Data Driven

Is the Z poised to become the next 911?

by Adam Wilcox
4 June 2021 3 min read
Photo by Andrew Snucins

We are in the midst of a Nissan Z boom. You may be thinking, “Old news, the 240Z has been rising in value for years.” Yes, it has. But here’s the thing, we’re now seeing it for all Zs.

We track seven Z generations in the Hagerty Price Guide, from the original that revolutionized the sports car market through the retro-styled 2003–08 Nissan 350Z. Every one of them increased in value last year. The traditional classics saw a substantial 25–35 percent increase, while Zs that were previously overlooked, the 280ZX and 300ZX, nearly doubled in value.

As we've mentioned recently, the collector car market exploded during the pandemic, with gains for just about everything from muscle cars to vintage SUVs; however, a rise in value this sharp and across such a broad swathe of generations is incredible. Not unprecedented, though. What particularly comes to mind is the air-cooled 911 buying frenzy of the mid-2010s. Is the Nissan Z the new 911?

Before any Porsche enthusiasts dust off their type writers to send a strongly worded letter to the editor, hear me out. Or, at least, look at the two charts below.

Of course, the dollar figures are different, but note the similarities in the trends: The earliest and most desirable model sees moderate value increases every year and, once it crosses a certain threshold, sends collectors and speculators scurrying after the "next best thing." For Porsche, this point was when prices for the first generation 911 crossed $65,000 in 2012, then values for other air-cooled models took off. A rising tide lifts all boats.

We see the same thing happening with the Z. The classic S30 Z (240/260/280) has been steadily rising since 2015, but it wasn't until the median #2 value surpassed $25,000 last year that collectors started looking for substitutes.

Another similarity: Collectors covet the most powerful versions. Just like Porsche's turbo model from the 1980s increased the most during the air-cooled 911 boom, so we now see Nissan's 280ZX and 300ZX gaining quicker than other generations.

Both the Porsche and Nissan were early adaptors to turbocharging, with Porsche releasing the first 911 Turbo in 1975 and Nissan giving the 280ZX a turbo in 1981. The 930 Turbo eventually rose past the original 911 to take the throne as the most valuable 911. In contrast, it's unlikely that the 280ZX will ever be worth more than the original 240Z. For one thing, it doesn't enjoy the power advantage. In 1975, the 930 Turbo made 85-hp more than the most powerful naturally-aspirated 911 at the time, compared to a 35-hp boost for the 280ZX. More important, the 280ZX doesn't have that 930 mystique. The 911 Turbo's reputation as a hard to tame "widow maker" is surely part of its wild growth in value.

Those who follow the Porsche market know that this appreciation tailed off and even reversed some in the latter part of the past decade. After all the dust settled, values for the top air-cooled models plateaued, while the "lesser" models enjoyed healthy growth.

Are we bound to see a similar correction in the Z market? While it's always possible for a car or segment to become overheated—especially if speculators get involved—it's very likely Z will continue to grow in value in decades to come. See, the Z has one thing behind it that the 911 doesn't—youth.

It's no secret that younger collectors like Japanese cars, but that fact really comes to light when comparing the demographics of those who call us for quotes on insurance policies for the 911 and the Z. Both cars are practical and reliable sports cars that should attract younger buyers who often don't have the space to own multiple collector cars, but the Z still manages capture far more attention from drivers under 40.

Looking at quotes from drivers currently under 25 (Gen-Z), the contrast is even starker: They almost completely ignore the 911 and instead favor models that older generations often don't consider "true Porsches." The 924 and 944 are the only Porsche models where Gen-Z accounts for more than 5 percent of quotes. By contrast, every Nissan Z receives a lot of attention from Gen-Z.

Of course, price plays a role here. Most 911s are out of reach for young enthusiasts. Note, however, that in the chart above, even the 240Z—which costs more than most non-911 Porsches—gets much more attention from the youngest collectors. Also note that many of the 1960s classics Baby Boomers now spend six figures on started as affordable used cars.

