Home » Z-Cars With T-Tops: 1984 Nissan 300ZX vs 1986 Spartan II

Z-Cars With T-Tops: 1984 Nissan 300ZX vs 1986 Spartan II

Sbsd 8 23 2023
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Welcome to your mid-week Shitbox Showdown! All right, before anyone says anything, yes. Today’s contestants are wildly disparate in price. But wait until you see how similar they are in damn near every other regard. First, however, let’s take a look at the results from yesterday’s bad-hair Fords:

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As expected, a comfortable win for the Lincoln, fake convertible top and all. You guys realize that’s not just cloth, right? It’s a whole fiberglass shell shaped like a convertible top, with the cloth stretched over it, and the car wears it like a hat. But hey, if that’s how you wanna roll, don’t let me stop you.

Continuing with the theme of strange things automakers do to the roofs of cars, today we’re looking at two cars that started life as Z31-chassis Nissan 300ZXs, both with T-tops. One was wrecked and rebuilt, and then left to sit and fixed up again, and the other – well, just take a look.

1984 Nissan 300ZX 2+2 – $4,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Odometer reading: 140,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs great!

What we have here is the least-desirable of Nissan’s Z car: the Z31 series 2+2, non-turbo, with an automatic. But it’s a funny thing: Even an “undesirable” 300ZX is still a pretty cool car. And actually, looking at it now, I think I prefer the 2+2 roofline of this generation. It looks more balanced. As for the automatic, maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I’m fine with it. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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This car has always been a 2+2, but from the sound of it, it didn’t start out with T-tops. It was wrecked and repaired early in its life, and came out the other side with a salvage title, and a shiny new open-air roof. It later sat in storage for ten years, before the current owner revived it, and did a ton of mechanical restoration to it. It now runs and drives great, and if that weren’t enough, the top of the intake manifold has been signed by none other than bass guitar god and Primus frontman Les Claypool. Apparently the seller did some work on Les’s Bronco, and asked him to sign the Z’s engine. I mean, personally, I would have had him sign my bass, or maybe my copy of Pork Soda, but an intake is good too, I guess.

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It looks pretty good outside, except for a decent-sized ding in the left rear corner, and some peeling clearcoat. We don’t get much in the way of interior photos, but from what I can see, it’s serviceable. The seller notes slow window motors and a fussy turn signal switch, but those aren’t deal-breakers. And in addition to the T-tops, it has the all-important rear window louvers. No Japanese ’80s fastback is complete without them.

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It also includes all the service records since new (amazing for a 39 year old car), as well as photographs of the repairs. Yeah, a dinged title is a downer, but if you can see what it looked like before, and how it was repaired, that’s a plus. Oh, and the original wheels are included as well, if you prefer them.

1986 Spartan II – $23,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Claremont, CA

Odometer reading: 53,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yes, but has old tires

Neoclassic cars are one of those weird automotive subsets that I really appreciate, but have absolutely no desire to own. At least, I don’t think I do. All right, maybe once in a while I wonder if life would be better gazing down a long hood, seeing the world zip past a pair of fender-mounted spare tires, finding a convenient empty Costco parking lot in which to execute a three-point turn. But most of the time I just admire them from afar, thankful that I don’t have to try to parallel park one.

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This baroque beast is one of only 300 of its kind, built by Spartan Motorcars of San Marcos, California. Information is hard to find, because there are two other car companies and a motorhome manufacturer called Spartan. It gets confusing really quickly. I did find photos of an earlier version, based on the S130-chassis Datsun 280ZX; those are apparently even rarer than this Z31-based car.

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It’s not a great name anyway; “Spartan” is not an adjective I’d use to describe this car, particularly on the inside. It’s all standard Z-car fare, but with the luxury turned up a notch, with crested leather seats and what may or may not be real wood appliqués on the dash and center console. It’s all pretty damned opulent for a Datsun. And even better, it’s in great condition.

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The seller says this car runs and drives, but the tires are out of date and need replacing before it can be driven any distance. The air conditioning also “needs a recharge,” which we all know is just a euphemism for broken. But the great thing is that it’s just a 300ZX underneath, so it could make a reliable daily driver if one were so inclined.

