In 1969, Nissan introduced both its first GT-R performance model and its first Z sports car.
At the 2019 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), Nissan celebrated 50 years of performance cars with special displays of Zs and GT-Rs from the past, as well as special-edition new models.
Join us on a journey through half a century of Nissan performance cars, including some of the models from Nissan and the New York Z Car Club that featured in the New York displays.
The show is open to the public until Sunday April 28:
Datsun-Fairlady 1500 (1962)
It could be argued that Nissan’s performance car heritage stretches back a little further than 1969.
Japan’s modern motorsport history began with the first Japan Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1963. This Roadster won the B-II class in the hands of Genichiro Tahara, who later became chairman of the Nissan Sports Car Club.
The car was based on the Datsun 310 chassis – the first-generation Bluebird – and was fitted with an engine from the larger Cedric. In the US, later Roadsters provided team owners Bob Sharp and the Australian Peter Brock with their first Datsun SCCA race cars.
Prince-Skyline 2000GT (1964)
The Skyline nameplate originated with Prince Motors, a Japanese luxury car manufacturer that merged with Nissan in 1967.
Convinced that race victories would boost sales, in 1964 Prince mounted the G7 engine from the Gloria into the S54 Skyline sedan and produced the required 100 units required for homologation.
The car was entered into that year’s Japan GP. A Porsche 904 won the race, but a Skyline briefly led the race and the cars finished in 2nd to 6th places.
The faster GT-B model was launched in February 1965. The vehicle shown is part of the Nissan Heritage Collection and was recreated by Nissan employees in 2012.
Datsun-240Z Series I (1969)
The car that started it all for Nissan performance cars on the world stage. The Datsun 240Z (S30, known as Nissan Fairlady Z in Japan) was conceived as an affordable, everyday sports car.
Modern, independent suspension was just one of the advantages over older competitors like the MGB. Engines were a 2.4-liter inline-six (US) or 2.0-liter unit (Japan).
Sales were strong from the start, with 40-50,000 units sold in the US in each of the first four years of production.
Meanwhile, Peter Brock’s Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) team prepared the 240Z for SCCA sports-car racing and John Morton drove it to the 1970 and ’71 C Production National Championships, enhancing the Z’s reputation as a credible sports car from a manufacturer that had little track record in racing outside of Japan.
Nissan-Skyline 2000 GT-R (1971)
Nissan’s first Skyline GT-R, known as the PGC10 or Hakosuka (boxy Skyline), was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1969. It was still a sedan, but an inline-six engine produced 160 horsepower.
A four-valve DOHC engine and all-independent suspension helped it to dominate touring car racing in Japan, scoring 52 victories in its first three years of competition.
The two-door version (KPGC10), seen here as part of a special display at the New York International Auto Show in 2016, was introduced in 1970. The wheelbase was shortened by 70mm and the weight reduced by more than 20kg by downsizing the body.
Nissan-Fairlady Z 432 (1971)
Nissan also produced a hot version of the first-generation Z. The 432 model borrowed the PGC10 Skyline’s 160hp S20 engine. The name 432 refers to 4 valves, 3 carburetors and 2 camshafts. Magnesium alloy wheels were fitted as standard.
Nissan-Skyline H/T 2000GT-R Concept (1972)
Despite its looks, this C110 GT-R motorsport concept never raced, but it is one of the best known of all Nissan performance cars.
It was first shown in Nissan’s booth at the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show and was brought to the New York International Auto Show in 2019 to star in the Dream Garage display of historic GT-Rs.
Nissan-Skyline H/T 2000GT-R (1973)
The C110 Skyline acquired the nickname ‘Ken & Mary’ (Kenmeri) following its debut in 1972 thanks to a successful Japanese advertising campaign of the time that featured a couple with those names.
The GT-R version was launched in January of the following year and featured all-round disc brakes. The introduction of stricter emissions regulations put paid to production after only four months, by which time just 197 cars had been built.
Datsun-260Z 2+2 (1974)
In 1974, the 240Z gained a bigger, 2.6-liter engine and a longer 2+2 model joined the two-seat coupe in the lineup.
This yellow example on display in New York is from Nissan USA’s own collection and was once owned by Yutaka Katayama (Mr K), who was instrumental in setting up the US sales company and bringing the 240Z to market.
Datsun-280Z Black Pearl (1978)
Next up for the Z in the US market was a 2.8-liter, fuel-injected motor, creating the 280Z that was sold from 1975.
The Black Pearl Edition was a limited-run model from 1978 that featured black pearlescent paint and special striping. The dealership advertised on this example’s license plate holder was owned by long-time Datsun Z racer, Bob Sharp.
Nissan-Fairlady 280Z 2+2 (1978)
A second-generation Z (S130), equipped with 2.0-liter (Japan only) or 2.8-liter engines was launched in August 1978 as the 280ZX (Fairlady 280Z in Japan, as shown here).
The bigger, more aerodynamically shaped 280ZX was more of a grand tourer than its predecessors, offering greater interior space in both the two-seater and the 2+2 version.
This modified 280ZX was part of the NYZCC display. An even larger rear spoiler than this was fitted to just over 1,000 cars in 1979 in order to homologate the part for IMSA and SCCA racing.
They were sold with special badging as the 280ZX-R.
The third-generation Z (Z31) was launched in 1983, the same year as total Z-car production passed 1 million units.
Under the hood in the US was Japan’s first turbo V6 engine, a 3.0-liter unit. The slippery profile boasted a drag coefficient of 0.31, thanks in part to pop-up headlamps.
The following year, it was the best-selling sports car in the US; in 1985, the Datsun brand was finally dropped.
