I was never particularly enamored with the 300zx – around here in Southern California they’re fairly rare and I know some people consider them legends on the level of the Supra and NSX. The car’s somewhat strange wedge-nosed front end never did it any favors in my eyes, but I have to concede it’s no slouch of a sports car when you look at its stats. That all being said, I only picked it up here because this particular kit from Tamiya is super old, and thus is pretty simple and retails inexpensively.
These older Tamiya kits have very distinctive retro-style boxart. The box itself is also very small compared to the norm we get today.
I was surprised when it mentioned on the box sides that this kit actually came with a complete engine – with how small it was I was almost certain it would be an empty bay build.
Manual blurb about how great the Z is and how it’ll smoke your daddy’s Viper any day of the week.
First order of business before we even get into the car itself is to figure out the wheels. Stockies are never attractive, but those things are particularly egregious.
Thankfully I’ve built enough kits at this point to have racked up quite a store of extras.
The stock wheels were bad, but the tires were worse. Yes I know stock cars come with thicker treads than performance wheels and tires, but these things had so much meat they looked like monster truck tires.
These silver chrome wheels are spares from my R34 GT-R. The tires came off of the aftermarket Aoshima TE37 set that I used on my R32 GT-R. The TE37’s were 19 inch wheels and the R34’s stock wheels are 18 inch, which means the tires are loose on the wheels.
I tried everything I could to try to shrink the rubber and somehow get it to contract so it could fit the smaller wheels snugly, but even after boiling water and a hairdryer it refused to yield any elastic changes. (I read up on a cursory search that heat/boiling should shrink rubber, but that was either outright wrong or only applies to certain types of rubber).
Failing that, I decided the only way to get proper tire specs with the wheels I wanted was to just go out and get new tires. A local hobby shop around my area (Pegasus Hobbies) apparently produces their own wheels and tire sets in-house, and while they have plenty to choose from, I was only interested in the tires.
I decided to ditch the R34’s wheels and use the stock wheels that came on my R32. I never ended up using these because I never actually got the tires with that kit (remember it was a bargain bin warehouse find that was missing parts) but the wheels themselves aren’t bad. I thought the two-piece deep dish construction was unique and would make the otherwise plain 300zx pop a bit more.
Thankfully the tires from Pegasus fit perfectly on the deep dish R32 wheels…at least diameter-wise. The wheels are actually staggered so the rears are wider than the fronts thanks to a deeper chrome lip insert, so the tires don’t quite cover the rears all the way. This wasn’t a big deal though – you’d never notice it unless you’re looking from the bottom of the car.
The left is one of the wheels from the Pegasus wheel/tire set, and the right is one of those same wheels from wrapped in the 300zx’s stock rubber. Thick.
Now that we have the wheels sorted, we can finally start taking a look at the actual car.
I’m impressed with how Tamiya can squeeze a chassis, engine, and interior all into so few runners.
Basic clear parts runner, with a neat clear hood should you want to display the kit with the engine showing at all times.
I love how Tamiya includes an optional set of California license plates for those of us who build these kits in the states. I almost feel flattered that our plates were chosen out of the 50.
Assembling parts of the motor and transmission before they go off to paint. I love the little details like the twin turbos running off the manifolds that are all given here.
These seats made me cringe. Even if they’re not race seats, as normal stock seats go these things aren’t the prettiest in my eyes. A swap is needed.
I had plenty of extras like the Silvia’s and R32’s stockies, but I wanted something a little more racy. Cue the Jada diecast Fast and Furious Eclipse that became obsolete when I built a better version of the car as a model kit. As I mentioned in that previous post, this diecast toy is a bit too large to really qualify as 1/24 scale, but the dimensions were close enough that I could just pull the seats out and modify them slightly to make them fit my Z.
But of course, I’m no monster. The Eclipse isn’t going to be forever seatless, with Brian forced to kneel awkwardly to drive the car. It gets a downgrade in the form of the 300zx’s stock seats, but it’s better than nothing.
The steering wheel was similarly lame. I’ve always disliked 90’s era steering wheels for how large, plain, and gray they were. Pulled my R32’s race wheel to fix that. (Yes it is fully painted already, but I’ll be stripping that and repainting it to match the Z).
I do like the 300zx’s iconic rib cage plenum style. Recreated faithfully here.
There’s surprisingly some plastic flash on certain parts, most noticeably on the exhaust tips. They would be easily cleanable, but those dinky tips could use an upgrade anyway.
