Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX

| 19 Aug 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX

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By the dawn of the 1990s, Japanese car makers had their fingers in almost every pie.

Honda’s Accord had kicked Detroit’s Big Three from the top of the US sales charts for the first time ever, Toyota’s posh new Lexus brand had given Europe’s ministerial barges a jump-scare, the Mazda MX-5 had reignited the affordable sports-car market and the incredible NSX was forcing a complacent supercar community to pull its badly welded, unreliable finger out.

There was another sector of the market in which the Japanese weren’t merely present, however. They owned it.

Big coupés. Big, bruising, 160mph sports coupés. Poundstretcher Porsche 928s. The kind of cars the Ford Capri and Opel Monza could have been if they hadn’t been killed off half a decade earlier.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Evocative Japanese supercoupés of the ’90s

First to arrive on UK shores, in the spring of 1990, was the Nissan.

Which seems only fair given that, discounting the rare and hugely pricey Toyota 2000GT, Nissan was first to the big coupé market back in 1969 with the original 240Z.

That car had been a revelation, selling in huge quantities in North America, and doing a great job of convincing the world the Japanese could do more than make funny economy cars.

But in the two decades following the 240’s introduction, as it morphed into the 260Z, then 280Z, 280ZX and Z31-code 300ZX, Nissan’s sports car had gone from blade to blunt. With each change it felt less Z, more Zzz.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Nissan’s 300ZX was the first of these three sold here in the UK

The Z32 certainly put the zip back in the Zed’s stride.

The 300ZX is sleek, wide and faintly menacing, eyeballing you with fixed lamps located where it looks as if there ought to be pop-ups.

There’s something ambiguous, almost supercar-like about its proportions, and from certain angles it’s not obvious that the engine is under that nose, rather than behind the seats.

Some markets got a choice of naturally aspirated or twin-turbocharged V6 power; short-wheelbase two-seater or long-wheelbase two-plus-two configurations; and the option of automatic or manual transmissions.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The Nissan has a three-litre V6 powering it

For British buyers, however, that choice was narrowed considerably.

All official UK cars were turbocharged 2+2s, though for an extra £1000 over the base car’s £34,500 you could sub an automatic for the standard five-speed manual.

It was another two years before Mitsubishi’s 3000GT arrived on UK roads to challenge it.

Though built in Japan – where it was badged GTO, in a nod to the company’s popular GTO coupé of the 1970s – the GT was a joint project between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, whose Diamond Star Motors co-op had already yielded well-received smaller four-cylinder coupés such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser trio.

But the V6-powered 3000GT and its Dodge Stealth alter ego were more serious machines, taking one giant leap upmarket, and several leaps into the future.

Like the Nissan 300ZX, the Stealth, Mitsubishi’s US-market GT and the Japanese GTO were available in both turbocharged and naturally aspirated forms, while the Dodge was even offered in front-wheel-drive guise.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
They’d all disappeared from British showrooms by the end of the ’90s

But Mitsubishi’s UK importer obviously decided that only the best – or, perhaps more accurately, the most –would do for Brits.

When the GTO landed on UK shores, the only things missing were that ‘O’ and the kitchen sink.

Four-wheel steering, a four-wheel-drive system lifted from the Galant VR-4 saloon, twin intercooled turbochargers, active aerodynamics, active dampers and even an electronically switchable exhaust system were part of the £35,500 package.

If this was Mitsubishi throwing down the technology gauntlet to its rivals, Toyota paid little notice.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Twin-turbo V6 power for the Mitsubishi 3000GT, too

Because the MkIV Supra (A80 to fans) that arrived in the UK in 1993 was surprisingly light on trinkets.

But it was also light, full stop, helping it deliver the kind of pace that could blow even a Ferrari 348 into last week.

Just as the 300ZX had, the MkIV Supra arrived on the back of a mediocre recent effort.

It had started life as the Celica Supra, an offshoot of the established Celica coupé, but stretched to accommodate a six-cylinder engine in the nose.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The A80 Toyota Supra is a cult hero

And when the Celica switched to front-wheel drive in 1985, the Supra split to become a model in its own right.

The higher-spec turbocharged versions were quick, too, 140mph-plus machines with often spiky rear-wheel-drive handling and little ride comfort to speak of.

Yet they failed to capture enthusiasts’ hearts like the MkIV did, and continues to do.