The Anniversary Edition celebrated the golden anniversary of Nissan’s founding in December 1933. Only 5,148 of these cars were manufactured for the US market; an additional 300 were built for Canada.
Outside, the Anniversary Edition featured commemorative badging, unique front fenders and rear fender flairs, and turbine-style alloy wheels with gold accents on the fins.
Inside was a futuristic digital instrument cluster and a ‘Bodysonic Amplifier’ with adjustable intensity that added rumble to the front seats, based on the sound profile of the music being played from the head unit.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 (1989)
The eighth-generation Skyline (R32) was rolled out in May 1989. Three months later, the GT-R nameplate was brought back after a 16-year absence.
The 276hp engine was the specially designed RB26DETT – a 2.6-liter, inline 6-cylinder DOHC unit with two turbos for 271lb ft of torque. The AWD system was the electronically controlled ATTESA E-TS, which optimally distributed torque between the four wheels according to the driving conditions.
Nissan Skyline R Calsonic (1990)
The Group A R32 GT-R made its debut at the opening race of the All Japan Touring Car Championship (JTC) in March 1990.
In the four seasons leading up to the last Group A JTC in 1993, the GT-R won all 29 rounds. This #12 Calsonic Skyline, raced by Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama, is one of the most famous Nissan race cars of all time, winning the championship in 1990 and 1993.
Its twin-turbo inline six was rated at 332hp.
Nissan 300ZX (1990)
The fourth-generation Z car (Z32) was launched exactly 20 years after the first-generation 240Z, in July 1989.
Its width, slanted nose and cabin-forward styling made it more distinctive and dramatic looking than the car it replaced. Both two-seater and 2+2 version were produced, powered by a 3.0-liter V6, with or without twin turbos. This 1990 model formed part of this year’s Z-car heritage display in New York.
Nissan 300ZX Convertible (1992)
The convertible Z32 was officially released in August 1992, having been first shown at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show.
The car is based on the two-seat 300ZX and features a separate trunk lid. The engine was a non-turbo VG30DE V6 that made 222hp.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 (1995)
The R33, which ran from 1995-98, was mechanically close to its predecessor, including improved versions of the R32’s RB26DETT and 5-speed gearbox.
Nissan-Nismo GT-R (1995)
Nismo created this homologation special, part of the Nissan Dream Garage at the New York show, for use on public roads, so that it could race the GT-R in the LMGT1 class at the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours.
The sole finisher came home 10th behind the winning McLaren F1 GTR.
Nissan-300ZX Version R 2+2 (1998)
Emissions legislation put paid to North American sales of the 300ZX in 1997, but it continued to be sold in the Japanese market until 2000.
This Version R from 1998 sported Recaro front seats, leather rear seats and larger side skirts.
Nissan-Skyline GT-R R34 V Spec (1999)
The R34 Skyline GT-R was available in Japan from 1998-2002.
The R34 featured reduced front and rear overhangs compared with the R33 and a RB26DETT twin-turbo inline-six that is thought to have produced as much as 325hp, although 276hp remained the officially quoted number.
As on the R33, the V Spec (Victory Specification) models of the new R34 GT-R came equipped with the uprated ATTESA E-TS Pro AWD system and an active LSD at the rear.
Nissan-350Z Coupe (2003)
Nissan brought the Z car back to North America after a five-year absence when it revealed the 350Z in 2002.
It went on sale in the US and Canada in August that year as a 2003 model. The 287hp, V6-powered two-seater was RWD, like its predecessors, and could be ordered with 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmissions.
Nissan-GT-R R35 (2008)
The production R35 made its debut at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show.
The US launch of the car came in July 2008 as a 2009 model – the first time a production GT-R had been officially imported to the US. Gran Turismo game designers helped to design the R35’s multifunction information display.
The car was powered by a 480hp, 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6.
Nissan-370Z Coupe (2009)
The redesigned and renamed 370Z arrived in 2009. It featured a shorter wheelbase than the 350Z, styling cues from the 1970s Z cars and the VQ37VHR – a new, 3.7-liter V6 with 332hp – driving the rear wheels in true Z-car tradition.
Transmission choices were a new, 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters or a 6-speed manual with a world-first, synchronized downshift rev-matching system. Ten years later it continues to be sold in updated form.
Nissan-370Z Nismo Roadster Concept (2015)
Nissan first introduced a high-performance Nismo version of the 370Z for the 2009 model year. This droptop Nismo Concept was shown at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, but never made production.
Nissan-GT-R50 by Italdesign (2019)
The first collaboration between Nissan and Italdesign yields a 50-car limited-run, 710hp vehicle priced at around US$1.1m.
It was first shown in concept form at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Nissan-370Z 50th Anniversary Edition (2019)
Peter Brock was on hand at NYIAS to help launch the 50th Anniversary Edition, which will go on sale in limited numbers as a 2020 model. It features cosmetic changes in the form of a red and white paint scheme and side stripes in tribute to the BRE race car from 50 years ago.
Nissan-370Z Anniversary (2019)
A silver and black version of the 50th Anniversary Edition is also available and was displayed in New York alongside its predecessors. The special edition is based on the regular Sport trim level and comes at a US$2,600 premium.
Nissan-GT-R Nismo (2019)
Available for the 2020 model year is the most powerful production Nissan performance car yet.
The Nismo GT-R offers 600hp and 481lb ft of torque from its VR38DETT engine and features new, high-efficiency turbochargers for improved response, recalibrated suspension, transmission and steering, and weight-reducing carbon-fiber hood, roof and fenders.
It made its debut at the 2019 New York International Auto Show.