I originally really wanted to change out the mufflers along with the tips so it didn’t look like the car was literally modified by going to AutoZone and grabbing a set of exhaust tips and welding them onto the stock exhaust just to make it look more intimidating, but unfortunately I didn’t have any tubing or piping that would work as new resonators. As such we’re literally using the stock exhaust and its mufflers with just the old tips chopped off and the new ones made out of some convenient plastic tubing I had lying around.
Finally a look at the main body shell. Pretty basic body shape, though I forgot that this thing is a T-Top, and thus has a lot of empty space in its roof frame where clear plastic will be going.
Very fine pinholes were present in the front bumper where the license plate is supposed to attach. But license plates are lame, so those were filled in with putty, to be sanded down so they’re ultimately removed for a cleaner front end.
The underside of the main body roof bar has some interesting info – 1989?! That means this kit came out side by side with the actual car and it’s older than I am – by over half a decade. It’s remarkable that plastic kits have remained relatively the same over nearly thirty years – yeah modern kits are more complex and builder-friendly, but the majority of their basic engineering remains shockingly unchanged.
I decided to go with gunmetal on this build only because I asked one of my friends who wanted a 300zx what color he’d want the car if he got one. The criteria was gunmetal with neon blue or black trim.
I used metallic gray at first since I had just enough leftover, but it turns out that paint was super thin for some reason and didn’t go on particularly well. As such I switched over to the traditional gunmetal and it worked out fine.
A bit tough to get into the deep engine bay crannies, but that area would be covered up and unnoticed after all the motor things go in there anyway.
Since it’s harder to do neon blue accents on the exterior of the car without making it look gaudy, I went for the trim color on the interior instead. It’s not really neon blue but close enough – just leftover Mica Blue from the R34‘s body.
Normally I’d be appalled at the thought of a metallic color for the interior but it was all going to be matte’d down with flat coat later anyway, so when all’s said and done it should ideally just look like a really bright, yet flat, blue.
Did some digging around online to find proper interior color break-ups for the Z32. They seem to be mostly gray/black, but some custom setups exist, of which I drew the most inspiration from this one.
Painted Mica Blue, masked, painted semi gloss black, then detailed by hand to fill in the buckles. Now it just needs a coat of flat clear. These seats are probably my favorite part of how the interior turned out, especially ironic since they were pulled from the denounced Jada Eclipse. I haven’t gone out of my way to add buckle and harness detail to any of my cars before, but in this case they were molded onto the seats so all it took was some careful hand painting to bring them out and I think they ended up looking pretty good.
After the main motor and drivetrain parts are painted either silver or black, smaller areas that had to be the opposite color were painted in by hand.
A really odd quirk with this model – notice paint code X-16. It’s stated to be purple or violet…and the only parts that were supposed to use this color were little radiator and intercooler bits, which would normally be silver. I was never aware that any car parts, especially radiators, would straight up be purple from the factory. I decided to ignore it and paint those parts silver anyway.
The body shell has the most black trim I’ve ever encountered, thanks to its older 90’s design language that called for the black weather stripping or whatever it was that usually ran down the lower quarter length of the cars of this era. I painted it on sloppily with hand paint first and proceeded to clean it up after it had dried.
Motor and transmission done. I applaud the oil pan detail and the mini turbos coming off the manifolds.
Lower chassis was painted the body color, so some parts like the wheel wells and front bumper skid plate had to be painted in by hand to a semi-gloss black.
Rear suspension unit done and ready for insertion, including the driveshaft and differential.
Front suspension with brake assemblies attached – the calipers were painted by hand with the closest shade of cyan I had to match the interior. It’s actually the battery light trim paint I used on the HG Gundam G-Self.
Motor assembly drops right in.
Drivetrain, exhaust, and suspension all put in.
I suppose I was foolish for thinking these old Aoshima wheels would actually fit the car, even after all the hoops I had to jump through to make the wheels and tires work together.
I wanted to avoid the same problems with wheel fitment with my previous Tamiya NSX, so this time to keep things a little more consistent I decided to trim away at the raised hubs on the brake rotors, instead of slicing away at the wheels themselves.
The rotors should be thin enough for the wheels to mount and actually fit under the fenders.
Sike. Wishful thinking. It actually worked perfectly for the fronts – a simple hub slice and the wheels mounted on nice and flush. The rears are in for a huge overhaul if I want to get the wheels looking even remotely normal though.
