Aproper GT car sits in the automotive Venn diagram intersecting coupe, sports car and luxury car, and few got that combination right in the 1990s as Nissan did with the twin-turbo 300ZX. Those that are twin-turbocharged are taken for granted these days; they're in everything from Porsches to Ford Explorers. It's easy to hang one off each exhaust manifold of any V-shaped engine and build power and boost. But there was a time, not that long ago, when even one turbo was an eye-opener.
Let's forget the GM pair of the Olds Jetfire and the Chevy Corvair, both of which received (carbureted!) turbo power as early as 1962; they were outliers. Mainstream turbo use came online in the mid-‘70s, with Porsche and Saab; turbocharging became a more widely favored way to generate power from smaller-displacement engines at the end of the 1970s, when the price of gas went spiraling and performance cars suffered worldwide. Just about every car company around sold something turbocharged in the go-go ‘80s, despite the rudimentary computer controls of the era, but as that decade went on, and the price of gas normalized (and really, the price of gas stayed the same; it's just that everyone's incomes went up around it, making it seem cheaper), caveman-style cubic inches fell back into vogue in the States. Chevy Cavaliers with V6 engines were not uncommon here in the late ‘80s. In Japan, of course, where gas was still expensive, cars were growing heavier, and electronic fiddling meant ever-more-refined performance. That meant stirring in a second turbo—a high-tech solution that Japan thought was crucial, and that America saw as an evolutionary dead end.
But it wasn't. Porsche's million-dollar Group B dream car, the 959, had twin turbos in 1986, as did Maserati's highly unreliable Biturbo coupe the year before. Still, it was the Japanese that brought this high technology to the masses in the late ‘80s with the R32 Skyline. But more were in the pipeline: Mazda brought out its twin-turbo Eunos Cosmo three-rotor 20B, Mitsubishi had its 6G72 turn up in its 3000GT and the Dodge Stealth and Nissan offered a second twin-turbo in its Z32-generation 300ZX. Japanese customers were spoiled for choice on the double-boosted front, but stateside, we only saw the 300ZX twin-turbo and the Mitsubishi. In either case, the 300 horsepower they generated was a big deal when Corvettes cost the same, had two more cylinders and had about 50 fewer ponies on tap.
When you go high-tech, large money follows. In 1990, the twin-turbo 300ZX was a $33,000 car. (For 2014, a new 370Z starts at under 30 grand.) With big power came a larger chassis, and more comfort accoutrements: electronic everything, leather seats and more. Stir in competition from Toyota and Mazda (with the twin-turbo Supra and twin-turbo RX7, respectively) and ZX sales took a hit: from more than 39,000 cars in 1990 to less than 7200 in 1992. Nissan sold more than 89,000 Z32s in the States over the course of seven years, but exactly 18,274 of them were twin-turbos. (How many of those were five-speeds? Who can say?) With the Japanese bubble economy over, the yen/dollar ratio not going Japan's way, and competition from both Japan and domestic companies (Corvettes, now with 300hp, sold for thousands less than a Z that had ballooned to $40,000+), the ZX quietly went away from the U.S. market at the end of 1996. For years, they simply became used cars.
Usually, when building a car, everything is a compromise: make it lighter and faster but less comfortable, build an isolation chamber for a cabin but add weight and slow down. It's fascinating to find someone who's taken the Z32 TT's combination of gut-tightening performance, outrageous styling and built-in comfort and has built on all three of them equally. Paul Hurley has managed to do this with his twin-turbo Z32.
As a mortgage broker, Paul deals with numbers all day. Generally, bigger numbers are better numbers, and so you'd expect his car to follow suit. Paul has nearly doubled his stock Z32 TT's 300 horsepower (an advertised power rating that was gathered at the flywheel, mind you, not the rear wheels); 531 ponies to the ground is a gut-tightener. It also means that it's good for close to 600 at the flywheel. (Suddenly, the foot-wide tires and the flared steel fenders and quarters required to cover them and make them street-legal make sense.) That kind of power means boost is on tap low in the revs, and with a twitch of the right ankle, the scenery flies by like the Millennium Falcon blowing through the galaxy in hyperdrive.
A complete coil-over suspension with hydraulic lift capabilities, paired with Michelin Pilot tires fatter than your mother-in-law's ass, make for the sort of cornering that was reserved solely for competition machinery on slick tires in the early 1990s. (The lowering is significant, yet the hydraulics will ensure that the custom bodywork will never touch a speed bump.) Man landed on the moon with less technology than what's powering the stereo. And comfort? A completely re-thought-out interior, featuring new seats, copious Alcantara (faux-suede) and genuine burled wood accents, step the Nissan's cabin well away from the realm of black plastic and offers Paul a premium driving environment that helps offset the firmer suspension. Added-on items that weren't born here—like the Escort radar detector, the two parking-aid cameras or the double-DIN stereo head unit—have been seamlessly integrated. Granted, it's gonna weigh a little more than a stock Z32 interior, but then again, when you've doubled your engine's power, you can afford to indulge in a soft touch at the expense of a few pounds.
What Nissan had right to begin with, owner Paul Hurley has expanded on and made his own. The 300ZX TT's multiple talents (chief of which is the ability to excel at pretty much everything) have been thoroughly amplified and explode in all directions. It's a GT supernova, threatening to singe all it comes in contact with.
1995 Nissan 300ZX Twin-Turbo
Owner Paul Hurley
Hometown San Diego, CA
Occupation Mortgage broker
Power 531whp at 5,000rpm
Engine Z1 air filter kit and 58mm throttle bodies; NISMO"new-style" 555 injectors (615cc/min); JWT dual pop-charger; chrome 1995 twin-turbo intake plenum and balance tube; two Z1 (Garrett) GT675RS turbochargers and side-mount intercoolers; Mike Smith manifolds; 3" Labree downpipes; 3" Random Technology high-flow catalytic converters; B&B 3" cat-back exhaust featuring 4.5" quad oval tips with rolled edge; Howe radiator with chrome water pipes and Z1 chrome lower radiator hard pipe; Mega Z radiator bracket; HKS blow-off valve
Drivetrain stock Borg-Warner RS5R30A five-speed manual; Z1 clutch, flywheel and one-piece driveshaft
Engine Management HKS EVC boost controller
Footwork & Chassis TEIN Super Sport coilovers and EDFC; KW Hydraulic Lift System; custom chrome front strut tower brace
Wheels & Tires 18x10" and 18x12.5" Work VS wheels; 295/30R18 and 335/30R18 Michelin Pilot tires
Exterior Custom all-steel wide-body fenders and quarters
Interior Custom front seats and chrome seat levers; Ferrari leather with Alcantara door panels, steering wheel, console and instrument panel inserts; custom chrome door panel inserts; custom Chilean Burl steering wheel (with integrated wireless radio controls), shift knob, audio system bezel, ash tray cover, window bezels and e-brake; Double-DIN dash conversion for Kenwood Excelon head unit with satellite radio and navigation; Audison Bit One audio processor with time-alignment; Arc Audio 5-channel amplifier and 2-channel amplifier; Focal K2 power speakers front (tweeters in custom pods) and rear; JL Audio 13tw5 subwoofer hidden in spare tire well; Pioneer 8" low-profile subwoofer in custom enclosure (front passenger footwell); two Kenwood 310c multiview color cameras