Back when Nissan stopped selling the original Z-car in 1996 in the USA, enthusiasts were infuriated. The Z was introduced around 1970, and immediately became the “Japanese Mustang” for its low price, well-matched engine, and balanced handling. Nissan enlarged it over the years until the 300ZX hit the streets in 1990, when it was a wide, tech-packed sports coupe, with some aspects that were a bit ahead of its time. When sales faltered, however, Nissan couldn’t afford to keep building them. But, in 2002, they performed a ritual on the grave, and the ghost came back to life.
The 350Z can be evaluated as a well-oiled throwback to the original Datsun 240Z. It shares very nearly the same shape, high headlights/low grille combination, 2 seat seating arrangement (the 2+2 still hasn’t come back), and bulldog-like proportions. The V6 engine started off as the VQ35DE, with 287hp at first. The engine got an update to 300hp a few years later. In 2007, Nissan switched to the VQ35HR, with 306hp. Both a manual and an automatic were offered, but the automatics got stuck with only 287hp until about 2006 or so, when the 300hp VQ35DE went into all models. A roadster was offered a year after launch.
The new Z ended up being a success in the United States, with over 150,000 sold by the time Nissan updated it to the 370Z. Its engine is still around, under the hood of the current Maxima and Altima. The press showered it with awards; Car and Driver put it on their 10Best list during its launch year, and Top Gear voted it as their Car of the Year in 2004, to name a few. Its stiff chassis and suspension, combined with Brembo brakes in the Track models, gave it handling to match its acceleration. It was quick, robust, inexpensive, and livable as a daily driver, all aspects of a very well-designed and thoroughly engineered sports coupe.
As for the aftermarket, Nissan hasn’t been unfriendly to tuners. Most of the standard-bearer Nissan tuners, such as GReddy and NISMO, offer parts for them. In addition, NISMO offered a modified 350Z from the factory for two years (2007 and 2008). Just 1,607 were built, each offering a slick body kit patterned after the Super GT car, four-piston Brembo brakes, and retuned suspension. The VQ35 will respond to both basic and heavy modification. Decent gains can be had from basic mods, up to around 270whp. After that, cams and other internal work are required to break the 300 barrier, or boost it with a supercharger or turbo setup, which are widely available.
Thanks to a high resale value with a low original price, prices are just about in line with similar two-door performance cars from the era. Most good 350Zs can be found for under 20K, with the NISMO models going for between 22 and 26 grand. The roadsters aren’t much different on price. The “Track” trim level, which includes upgraded brakes (Brembo) and light rims, ranges from around 15-20K. If you don’t need rear seats, love Nissans, and respect the traditional front-engine/rear-drive layout, the 350Z is a clear choice in the market.