It’s no exaggeration to say that while cars such as the NSX and MX-5 stand out as modern Japanese icons to the casual classic fan, among hardcore devotees of Japanese cars and car culture the A80 Supra is probably even more fêted.

The cult surrounding the Supra has as much to do with the engine under the bonnet as the car itself.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
326bhp for the Supra from its twin-turbo straight-six

The 2JZ straight-six is legendary in tuning circles for its ability to produce humungous power outputs without blowing itself to pieces.

How humungous? Try1000bhp on the standard crankshaft and conrods if you’re prepared to swap the twin-turbo set-up for a big single and live with the kind of lag you can time in ice ages.

The Supra also came in naturally aspirated vanilla form, producing 220bhp from its 3 litres in entry-level trim, matched to a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

But again, like the other cars, only the turbo version – recognisable on Euro cars, but not this JDM-spec import, by a slender bonnet scoop that could be paired with the optional but visually essential high-rise rear wing – slipped into the UK through official channels.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Mitsubishi 3000GT chases Toyota Supra

Slide into the Supra’s driver’s seat and the view is no less outlandish. The entire dashboard and console wraps around the driver, flowing into the moulded door panel in one sweep.

It’s the ultimate narcissist’s cabin, designed with so little apparent concern for the passenger’s ability to see or operate any of the controls, it’s a wonder Toyota bothered fitting a second seat at all.

The Z’s cabin, with its less flamboyant console layout, is more egalitarian and, thanks to a low dash top, gives a clearer view of the road ahead.

But it’s not devoid of sci-fi touches, either.

Pods sprouting from either side of an otherwise conventional instrument binnacle give handy fingertip access to lights, wipers, cruise control and air-conditioning functions.

Think Citroën Visa – but designed by engineers, rather than a bunch of art students on crystal meth.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The Toyota has a driver-focused cabin

The Mitsubishi, in contrast, is a peculiar mix of retro cues and cutting-edge tech.

The digital, multi-colour air-conditioning screen and ‘Active Aero’ button controlling the extendable front and rear spoilers must have seemed space-age in the early ’90s, as must this later car’s Philips Carin navigation system.

Yet just inches away you’ll find hooded auxiliary gauges recessed in the top of the squidgy dashboard foam that nod to a multitude of ’70s Japanese coupés.

Ruched leather on the wide seats and doors remind that this was a car designed primarily to bring in dollars, not pounds.

But those seats, slightly slippery and less figure-hugging than the others, are the most comfortable here, and the driving position gives no cause for complaint.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Different approaches, but three cracking coupés

Neither does the lusty low-end pull of the twin-turbo V6.

Mounted transversely across the nose, it responds eagerly to a push of the right pedal even before the blowers have spooled up and begun really pushing you into those thick chairs.

The parallel turbo set-up, where the two turbochargers fire together rather than sequentially as on the Supra, means that the power delivery ought to be less linear.

But with all 300lb ft of torque on hand by 3000rpm it feels usefully flexible, and the noise under load is rich, bassy and muscular, like Oliver Reed scaring off a couple of burglars.

James Jones’ 1998 3000GT, which features the later facelifted nose incorporating projector lights in place of the original pop-ups, doesn’t have the early cars’ active silencers.

But it makes amends with an aftermarket stainless exhaust system that brings out the best in the GT’s character without risking every early morning start-up sparking a war with your neighbours.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The Mitsubishi is packed with gadgets

No, the only war the Mitsubishi is fighting is with its own waistline.

The payoff for all those gadgets, and the four-wheel-drive system in particular, is a thick 3990lb (1810kg) kerbweight that conspires to undermine the engine’s considerable strength.

Absurdly overlong gearing on early cars didn’t help, such that third was good for 120mph. Although the 0-60mph time was a sprightly 5.8 secs, a decent hot hatch could match it for in-gear shove.

A mid-life refresh lifted power from 282bhp to 300bhp in some markets (later 320bhp) and the addition of a sixth gear gave the GT a longer cruising ratio.

But, more importantly, it allowed Mitsubishi to shorten the intermediate ratios, adding some urgency to a fourth-gear squirt.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The MkIV Supra was put on a serious diet

Moving that gearstick requires deliberate effort, but little movement – a sensation echoed by the steering as you twist the plain, airbag-equipped wheel to point the GT into a corner.

