Z. While it was not a radical departure from the 240 Z, it represented a surprising change in direction. While most vehicles simply continued to sport more and more modest performance, the 260 Z's slight increase in displacement and fully redesigned emission control system meant full performance with a minimal penalty in fuel economy, hitting the Z-car owner or potential owner right where he wanted to be hit.
The 260 Z (2 + 2) allowed the Z-car to become an exciting alternative to the conventional family sedan, while formerly, it sometimes had to be dismissed because the entire family could not be accommodated. The 280 Z was introduced in 1975 and was equipped with a larger 2,800cc, fuel injected engine. A 5-speed transmission was made optional in 1977. The 280 Z (2 + 2) model continued to be the choice in passenger accommodations.
When the 240 Z was introduced, it had virtually no direct competition, but instead created an entirely new class of vehicle. Over the years, however, more and more vehicles were introduced by other manufacturers in successful attempts to cash in on the Z-car's market position. Additionally, inevitable price increases slowly but irreversibly moved the Z-car away from its original market segment, toward a new class of more affluent buyers. Nissan determined that this new breed of buyer valued attributes, traditionally considered part of a luxury car's appeal, not a sports car's.
Accordingly, in 1979, an entirely new Z-car was introduced, the 280 ZX. Conceding the sports car market to the Mazda RX-7, Volkswagen Scirocco, Triumph TR-7 and similar vehicles, the ZX offered luxury in place of sports car performance. Although similar in appearance to the Z, the ZX shared few components other than the engine and transmission. The crisp lines of the Z-car (originally designed by either Albrecht Goertz, according to Goertz or by a Nissan committee, according to Nissan) gave way to a bulkier, more rounded committee form, which shared basic styling elements with the Z but nothing else. The suspension was completely revised for a more luxurious ride, at some expense of handling; the rear suspension was directly lifted from the Datsun 810 and the front suspension was hybridized from various existing designs. Inside the vehicle, elements of both luxury and gimmickry competed for attention. These included functional and pleasing touches, such as automatic checkout of fluid levels and lighting operation, as well as low distortion stereo and dual meter gasoline gauges.
Overall, the 280 ZX hit the mark for which Nissan aimed. Although its price had risen to a level unimaginable ten years before, it offered the new type of ZX buyer the exact blend of comfort, luxury and performance unavailable in other vehicles.
In 1984, the Nissan 300 ZX was introduced, marking the third generation of Z-cars. (The first complete redesign occurred with the 1979 280 ZX.) With a new V6 engine, more aerodynamic body, revised suspension and brake systems among other changes, the 300 ZX was designed to surpass both the sportiness of the original Z-car and the luxury of the prevailing ZX.