Market Spotlight

The $45k question: Would you buy a new Z or one of its collectible forebears?

by Eddy Eckart
19 May 2022 3 min read
Photo by Nissan

One of the best things about the new Nissan Z, which I recently reviewed, is how it deftly incorporates traits of several previous Zs. In particular, it pays tribute to its earliest ancestor, the 240Z, as well as the most tech-forward iteration, the 1990–96 300ZX. It’s no mere coincidence that Nissan looked to these two generations. As Hagerty data indicate, the 240Z and 300ZX are both climbing in value and, just as important, appeal to a broad swath of car collectors.

While the 240’s design may be its most obvious gift to the new Z, it also set the tone for what a Z should offer going forward: excellent performance and driver engagement at a reasonable price. The 240 (as well as its first-generation siblings, the 260 and 280) had sports car credibility in spades, winning multiple SCCA championships throughout the 1970s. On the street it quickly became revered as fun and reliable sports car, laying the foundation for generations to come.

Early Z-car values have been on the march for some time, but they've taken a much sharper upward trajectory during the pandemic. In #2 condition, each of the three variations of the first-generation Z have eclipsed the new Z's base price of $39,990, and the 240 has even edged above the range-topping $52,000 Proto-Spec launch edition.

Perhaps more surprising than the price is who is driving it. You'd expect a car that made its bones in the early 1970s to appeal to Baby Boomers—and it sure does. Yet it also attracts a relatively large share of Millennial and Gen-Z collectors, who no doubt appreciate its status as the godfather of all the Japanese enthusiast cars they grew up with in the 1980s and '90s.

Although Z-cars remained capable through the 1980s, it's the fourth generation Z32 300ZX introduced in 1990 that set a new bar for Z performance. The Turbo sported a 300-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, allowing it to punch far above its weight. Also featuring variable valve timing (still a rarity in 1990) and Nissan's Super HICAS four wheel steering, the 300ZX took a more tech-heavy approach than past generations. These features, along with a rapid strengthening of the Japanese yen against the dollar, made the Z too expensive for most sports car shoppers in its day. (The 1996 300ZX Turbo stickered for more than $40K—about $80K in today's dollars.)

Nissan hasn't forgotten that lesson and, with the new Z, foregoes the tech-forward approach of the 300ZX. It does, however, nod at its styling, presenting a modern, clean interpretation of the 300ZX's tail panel.

Chances are today's youngest sport car buyers will dig those lights. Gen-X and younger generations represent a larger portion of insureds than Boomers across the base and Turbo 300ZX. While it didn't headline a Fast & Furious movie like the Mk IV Supra, these Z-cars captured the attention of young enthusiasts throughout the 1990s. And as these young enthusiasts gain the financial wherewithal to become collectors, they have driven the 300ZX's resurgence in value.

Values across the 300ZX models languished through the early 2000s—it took almost 25 years for prices to rise on the Turbo variant while the base trims did not see a significant increase till the pandemic-fueled market. But now the Turbo in particular is rising rapidly.

The strong values and the cross-generational appeal of older Zs speak to the health of the Z brand as the latest iteration hits the market.

More to the point, though: If you have $45 grand and want to get into one of Japan's most iconic sports cars, you now have a few options: a first generation Z that created the model's identity, a '90s beast with tech and power to match, or the new Z that builds off both. Which would you choose?


  • Ed Sadler says:

    I am a Boomer and the 240Z is my favorite. I bought one in 1977 and still have it today. I never tire of driving it and I appreciate the looks it still gets today.

  • Scott Graham says:

    I’ll take one of each. They are both great cars in their own ways.

