I'd owned my Z for 3 and a half years and it had been a joy.
I have always been a car enthusiast and it had been time to buy my first interesting car. I'd wanted a rear-wheel drive manual with a characterful engine. I was also at a life stage where backseats were optional. The 350Z fit the bill and was a very affordable second hand. For this reason it can be hard to find unmolested and well-looked-after examples. I was lucky to find one that's done mostly country miles.
Styling wise I loved the classic coupe shape, bonnet bulge, big wheel arches, and low stance - it looks like a cat that's ready to pounce. The best angle was the side profile. It's a flowing design that has aged very well. Inside is very spacious for two (and only two), with the seats being a comfortable leather with well-bolstered sides. Although there's no shortage of plastic surfaces inside, Nissan made sure everything you touch regularly is made of premium materials. There's a leather steering wheel, leather shift knob, and metallic pedals. There's even leather padding for your left leg. The only exception is the door handle and cubby hole which were notorious for scratched paint.
Technology wise, it was very basic by today's standards. No infotainment, no connectivity, and it even had a tape deck! Remember, this car was introduced in 2003.
But in the interest of uninterrupted driving pleasure, those shortcomings were not so bad. It became my happy place, as momentarily it freed me from the cares of this world. What little creature comforts it did have were premium quality, I must say, such as the six-CD stacker, Bose speakers with sub woofer, electric seats, and seat warmer.
Perhaps that tells you where the design focus lay: driving pleasure. The steering was sharp and progressively weighty in proportion to speed. Wonderfully intuitive. There's lots of mechanical grip, but don't turn off that traction control unless you're on a track. The engine is a gem, with instantaneous torque at any revs. It pulls strong up to redline, yet was as reliable as a Camry.
The transmission is where the chinks started appearing in the armour. Under the right conditions, and when driven precisely, it was wonderfully direct, mechanical and satisfying. But when the oil was not warmed up, it was hard to shift. The clutch had solid feel but needed finesse to get right. The dual-mass flywheel was noisy with many owners wondering if something was broken and rattling around. Clutch slave cylinders are known to fail after 100,000 kms or if abused. Mine was neither but I had heard many stories.
The 350Z is a great driver's car at eight-tenths, but pushing beyond that you started to feel the car's weight becoming an issue. This car does not flatter your abilities or stroke your ego. Make a mistake and it shows, which makes getting it right that much more satisfying. It's simply direct, linear, 1:1, analogue, and raw. Every driver input results in a response, which can be quite demanding but so satisfying if you value driving pleasure over comfort.
Reliability had not missed a beat. With regular maintenance and no hooning I had no major issues. Not even the dreaded clutch slave. The paint is very thin so even if you're ultra careful not to scratch it, you'll still get stone chips from regular driving. The rear hatch is heavy and the strut won't hold it up after a while. An aftermarket heavy-duty strut is an easy fix. You don't buy a car like this for practicality but you still have to live with it.
So here's what you have to live with: the boot is shallow and there's a massive strut brace in the way. I removed the boot floor covering and considered removing the spare wheel to get more depth. The long door also means you have to open it quite wide to get out comfortably. This is an issue in small carparks. Low ground clearance and a stiff chassis makes for great handling, but steep driveways can be a problem. Scrapes, three-wheeling, and loss of traction have all happened depending on the angle of attack!
The Z is great for one purpose, but not every journey is a mountain drive. You have to wear the right shoes, plan ahead, and warm up the car before venturing out. When doing a quick milk run and if I had the option of taking my wife's SUV, I usually did.
Lastly I will mention how I lost the car. Someone ran through a roundabout and T-boned us, spinning us around 180 degrees and deploying the side and curtain airbags. We escaped without a scratch and the Z was written off. So perhaps its most important feature is its solid build and safety.
Despite all its faults, I don't think I would have ever sold the Z. I grew to know exactly how it responded in every situation, what she liked and didn't like. I can understand why many enthusiasts talk about having a relationship with their car. I do miss the Z, and whenever I see one drive past it still brings a smile to my face. Remembering all the adventures, conversations with people and the moments we shared. That's what the car community is really about. Funny how a metal box on wheels gets under our skin and burrows its way into our lives. And we are richer for it.