The grip – more than you could ever need at road speeds – and traction inspire huge confidence in tighter corners, while beyond 31mph the rear wheels’ ability to turn up to 1.5º in the same direction as the fronts is designed to safeguard against any wayward behaviour.

But switching to the Supra and attacking the same bends reveals how much more eager the Toyota is to turn.

A ruthless diet that extended to the use of aluminium for the bonnet and front crossmember, a plastic fuel tank and even hollow carpet fibres meant the MkIV Supra weighed almost 100kg (220lb) less than the MkIII – and was a substantial 231kg (510lb) lighter than the Mitsubishi.

Plus, with a superior front:rear weight distribution (52:48, versus 57 up front for the GT) and with all of the engine’s torque sent to the back, rather than a nominal 55% courtesy of the Mitsubishi’s viscous centre diff, it instantly feels the more sports car-like.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Bewinged Toyota (centre) is the most curvaceous of our trio, while the Mitsubishi (right) and Nissan are more conventional wedges

The Toyota goads you to thrash it in a way the 3000GT doesn’t. It’s like hanging around with the naughty kid at school.

The one who’s always encouraging you to do something outrageous you know you shouldn’t, but do anyway, and then runs like crazy to evade a telling-off.

There’s not much you couldn’t evade from behind the wheel of a twin-turbo A80 in full flee mode. Domestic-market Supras made do with 276bhp to keep in line with the Japanese manufacturers’ gentleman’s agreement, though likely made more.

European cars did make more: 326bhp, thanks to different turbos and injectors, and, though Adam Hunter’s Japanese car claims to be standard, a dyno printout suggests that it is, shall we say, unusually fit.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Different styles for the Mitsubishi (left) and Nissan

Whatever it produces, it makes mincemeat of the other two in a straight line.

Stomp your foot from low revs and the 2JZ motor is fed initially only by one turbocharger, before the second chimes in to really test your neck muscles at around 4000rpm.

The noise isn’t a garrulous roar, but an eerie, turbine-like yowl. Or maybe that was just the sound of the other two crying in the distance.

Contemporary figures put the Supra at 5.1 secs to 60mph and around 13 to 100. Only electronic intervention at 155mph prevented it from sailing on to a true 180mph.

But the Supra doesn’t get it all right. The Getrag ’box is fairly long of throw and, though the changes are light, there’s a slightly knuckly feel to the way it moves through its gate.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Mitsubishi 3000GT leads Nissan 300ZX

The steering, too, is perhaps over-light in the first few degrees off the straight-ahead, which it probably needs to be if you’re to catch the monstrous slides the blinking traction-control light hints are coming your way if you decline its help via the button on the dashboard.

That lightness adds to the impression of agility, but it doesn’t deliver masses of information in the process. If it’s communication you’re after, a Porsche 968 or a Mazda RX-7 is a better bet.

So is the ZX. There’s something delightfully uncomplicated about the Nissan. It might not be quite as quick as the Supra, but with a similar 276bhp to the Mitsubishi, and the equivalent of two burly doormen less to haul around, it still hauls: Autocar recorded 5.6 secs to 60mph.

Gary Crowther’s rare ’91 Sahara Gold ZX (only 44 of 1525 UK cars were this colour) feels every bit as quick today, pushing you back into a seat that’s mounted a little higher than perhaps you’d like.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
The T-top roof floods the 300ZX’s quirky cabin with light

But there’s more to the Z than straight-line speed and a stirring V6 soundtrack.

There’s the firm brake pedal, fine body control and the well-defined gearchange, which strikes a balance between slick and satisfyingly mechanical – and is the best here.

As is the steering, whose consistently meaty weighting gives you the confidence to lean on the nose on the way into a corner, then nibble at the rear-end grip on the way out.

Period testers complained of unruly wet-weather behaviour – something 3000GT drivers, who’d traded some delicacy for security, never had to worry about.

But in the dry it feels fun and exploitable, yet entirely manageable. Above all, though, despite packing a four-wheel steering system even more sophisticated than the 3000GT’s – in which the rear wheels are capable of pointing in the same direction as the fronts at high speed, but the opposite way in the tighter, slower stuff – it feels entirely natural.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
An ugly airbag-equipped wheel fronts a moulded dash with retro cues in the 3000GT

Although they lived on in other markets, all three cars had disappeared from UK showrooms by the tail end of the ’90s, victims of emissions regulations and the waning popularity of big coupés.