Now, I realize this isn’t a fair comparison, with the massive price difference. But you understand, it had to be done: Two of the same car, one with an engine signed by a rock star, and the other looking like it raided Liberace’s wardrobe. I can’t ignore that. So let’s just pretend that you have the funds to buy either one. Which one could find a home in your garage?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

SPARTAN!!!!!

Go weird or go home. I love it. Spartan for me.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

I don’t know if there is a type of vehicle that I hate more than (all of) these throwback baroque cars. Every single one should be crushed or entered in to a Gambler Rally.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
9 months ago

Can I get the Spartan with the Les Claypool autograph instead?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago

Apparently around 16% of Autopian readers are in favour of making very poor financial and life choices… which is the current percentage of people who voted for the Spartan.

And of course I voted for the unmolested Nissan.

Last edited 10 months ago by Manwich Sandwich
Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
9 months ago

Uhhhh… did you read the description of it? It’s not just molested, it’s been through a prison movie in it’s previous life.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

I prefer my Z car original and unmolested, even a lesser non-turbo with slushbox.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
10 months ago

All shitbox comparisons aside, I don’t get the hate for this generation of Z-car. Because it strayed too far from the original? It’s underpowered? It’s too angular? Every car is a reflection of the times it represents, and this Z is no different. With the hidden headights, anglular styling, and emphasis on style over substance, it’s really in line with all things 80’s…and I can appreciate it on those grounds alone.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
10 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

I don’t either. I love the look of the Z31. I have fond memories of riding around in the back of the one my dad had, mesmerized by the ultra-futuristic technology that was the digital dashboard. And it talked! Just like Knight Rider! 10-year-old me was in love! (We called her ZITT)

JDE
JDE
10 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

I think they have a chance at coming back, I recall having a transformer that looked a lot like this car. SO just like 70’s Slowmaros and Fireturds, they were at one time absurdly cheap to buy and the few remaining were mostly destroyed by youth and Oxidation. then the few that survived suddenly became unobtanium for the remainder of the youth that got old, had money, but wanted to have the car their friends destroyed, so those few get snatched up and the prices go high as those friends now are jealous of the others for having the thing they loved much in high school. It’s a vicious cycle until they all die off and desire for the cars dies a bit like Shoebox Chevie’s tend to now adays.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
10 months ago

I would really want images of that Nissan interior before fully committing, but it sounds like this car was loved. Even at 164hp, this car should be a nice cruiser.

I do like the clean lines of the Nissan, even the 2+2. No need for air conditioning with T-tops. Salvaging that extra HP is the correct move.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
10 months ago

Amazing to find a gold painted 80’s car that isn’t the gaudy choice!

Ricki
Ricki
10 months ago

Primus sucks.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago
Reply to  Ricki

Primus is awesome

Cyko9
Cyko9
10 months ago

I’m a mark for the Z31, even with an automatic, so it got my vote. If it were a black & gold manual (even better with a turbo), I’d price a plane ticket to Santa Rosa. The Spartan… are those collectible? Like, is the price what others might pay for one, or does the owner feel that’s what it should be worth?

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
10 months ago

The Spartan is like the Mitsuoka Le-Seyde, featured on the most recent Grand Tour, which Clarkson described as “a hideous homage to Liberace’s bathroom”. The Spartan is only missing the candelabra on the fenders.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
10 months ago

At a third the price or less, and with a different paint job, maybe, just maybe the Spartan.

I think the only way you can maintain self-respect in a neo-classic is go full-bore Goth or make it a silly pimpmobile. At least mine would make a nice centerpiece for my Halloween display when I’m not cosplaying the undead.

At all other prices, the genuine Nissan would be my choice.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
10 months ago

I’ll take the one that isn’t ugly.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
10 months ago

I’ll take the gold Z. I love the random choice for an object to get autographed. Also – there is plenty of room in the back for my samurai sword signed by Randy Jackson.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
10 months ago

Going against the grain today, I honestly love the neoclassics. This would not be the one I would seek out if I were to actually waste money on one (Never gonna happen in the real world), but it’s still funny to me that it exists and it would be hilarious to drive. I would put a Z badge on it just to really confuse people when they ask what it is.

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