A Farewell Drive in a Nissan 370Z Made Me Appreciate the Joy of Simplicity

The 370Z stuck around far longer than anyone expected. But a front-engine, rear-drive, naturally aspirated manual sports car is always something to celebrate.

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a white nissan fairlady z nismo parked at the edge of a winding mountain road in autumn in japan
Photo: Tim Stevens

In an age where simple, raw sports cars are as rare as hen’s teeth, the Nissan 370Z never got the respect it deserved. Sure, that particular tooth was getting awfully long before the new Z came along. But if you were looking for a source of sheer driving pleasure, you couldn’t do much better — especially if you have a proclivity towards performance of the JDM variety.

The new Z is sleeker and faster, more powerful and far more modern. However, what it replaced was lacking neither in charm nor personality, things that have nothing to do with speed or tech. To experience that charm one last time, I headed all the way to Japan to sample the sweetest 370Z of them all, the NISMO edition, on its home turf.

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Full Disclosure: I wanted to go to Japan so badly that I bought my own flight and paid for my own damn hotel room, thank you very much. Nissan kindly loaned me a Fairlady Z NISMO Edition for a long weekend, but I paid for the gas and all the many, many tolls.

a white nissan fairlady z nismo parked in front of the garages at a race track in japan
Photo: Tim Stevens
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The Z line dates back to 1969's Fairlady Z, known as the Datsun 240Z internationally. Long and low and lovely, it was so unmistakably cool that it survived almost a decade on the market before the wedgier 280ZX came along, which made way for the 300ZX in 1983. That car lasted six years until the second-gen 300ZX in ‘89, which was in production for 11 years before the 350Z finally came along. The 350Z lasted until 2009, and now the 370Z was just finally put to pasture after more than a decade.

Why the history lesson? Just a little context to show that while yes, the 370 did linger on in the market for a long time, that’s nothing new for this family of sports cars.

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a white nissan fairlady z nismo parked at the edge of a mountain road in japan in the autumn
Photo: Tim Stevens

Now, the car you see here is actually a Fairlady Z NISMO. That’s just another name for the same thing we got in the U.S. The Fairlady flavor does, however, take a little getting used to. I don’t mind driving on the right side of the car, I don’t even mind shifting with my left hand, but Japanese cars swap the position of the control stalks on the steering column, which always leads to me throwing the wipers on full blast whenever I want to make a left turn. For the first few hours, at least.

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My first experience in the NISMO was winding my way out of Tokyo on the way to Fuji Speedway for R’s Meeting. That went great, but on the way back I was struck with the full force of Tokyo traffic. What had been a 90-minute jaunt in the morning became a five-hour return. Of all the cars to endure gridlock with, a NISMO Z with a manual transmission and no cruise control is a masochist’s choice.

I couldn’t even figure out how to pair my phone to the infotainment system, so I was stuck with whatever I could find on FM. Thankfully, nobody does calming, soothing jazz like Japan, and damn did I need a lot of that to keep my blood pressure in check on that long drive home.

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That trip left such a bitter taste in my mouth, I was tempted to throw the Z’s key at the next person I saw wearing a Nissan badge. But I couldn’t let it end like that. I knew I could do better. Two days later, I headed out early for the Ashigarashimo District. This region southwest of Tokyo, not far from Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama, is not only utterly lovely, it’s chock full of epic roads. How epic? Many of them feature in the Initial D series.

Image for article titled A Farewell Drive in a Nissan 370Z Made Me Appreciate the Joy of Simplicity
Photo: Tim Stevens
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I couldn’t resist the temptation to do a little touge run myself, heading up and down Nagao Pass. (D fans, this is where Takumi got his rematch against Kai Kogashiwa.) The road was wildly narrow and bumpy, hairpin stacked upon hairpin like a 1960's beehive fresh out of the salon. Tire marks graced each and every one of those corners, signs that drift culture is alive and well in Japan — just not on weekday afternoons.

In fact, the only other soul I saw was one brave cyclist with remarkable cardio, who gave me a respectful smile and nod as he passed me while I was taking these photos.

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Tire marks tip you off that this is a road beloved by drifters and togue fans.
Tire marks tip you off that this is a road beloved by drifters and togue fans.
Photo: Tim Stevens

He probably had 12 gears in his cassette. I had six gears at my disposal, but I rarely needed more than the first two. Though the Z’s 350 horsepower is scant by comparison to some modern sports cars (and the new Z’s 400), the incessant turns made throttle response far more important. That’s something the NISMO has in spades, and while I confess I’m not the biggest fan of the vacuum-like drone of the VQ37VHR V6, the NISMO has a flatter torque curve than the stock 370Z, bolstered by Nissan’s VVEL variable-valve timing, and that was perfect for this road.

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a nissan 370z fairlady nismo with the hood open, zoomed in on the engine
You can hear this photo.
Photo: Tim Stevens

The beautifully tight and direct steering required strong inputs without feeling sticky and gummy, like most modern cars do when you put the steering in “sport.” The shifter, too, needed a firm shove to move from gear to gear, which added to the challenge of shifting with my left hand. There’s a lot of tram-lining from the 245/40R-19 front, 285/35R-19 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 tires on RAYS forged wheels, but that’s just one more reason to keep your hands firmly on the wheel.

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And then there are the seats, Recaro Sportsters with custom NISMO branding. These things might just be worth the price of entry alone. What had been uncomfortably tight and stiff in Tokyo traffic now held me snug. That they look so good is just icing on the cake.

When’s the last time you saw analog gauges in a new car?
When’s the last time you saw analog gauges in a new car?
Photo: Tim Stevens
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So, too, the creamy white of the exterior, a relatively simple color that sets off the ruby-red NISMO highlights festooned throughout. It’s easy to discount the 370Z for being a minor visual evolution over the 350Z, but I think it’s orders of magnitude more appealing. Likewise, while I do adore the retro-futuristic look of the new Z, I looked back fondly at that 370 every time I left it behind.

To be fair, I was also checking to see whether I’d positioned it correctly in Japan’s notoriously tiny parking spots. No 360-degree camera on this old sport.

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Even though my first day with the NISMO left me properly sick of the thing after five hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, at the end of my trip I was reluctant to hand back the keys. The Z you see here took me on an absolutely fantastic Japanese adventure. I can’t fathom how many similar memories the 370Z has delivered to lucky owners around the world. And many more to come, I’m sure.

That the new Z lives on is a gift to us all. That the old Z still feels this good shows that maybe it might have had a few years left in it after all.

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Image for article titled A Farewell Drive in a Nissan 370Z Made Me Appreciate the Joy of Simplicity
Photo: Tim Stevens