Porsche ads famously used to ask, "Did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan?" For millennials and Gen-Zers, the answer is "Actually, yeah." And with a new Z arriving soon, don't be surprised if even more of those young collectors turn that dream into a reality. We don't expect vintage Zs to pass 911s in value any time soon, but they now belong in the same conversation.

Comments

  • Roger says:

    I have owned Z cars for over 40 years. The first gen 240’s and the Z32 twin turbos are the most fun to drive.

  • Don Homuth says:

    The best of the S30s were the 280s with fuel injection. Of the two, the 77-78 with the hood vents were marginally superior. The Z32 without turbos was better for normal driving, since there was less temptation to stuff one’s foot into what was already a more than adequate engine. I sold a Z32 to a buy from CT, who flew out to the left coast to get it, then drove it back across country with the CC set at 82mph, and got 29 mpg on the trip. Just a Truly great car. I owned a 78 Black Pearl for 39 years, drove it as a daily driver for 15, redid it twice. Last time as a mild resto-mod with a 280ZX turbo block taken out to 3.1 liters and appropriate engine modifications including a custom-built single rail FI system. Probably the best car I’ve ever owned or will own. Sold it because for the last three years, there was Nothing I could do that would make it better. That doesn’t happen often with any car.

  • Scott McPherson says:

    Remembering your youth is sometimes a case of selective memory and that’s ok. As those with the disposable income want to re-live their youth, there are some time periods that are best forgotten. Many cars of the later 70’s through the the late 80’s-early 90’s were not on paper anything to be proud of mechanically. For instance the worst performing Corvette’s were of that era and any mark that survived the late 60’s through the early nineties was challenged by regulations and corporate bean counters until technology caught up. For the most part we want these older cars for the aesthetic appeal and the memories. Few of them would make much sense as an everyday driver if put against anything made today and that includes cheaper cars. Thus the resto-mod craze. Once the electric car phase and fossil fuel hassles takes hold it may be a mute point as all past generations become eye candy. Fun times!

  • richard brown says:

    thankx for the excellent article, adam.

    like roger notes for himself, i too have been a z-guy for 35 years and still retain my ’73; daily drove a ’78 and ’08 350 grand touring. the most fun and engaging driving experience…no doubt the ’73. now, with the new z coming, that will be quite an intriguing first drive. granted, a modern z cannot be compared to an earlier dna; same can be offered for an early and new porsche or an early or new challenger. point being, these attainable early generation cars are true jewels and as noted adam’s article, even one not sitting on piles of money can sort out an early generation z, address what is needed, then roll the windows down and just enjoy the journey.

  • Ron & Debbie Janicki says:

    A continious Z owner since December 1972, a new 73 240 Z. Owned my current 71 240 Z since 1979. Then a new 2003 350 Z, traded for my current 2016 370 Z NISMO. The Z Car has brought travel, adventure, racing, and most importanty Friends. Waiting for the 400 Z NISMO. Thank you Mr. K. Tucson Z Club, Windy City Z Club, Desert Z Assn.

  • Jim Liberty says:

    I owned a Z car many years ago. Reason, could not afford a Porsche. Now I restore 356s. It is the nostalgia, and pure driving experience that excites me to this day. …..Jim.

    PS. Thanks Hagerty.

  • Ken says:

    What I find interesting is sports cars in general from the 80s-90s are gaining value especially the imports z’s, rx7’s ect. I think it’s the generation that now have some disposable income who grew up with these cars as kids can afford them now. One car from this Era the third gen Firebird/Camaro 82-92. They are still cheap to buy and anyone who asks anything above 10k gets ripped apart by the community because they think it should still be worth $1500. I don’t get why the owners of a third gen f-body what to keep there value so low. The g-body style are going up in value now too

  • Curt says:

    Certain critical factory parts (including NOS stuff), at least for early Zs from 70-89, are drying up quickly or already nonexistent (the Z31s: 84-89 are problematic as they are so darn complicated: “bitchin Betty”, digital dash, etc) . I can see a true ground-up restored Z of this period (not lipstick on a pig) going for big $$$. I’m restoring a 76 280Z and what I’ve got into it so far is almost obscene. Also, there are some very rare special editions amongst these years.

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