With a profile that mimicked a Daytona and a front end that resembled an E-Type, the 1978-83 280ZX was one of the hottest-looking Nissans ever built. As attractive as these second-generation cars were, it took time before enthusiasts warmed to them. They had a massive act to follow; replacing the much-loved original Fairlady was an unenviable task. How would Nissan improve such a good thing?
By taking the controversial step of changing the very character of the car. Opinions were divided. Fans of the first generation lamented the transformation as the Z-car went from being a proper sporty ride to more of a softly sprung grand tourer. Bigger, heavier and flabbier than its predecessor, the newbie was actually slipperier than previous Zs, having marked Nissan's first use of wind-tunnel testing during design development. It didn't look it, but it was (it had a Cd of 0.385 -- the 1970-77 model was 0.467) and it featured a brand new chassis. The suspension was fully independent (struts up front and semi-trailing arms at the back) and there was a marked improvement in the interior, which wasn't just roomier, but more luxurious too.
The ZX soon became known as the Japanese Firebird when in 1980, T-tops were introduced as well as a black and gold 10th Anniversary model that looked as fetching as the Y82 Pontiac.
Further upmarket trends such as leather upholstery and automatic temperature control meant it was now more luxurious than sporty. It was a big money maker for Nissan -- even if power from the 2.8-litre inline-six stood at a meagre 140bhp. This was corrected when the Turbo models cranked output up to 180bhp -- but it was automatic-only. The five-speed manual wasn't strong enough for the boosted L28ET motor. Still, it could beat a Porsche 924 Turbo and was indeed just about as unbeatable as a GT.
The thrill behind the wheel was back and the ZX felt more like the car the fans had fallen for back in 1970.
There are loads for sale and depending on how well you can haggle, you can pick one up for as little as Dh15,000. Well worth the money for a modern, useable classic.