Consider the Following: Infiniti M30

When asked about a good JNC for someone on a budget, I usually find myself turning to Nissan’s back catalogue, particularly the models from the mid- to late-1980s. It’s not that they were inherently better than Toyotas or Hondas, but rather, they were prolific in making sporty cars (much the opposite, sadly, of today). I rattle off the usual suspects — Z31, S12, or, if feeling a bit flippant, a ringer like the Stanza Wagon to see if they’re still listening. However, there’s one car that I always completely forget about until I’m perusing the darkest reaches of Craigslist: the Infiniti M30. 

I don’t know why it’s so forgettable. The car is properly good looking. It’s got all the right angles in all the right places, no modern surfacing rubbish. They’re bargain basement cheap, especially when compared to its peers, and with the right parts you can have quite a good time faffing about.

When Nissan launched their luxury brand Infiniti in 1989 they did what every Japanese luxury marque did and brought over rebadged versions of luxury models made for the Japanese market. They gave to us the Q45, and alongside it was the USDM Nissan Leopard, called the M30. This could be considered the first luxury GT car from a Japanese carmaker to come to America, as the Acura Integra was marketed as a sports car and the 300ZX was sold under the Nissan banner.

While it didn’t have all the gizmos of the F31 JDM Leopard on which it was based, the M30 still got a list of options that would make a Mercedes owner weep. Items like car phones, in dash CD players with trunk-mounted CD changers, an OEM child seat, automatic climate control, fog lights, a front air dam lip kit and spoiler were all available to sate the material needs of the budding yuppie.

Finding one of these is a little like hunting Bigfoot, though. Every time I see one it’s a blurry Craigslist photo that looks like it was snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope. The M30 didn’t make much of an splash here. In America, we got a single drivetrain option, the 3.0-liter VG30E V6 mated to a 4-speed automatic. The setup was unique to the US market, taken from the 300ZX (among others).

With 162 horses on tap and a curb weight hovering around 3,000 pounds, it was considered sluggish, especially compared to its peers. At an MSRP of around $33,000, it was also priced dangerously close to cars like the BMW 3-Series and Porsche 944. Mind you, both of those also had a very popular manual transmission option as well.

Giving credit where it’s due, however, Infiniti was the first Japanese luxury marque to offer a convertible (not Lexus). Converted at ASC McLaren from imported coupes, each M30 convertible was given reinforcements to prevent chassis flex, which came with a weight penalty. However, because they were modified in the US, they were unique to the North American market and thus never sold in Japan, where they are quite coveted.

Why would such boulevardier be so coveted in Japan? Well, Japan has a completely different relationship with the F31 Leopard. Hachimaru Hero magazine ranked it seventh in its Top 20 Domestic Cars of the 80s list, above the R31 Skyline and A70 Supra.

The car started life in Japan as a Nissan Leopard, Nissan’s answer to the Toyota Soarer. It shared a chassis with the R31 Skyline to save costs and was fitted with various VG-family of V6 engines, ranging from the 120-horsepower, 2.0-liter VG20E to the 255-horse, 3.0-liter turbocharged DOHC VG30DET.

Its combination of engines and manual transmission availability meant that even the asthmatic base model could still be fun to drive. While the lower-grade models were built only to satisfy Japan’s displacement-based road tax system, the turbo models were the most powerful RWD Nissan you could get until the Z32 came out.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an 80s Japanese GT without a wildly overcomplicated suspension system controlled by a computer. In the F31’s case, it came with the Super Sonic Suspension system, which used five sonar sensors to scan the road surface under the car and automatically adapt the suspension.

This was actually the first road-sensing automatically adjustable suspension, and while it was also found in Nissan’s Cefiro, it originally debuted in the 1985 Maxima. It’s not as advanced or effective as its modern equivalents, but it marked a big step forward in technology.

While the regular F31 is rare enough in America that it can be mistaken for being a figment of your imagination, it has nothing on the NISMO Ultima Leopard which had a mind bogglingly small production run of 30. Even the catalog for the car is hard to find.

While we aren’t going to talk about every special edition of the Leopard, this one is noteworthy because of its power output of 185 horsepower —out of an naturally aspirated engine! According the F31Club, the last documented sighting of a NISMO Ultima was at a club meet in Japan 19 years ago.

Another noteworthy special edition was the coachbuilt Autech Stelvio Zagato. This car honestly deserves it’s own article, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a mention as it is based off the F31 Leopard chassis.

Japan, as usual, got the coolest stuff, like one of the best digital dashboards ever, a glovebox-mounted digital clock, a credit card-sized entry keycard and curtains for the side windows. The Japanese even had a CRT television in the dashboard.

Most importantly, however, was the probably the fact that the cars had a starring role in the 1980s crime drama Abunai Deka. Though the series ended after its 25-episode run, the antics of its Leopard-driving heroes spawned eight movies in subsequent years, the last of which was as recent as 2016.

Its parts interchangeability with other Nissans for suspension and engine modifications probably helped. Today, that interchangeability is not lost on American enthusiasts. The lions’ share of M30 enthusiasts build them as an affordable, unique alternatives to other Nissan chassis. There is a reasonably well-documented amount of information on various Nissan forums. NICO Club currently has the most active F31 user base on their M30/J30 subforum.

One of the most common upgrades is to swap over to the ever-retrofittable S13 coilovers. The fronts bolt up with S13 control arms, and only light drilling is needed at the rear. A manual transmission swap bolts right in, but a custom driveshaft will have to be made. Engine swaps are nearly equally as simple with most VG-series engines requiring minimal modification to fit.