The next Z was the 350Z, a simpler, cheaper two-seater, while the GT was usurped as Mitsubishi’s halo car in its own lifetime by the rally-winning Evo.

The only badge still around is Supra, recently resurrected after a 20-year layoff and affixed to a rebodied BMW Z4.

Though all cost similar money when new, prices have diverged markedly in the years since.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
A powerful trio

The 3000GT is the cheapest of the bunch at around £5000 for a usable car and perhaps £10k for something great.

It’s the fussiest to look at but the least fussy to live with – a fascinating example of Japan’s thirst for technology, but one that didn’t quite serve up the thrills or pace of the other cars here, or Nissan’s conceptually similar Skyline GT-R.

Jones saves his for best, but with four-wheel drive, a roomy cabin and huge boot, plus a‘ Tour’ mode on the adaptive dampers and long gearing for intergalactic cruising, it’s the most suitable for everyday use or epic road trips, provided – as with the other two – you don’t expect to carry adults in the token rear seats.

It might not be a great sports car, but it makes a very fine GT. Accept that and you’ll like it far more than contemporary testers did.

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
Bright colours work well on these supercoupés

At up to four times the value, the Supra is a different proposition.

It feels stronger, more mischievous, more driver-focused, less practical. Its cult status certainly appeals but, at £30k-plus in desirable manual form, the price may not.

Which leaves the Zed. Heaped with praise when new, and criminally forgotten since, the 300ZX is a blast to drive with crisp steering, entertaining handling and a soulful V6.

And is it just us, or has that slightly bloated, barrel-chested styling come into its own of late?

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX
In profile – but which would you choose today?

But here’s the clincher: summing up the Z in 1991, Autocar raved about the value proposition presented by a car it described as: ‘An old-fashioned, up-front bruiser that begs to be driven hard.’

Then, it cost the equivalent of a not-inconsiderable £75k; today, a really nice manual twin-turbo would set you back around £15k.

There aren’t many bargains left in the classic car world, but this is one.

Images: Olgun Kordal

Thanks to 300ZX Owners’ Club; MkIV Supra OC; GTOUK


Factfiles

Classic & Sports Car – Street fighters: Mitsubishi 3000GT vs Toyota Supra vs Nissan 300ZX

Nissan 300ZX

  • Sold/number built 1989-2000/164,170
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-heads, dohc-per-bank 2960cc V6, with twin turbochargers and electronic fuel injection
  • Max power 276bhp @ 6400rpm
  • Max torque 274lb ft @ 3600rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear multiple links; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion, four-wheel steering
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 14ft 10in (4525mm)
  • Width 5ft 11in (1800mm)
  • Height 4ft 1½in (1255mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 5¼in (2570mm)
  • Weight 3480lb (1579kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.6 secs
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Mpg 17
  • Price new £34,500
  • Price now £15,000*
     

Mitsubishi 3000GT

  • Sold/number built 1990-’99/86,151
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-heads, dohc-per-bank 2972cc V6, with twin turbochargers and electronic fuel injection
  • Max power 282bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Max torque 300lb ft @ 3000rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual (six-speed from 1996), 4WD
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear wishbones, trailing arms, telescopic dampers; coil springs, antiroll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion, four-wheel steering
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 14ft 11½in (4560mm)
  • Width 6ft (1840mm)
  • Height 4ft 2½in (1285mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 1¼in (2470mm)
  • Weight 3990lb (1810kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.8 secs
  • Top speed 153mph
  • Mpg 16.9
  • Price new £35,500
  • Price now £10,000*
     

Toyota Supra

  • Sold/number built 1992-2002/45,230
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 2997cc straight-six, with twin turbochargers and electronic fuel injection
  • Max power 326bhp @ 5600rpm
  • Max torque 325lb ft @ 4800rpm
  • Transmission six-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones rear multiple links; coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 14ft 9½in (4515mm)
  • Width 5ft 11¼in (1811mm)
  • Height 4ft 1¾in (1265mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 4½in (2550mm)
  • Weight 3415lb (1549kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.1 secs
  • Top speed 156mph
  • Mpg 18.7
  • Price new £37,500
  • Price now £35,000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication


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