In 1996, production of the Z32 300ZX was coming to a close, and the word at the time was that its successor would be a couple of years away. This news was not received very well in the USA, which historically was the biggest market for the Zed car, since the very first S30 series 240Z in the early 70s. Little did they know that the 350Z was actually another 6yrs away, but Nissan of North America decided to do something to keep the flame burning until the new car showed up.
They would restore, and sell 240Z as brand new cars again, with a new car warranty. 10 dealers would be selected to be “Z Stores”, and having brand new 240Zs on the showroom floor would bring in valuable traffic. They’d heavily market their “Vintage Z” program in car magazines, Nissan would sell more cars, and everyone would be happy.
Oh yes. They actually did this.
The plan was hatched in 1996 (when the 300ZX was still in production) between the then-president and marketing manager of Nissan North America, and the president of the Chait-Day advertising agency.
Old 240Zs would be found and stripped to bare shells, and then repainted. The interiors would be fitted out with the last of Nissan’s new old stock of carpets, seats, dashes, and that odd diamond pattern quilted vinyl padding over the trans tunnel. If parts were no longer available then a new run of reproduction parts would be commissioned. Drivetrains and running gear would be restored to new, and the cars were offered for sale for US$25,000. Although Nissan were not shy about admitting that each car cost more like $35,000 to restore. Buyers would get a 120,000 mile, one year Nissan new car warranty as the cherry on the cake of the classic car bargain of the century.
Car magazines in 1997 would carry two-age ads with an immaculate yellow ZG-nosed 240Z, with the brilliant caption “No power mirrors, no cupholders, no lumber supports. (First come, first served).”
Mechanically, all of the “Vintage Z” cars would be built to 1972 USDM specification, which meant that they could have the hi compression, JDM-spec 150hp motor and JDM style bumpers. The 1973 USDM 240Z had lower compression for 135hp and had to carry heavier 5mph impact bumpers, and so the 1972 USDM spec was considerably more desireable. All the cars were built by Pierre’s Z Shop in southern California and the only deviations to original factory spec were non-asbestos linings for the clutch and brakes, and an upgraded radiator (to solve the 240Z’s main flaw, which was overheating in summer traffic).
So what happened in the end? The very first Vintage Z rolled out in April 1997, but the reality was that Pierre Perot’s shop could only restore about one Zed a month, and so the entire production run was sold out years before the last of the Vintage Z’s were finished. Each car has a special numbered plaque on the transmission tunnel, and the run ended at 37 cars. Many ended up right back in Japan and the owner’s register can be found here.
While it’s a shame that there are only 35 lucky individuals out there (Nissan kept 2 cars for its own collection) who have a new 240Z, it’s a wonder that in this day and age, any car manufacturer would have the balls to do something like this. Did it work? Well in 1997 the US model range was decidedly unsexy and Nissan got to run hi profile ads in car magazines for almost a whole year, with a picture of a drop dead gorgeous Zed….for a paltry loss in restoration costs for the whole run of Vintage Zs, and the actual cost of the run of cars would have been only a small part of the total cost of the ad campaign.
Makes sense to me. Probably the cheapest and best “halo” campaign ever. Good for you, Nissan.