For in-depth coverage, Project Car magazine swapped an RB into an M30 back in 2009. Was that nearly a decade ago already? I feel like I had that issue inside my twelfth grade US history textbook just the other day. The build was throughly chronicled, but unfortunately it appears to have lived quite a rough life afterwards. It eventually found a good home where it was brought back to life, and is being used as a track car. A thread of its journey can be found on F31Club.

The story of the Infiniti M30 is one of what happens when you leave your best models out of a market. At the time of its debut, the market in America a luxury GT coupe was limited. Infiniti hadn’t made a name for itself yet and buyers, scared to venture away from established brands and into the unknown, needed something mind-blowing to even consider a Japanese car. Had Nissan given us more powerful turbocharged variants of the Leopard, which made nearly as much power as a Corvette at the time, it could have been a very different story.

Instead, it always lived in the shadows of coupes like the Lexus SC, and it’s unfortunate that the car is so rarely spoken of. Personally, I think it may be in contention for the coolest car we’ve featured on Consider the Following. However, if its forgettability results in attainability for a loving owner esoteric enough to deviate from the standard S13s and Zs, that’s a good thing.

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17 Responses to Consider the Following: Infiniti M30

  1. ArcherOnCars said:

    Make me remember M30 appearance in Three Kings, especially you put the M30 Convertible as the main picture.

    Remember this exchange?

    “Troy Barlow: Five Rolexes would get my family that Lexus convertible.

    Chief Elgin: I told you, Lexus doesn’t make a convertible.

    Troy Barlow: Yes they do, it has room in the back for a kid’s seat.

    Chief Elgin: Infiniti has a convertible but not Lexus.

    Troy Barlow: Wrong.”

  2. Nigel said:

    Don’t think I have seen one (here in Canada). Always liked the F30 and F31 !!

    • Dimitry said:

      I’ve seen one 2 years back here in Toronto, driven by a grandma. Still regret not running after her and making an offer for it.

  3. BlitzPig said:

    Certainly none exist in my area, as the winters here evaporated them many years ago.

  4. Khoua said:

    Man, I remember seeing a really clean one back in 2007-2008 when I was working at Sam’s Club Tire shop. A white convertible one. Super clean. Owner was pretty cool. I’ll always remember it because it still had ‘that’ shine on it and the owner showed me that it had a phone inside the car. haha.

  5. Scotty G said:

    That’s a pretty elegant, sleek-looking car. I haven’t seen too many convertibles. Great article!

  6. Nathan said:

    That two-toned one is killing me with its boxy goodness. Made in the ’80s and don’t even care if it’s not loved by the ladies!

  7. Brian Daniels said:

    I’d be tempted to jump at the chance to have one now. The boxy looks are so much better than a lot of the busy messy styling we so often see these days. When these were new I remember thinking these were just filler for Infinity dealers until a line of cars more like the Q45 were made available. The magazines of the time maybe reinforced that line of thinking? Not that Lexus and Acura didn’t have the same void to fill but The Lexus SC did seem more unique. At the time, the Acura Integra and Legend were more to my taste but way beyond my college student means.

  8. Gracious F31 said:

    I had a 1991 Infiniti M30 Convertible and to this day it is still one of the funnest and most memorable cars I have owned, and it is still by far the most luxurious. The M30 convertible rides as good as it looks and the interior really is spectacular, you get a very American Psycho vibe from the yuppie interior. The performance was fun although it was slow the feeling of the torque still made up for that and this car would drift with far greater ease in my opinion than a 240sx. I would argue that it is more stable than a stock 240sx and the power is much better. I wish I could own a coupe but they are very hard to find. Hopefully more people will be bale to save these cars. They are some of the unsung JDM heroes of yesterday.

  9. F31roger said:

    Ryan,

    Great article and thank you for referencing F31club. I was one of the people that helped build the content on the f31club forums in 2005. Forums aren’t as social as they used to be, so I use the f31club forums closed and just add information to it.

    I have been an enthusiast for F31s since 2004 and during that time, I was able to get M30 owner meetings together. This was at a time when nobody really knew M30s and I would be the outlier at Nissan meets.

    Additionally at the time (mid 2000s), F31club was the only website that was made for M30 owners and so I was able to connect with Japanese Leopard owners. In 2007, I was suppose to go to the meeting in Japan, but I moved to San Francisco to finish school.

    In 2016, I went to the 30th annual meeting and met a couple of leopard owners who joined F31club during that time.

    In 2017, it was a special year for Leopard and M30s as it was the 31st year of the release of the Nissan Leopard. The symbolic 31 yrs of F31.

    I went to Japan 3x in 2017. (also symbolic “3x in 1 year = 3-1)
    All photos are here: http://www.f31club.com/f31rogers-car-blog/
    and
    http://www.f31club.com/2017/10/12/year-of-the-leopard/

    Most of my research comes from investigating the Nissan Leopard 13yrs ago, but many of my questions have been answered with the help of my Japanese brothers.

    Just a note on the article, you are right about American tuning. It is always about swapping other motors, which I’ve tried to document. http://www.f31club.com/f31-engines/

    When I went to the 2016 meeting, I expected everyone to be RB swapped and massive intercoolers like we tune in America.

    Far from the truth. Very few Leopards are swapped and many people believe the heart of the Leopard is VG, so even people with VG20E’s are proud of their car. With that sense, if you look at my pictures… very few Leopards are highly modded. Many love the stock look.

    • Your website was a wealth of knowledge, thank you so much for the work you’ve done.

      I did notice that very few leopards are built like American cars from photos I’ve seen. I like that they appreciate their car for what it is. It’s a much more well rounded approach than “more power all the time!!!” like we do here.

  10. Malik said:

    I just bought one with a bad starter for 550

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