  • Don Homuth says:

    Having owned two S30 280Z’s — one a Black Pearl coupe — and a Z32 300ZX NA, I can say definitively that the Z32 is far and away the better driving car. But it’s more complicated, and that can make it more difficult to own. The TT version of the Z32 was a tour de force performer when new, but any more unless you find one that has been expensively redone at someone else’s cost, most of them have been hammered so hard they aren’t worth the bother of bringing them back. Those who bought them — especially the second owners — just drove the hell out of them. Usually for no particularly good reason. They also tended to be “improved” with boy racer wings and really ugly add-on bodywork. The normally aspirated car was simpler, and good surviving examples of those are still around at reasonable prices. But as for car shows, the 1978 Black Pearl coupe was always an instant crowd attractor. For a while, every spectator said They had one, then it was their parents, but when a kid said his grandfather had one, I told him to go away. I did own it for 39 years, and when I got done with it, it was perhaps the best driving car I ever had or ever will have. But I let it go when after three years, there was nothing I could do to it that would make it better. If I had a choice of any of the Zs today, I would buy a normally aspirated Z32 coupe, automatic transmission in a metallic gray finish. Fast enough to get me into any trouble that a TT version would, and all but invisible on the road. There’s a lot to be said for anonymity when the pedal is down.

  • Louis says:

    I had at least 4 240 Z back in the 70’s and 80’s and nothing was better than the 240 Summer when all our friends had Z’s. One with a V-8 from a Vette the rest more stock but some how custom. What a summer! I day I heard and saw an image of the 2023 Z I ordered a Blue 6 speed with the sport package. I can hardly wait to see if my 6′ 3″ body will fit as well as it did in the originals!

  • Terry Stetler says:

    When the 240Z was released in the US, it was about $300 more than an MGB. The new Z is a lot more than $300 above the cost of a new Miata. I have a hard time wrestling with this, even though I understand how inflation works. Another issue I have the the “new” Z is that it really isn’t new. It’s just a re-skinned 370Z that happens to weigh more than a V6 Accord Coupe. Sorry, but Nissan has lost their way, and are now merely the rental car manufacturer to the world.

  • Aldo says:

    The question is – nostalgia or progress? Boomers have all those memories and try to hold on to the “older simple days”. Drivers, boomers included, will embrace the performance that new technology offers. My buddy has a ‘72 Z and he seems to spend more time working on it than driving it. I also drove the car when it was new and that’s the memory I enjoy. I liked the previous comment to have both, if you can, and embrace the new and the old. I’m a boomer and that works for me and several other boomers I know that have Alfa’s!

  • Gayle H Michener says:

    As a Boomer, I had a ’77 280Z 2+2 w/4sp and it was one of the best cars I’ve had, especially for long trips. Till this day, it was the best, most comfortable highway travel car I’ve had. We loved that Z.

  • Hawk Wing says:

    If you are choosing which is the better more reliable more fun machine, the new one wins hands down.
    But if you’re looking to invest in a work of art that will appreciate, well, that too is an easy decision.

  • greg jann says:

    i owned a 280zx 2+2 back in the eighties. it was a great road car and highway cruiser. drove it to chi ttown from orlando and it was great. but the smooth ride sometimes didnt relay my speed. so after a couple of tickets(one for 115) i sold it and got an old pu. what a mistake

  • Ralph says:

    Some perspectives as to the question of which to choose: I am an owner of an NA Z32 for the last 29 years. It’s not restored because it’s never deteriorated. I grew up driving friends’ 70’s S30’s, and own a restored 74 Capri Mark 1 and a current Porsche. For pure fun, fast, comfortable driving, you cannot beat the modern coupe. Trouble free, drive it, grin from ear to ear, and enjoy it while it depreciates. The Z32 is a beautiful cruiser, turns more heads than the modern car, but it’s handling is not even close. It’s reliable, but you have to enjoy it within its limits. The 70’s Capri just brings grins with driving it’s finicky self, and lots of younger folks have no idea what it is. But I would never drive it more than a 50 mile trip. Too much wind noise, it’s so slow compared to modern cars, and if it breaks down, you are going to have a hard time finding points and a condenser (I carry an extra set with me). If you’re going to have an older car, it needs to be a weekender/ I just want to own one or vest in one kind of car.

  • Mark Guiffrida says:

    I have a 1987 300zx 2+2 Fairlady that has 92 K original miles on it and has been garaged its entire life. Was thinking about selling it. Thoughts on price? It’s an original California car.

    • Galway says:

      I have the same question about a 1984 300zx coupe, garaged for the past ten years…one of the first, without a t-top.

  • Jay says:

    I have owned several Z32’s from a NA to a Twin Turbo and even today heads continue to turn and conversations continue to spark. Nissan was definitely ahead of its time when it built the Z32 taking into account everything single detail which lead to a masterpiece.

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