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Straight Six Z31

We drive the Japanese-spec Nissan 200ZR - a straight-six turbocharged Z31!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Rare 200ZR Fairlady
  • RB20DET turbocharged straight-six
  • Very sophisticated for a 20 year old vehicle
  • A true modern classic – or use it a unique tuning platform...
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The boxy lines of the Z31 Nissan Zed are nothing new in Australia. But a Z31 with a RB-series DOHC turbo six hiding under the bonnet? Well, that’s a different story!

Back in the mid/late ‘80s, the big Nissan coupe ruled local streets with a 3-litre V6 available in atmo and turbocharged guises. It was the perfect combatant to Toyota’s big straight-six powered Supra. But on the other side of the globe in the Zed’s homeland, there was a much wider choice of models – a turbo 2-litre V6, an atmo or turbocharged 3-litre V6 (as seen in Australia), a quad-cam 3-litre V6 and the 2-litre RB20DET version featured here. The Fairlady 200ZR.

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Surprisingly, the in-line six-cylinder fits beneath the Z31 bonnet with a fair amount of room to spare – it’s obvious the car was designed from scratch to accept an in-line six or a V6. The back of the engine is relatively close to the firewall but the front of the engine ends well short of the radiator – there’s plenty of room for a crank-driven cooling fan instead of resorting to electric cooling fans.

The 200ZR is fitted with the same ‘PLASMA’ version of the RB20DET as fitted to the R31 Skyline Passage. These early twin-cam RBs (identified by their red ribbed cam cover) run a relatively low 8.5:1 static compression ratio, 24 valve breathing, a ceramic wheeled turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler which is fed by the 200ZR’s bonnet scoop. A NICS dual-stage twin-runner induction system, a hot-wire airflow meter and direct-fire ignition are also used.

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In standard guise, these early RB20DETs are boosted to around 7 psi and are capable of 134kW at 6400 rpm and 226Nm at 3600 rpm. That’s not a lot in today’s context – especially given the 200ZR’s considerable 1310-1400kg kerb mass – but the RB turbo engine is wonderfully smooth, refined and pleasantly torquey. Unfortunately, the engine in our test car was running a bit off-song when we drove it.

The standard gearbox is a five-speed manual (though a four-speed auto was available) and drive is delivered to the rear wheels. With the right launch and the engine running sweetly, we estimate the 200ZR should accelerate to 100 km/h in around 8 - 9 seconds.

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On the road, the 20 year old Nissan feels quite sophisticated – especially considering its age. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering offers good weight and response while the suspension soaks up even the largest potholes. However, at the time we drove this particular vehicle, the semi trailing arm IRS was very tired – the rear-end would ‘walk around’ and felt uncontrolled. A new set of dampers and IRS bushes have since been fitted and we expect the on-road behavior to be much improved. Braking is via generously-sized ventilated discs at each end but it appears ABS was not available.

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Inside, the cabin looks extremely dated – but it was pretty trick in the ‘80s. The plasticy dash contains centre gauges for boost pressure, oil pressure and battery voltage, and our test car was fitted with a conventional gauge cluster – some models come with a ‘Star Wars’ digital instrument cluster. The 200ZR is available in two-seater or 2 + 2 configuration (as tested) and many come with removable Targa tops. We believe that Targa top models are known as 200ZR-II.

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And the appearance? Well, that depends on your point of view... Some people will see the 200ZR as just another ‘80s vehicle ready for the crusher but an enthusiast will recognise its context in the heyday of Japanese turbocharged sportscars. It would also make a great addition for Zed car collectors.

Supplied by JDM Auto in Sydney, our test 2 + 2 200ZR-II has around 120,000km showing on the odometer and, at the time we drove it, required some maintenance. Since then we’re told the car has received its new suspension, a mechanical service and some rust was repaired. With this done, the car is currently available for AUD$7500 - not bad for a collectable sportscar. And, unlike many other imports, you’re guaranteed that the 200ZR will remain a unique vehicle in Australia – relatively few were produced in Japan and even fewer survive.

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If you’re interested in converting the 200ZR into a genuine speed machine you can perform ‘the usual’ bolt-on mods for about 30 percent extra power or you could step up to any of the later-model RB turbo engines – the silver rocker cover RB20DET, RB25DET or perhaps the Skyline GT-R RB26DETT.

The potential is huge. You can either leave it alone and enjoy it as a modern classic or go ballistic modifying it into something unique.

Contact: JDM Auto 0419 285 345

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