In 1990, the Z32 came out of the gate running and throughout its production run the 300ZX was Nissan's high-tech flagship in the States. Sales escalated for the first three years, then the rising popularity of the SUV and the increasing price tag of the Z began to erode its sales performance. It exited stage left in 1996, about the time the RX-7 bowed and two years before the demise of the Supra. Despite its lackluster dealership performance, the Z32 has been a strong performer in the aftermarket from Day One and remains a force as we move into the new millennium. The sporty coupe has a rich racing history and the technological muscle to produce prodigious power with moderate effort.
No matter how well you care for your car, you can't cheat time. The 1990 edition is a decade old and with a majority of overall production coming early in the production run, there are a great number of seven- to 10-year-old Z32s prowling the streets. As parts and/or component systems wear, they need replacing, which is where the "upgrade or replace" dilemma surfaces. Nowhere is this tug of war more evident than in the suspension system. Handling prowess is one of the 300ZX's major strengths, and time can steal away the g-forces. Since this loss happens gradually over the years, many enthusiasts will not know what they are missing.
Do you go to the dealer and replace the aging suspension parts with OE offerings or step up and bolt on aftermarket hardware, enhancing performance instead of merely reclaiming it? Cost is a concern, for sure. But in some cases, the OE parts hit the wallet harder than the custom parts. Our search for the possibilities led us to Stillen, a leading-edge tuner of the Z-and most everything Nissan.
Stillen technician Sam Camarillo provided us with some insight into the quirks, shortcomings and time-oriented problems suffered by Z32s. Up front, Sam was quick to point out the tension rod. Sam informed us that the unit's bushing is filled with silicone and, over time, they can crack and develop leaks. The car loses some of its handling feedback and, in some cases, the wheel and suspension sub-assembly will actually move under hard braking. Stillen has addressed this shortcoming with its adjustable tension rod. The Stillen piece deletes the stock bushing altogether, replacing it with a rod end-type bushing. It is adjustable to allow for alignment, because many Zs have had impacts with parking barriers and this is the only way, short of a frame alignment shop, to fine tune the alignment.
At the stern, it is the rear A-arm that is a problem child of sorts. In some cases, the stock arms do not allow enough camber adjustment to align the car to spec. Camarillo said that, for some reason, the driver's side is a big problem; 75 percent of the cars he sees are not able to attain proper adjustment on this side. Sam is a perfectionist, and when he adjusts the suspensions of customers' cars, he wants total precision, but he reports he has problems meeting the manufacturer's range of adjustment, much less the exact number. To correct this situation, Stillen manufactures its own adjustable rear A-arm. The unit is stoutly built and provides an additional 1 to 1.5 degrees of adjustment.
The meat of this article will showcase how a typical Z owner could upgrade the handling performance of his Z32 and further reveal some of the Zs problem areas. The accompanying photos will illustrate the installation of shocks, springs, sway bars, camber kits, tension rods A-arms and strut tower braces.