Previously on the NSX, I had just cut the spring and shocks, then bent the rest of the suspension assembly upwards to give it a bit of negative camber and tuck the wheels in the fenders. Unfortunately that wouldn’t quite fly here – I’d have to be running nearly horizontal fitment to make these work. So our only remaining option is to just hack the entire rear suspension assembly off.
The concept seemed basic enough – just cut away at the suspension components like the control arms and whatnot until it all fits. Of course it’s not as simple as trimming a single axle though – a lot of these parts that I’m cutting short are oddly shaped and slope in all sorts of ways, with tiny surface areas.
The tiny amount of actual suspension that makes contact with the rest of the chassis means there’s not a lot of surface area for glue to work its magic. It nearly an hour just to get it lined up and stuck on, after which I just kept it in place with a piece of scotch tape and hoped it would stay rigid after it dried.
Needless to say the undercarraige isn’t quite as pretty anymore with that mess of a rear suspension assembly now. I actually ended up cutting and gluing the two areas differently – the driver side assembly has a plastic pole stuck inside in place of the drive axle to help with adhesion. Pieces of pla-plate were then glued on to keep it together – yes it’s not pretty, but it was just meant to be functional and hold it all together since the assembly is pretty precarious at this point.
Jesus, it’s definitely going to rub with that fitment.
No masking stickers here, not back in ’89 – so we get to paint the black trim on all the clear pieces in by hand.
Chassis completely done, just needs the body shell and it should be good to go.
Except just as I was about to put the whole thing together, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten about one rather crucial piece of the body – where was the hood?
The grave and very frightening realization dawned on me that I hadn’t even seen the bloody thing during my entire build – I checked my camera and confirmed that it did indeed come with the kit on the clear runner – but I didn’t have any pictures of it after that. I didn’t even remember if I had cut it out and painted it – it was no where to be found when I actually started looking for it.
After going through every trash can in the house and turning over my entire bedroom I had declared it MIA. I was dumbfounded how I could lose such a giant part, though I have to concede it probably made it more difficult in that it was completely clear plastic.
As such, even though the 300zx actually has an engine, I’m not about to go without a hood. Thankfully I had a perfectly fine spare from my R32 GT-R.
Hoods may look simple to make out of pla-plate at a glance, but it takes some shaping to get the body lines to curve properly, since they’re not just completely flat boards. The R32 GT-R hood was just scrap anyway so I figured I might as well modify that to make it fit rather than attempt to make a whole new one out of scratch.
Right out of the gate it had to be trimmed down significantly and widened a bit. A thin strip of pla-plate was added to one side to make it just a millimeter wider; putty filled in the seams.
It’s not perfect, but for a hackjob hood from another car it looks like it fits pretty well. I don’t believe the original 300zx had as prominent of a center bulge, but in this case it actually works with the car.
Still not quite satisfied with how flat it sits. I tried remedying this by bending and flexing the hood a little to see if I could mold its shape to be a bit more curved. It broke straight down the middle.
So in my haste, I painted it anyway, hoping the crack wouldn’t be visible under thick gobs of paint. Clearly not so. At one point I even considered leaving it like that and attempted to console myself with the reasoning that the crack was basically dead-center, and could totally pass as an intentional panel line on the hood. It didn’t work.
Stripped, puttied, and repainted. Now I screwed up with the paint being too thick – it’s very noticable in that the hood’s lines look more bubbly than they are crisp.
The bubbly thickness doesn’t quite match the paint on the rest of the car, and to make matters worse it somehow fits even worse now.
Strip it again! Break it in half again!
Getting the surface level with putty is actually a lot harder than I originally expected. The putty creates subtle ridges and mountains that I can’t really pick out until a thin coat of primer is applied to bring out the imperfections, which means a lot of waiting time for things like the putty and paint to dry.
It’s still not working, although I’ve successfully erased the center seam at this point. It doesn’t fit, and no matter what I seem to do, the paint doesn’t match the rest of the car. The hood is just perpetually lighter for some reason, even though I’m using the exact same can of gunmetal.
As such, I’ve given up and become desperate. I’ve never gotten desperate enough to buy another whole duplicate kit just to replace one missing part, but there’s a first time for everything. I could only justify this because the kit is so cheap – a brand new one off eBay was about $10 after shipping.
I feel bad that I’m literally using the second kit for one piece, as I don’t plan to build another 300zx, but the pill is easier to swallow when I consider how old and how cheap the kit is.
Seeing it fit so perfectly compared to my aftermarket hack job made it all worth it.
In a dramatic twist of sadistic irony, I found the original clear hood a week later under my bed. I had checked there before and it was nowhere to be found – I’m convinced it became sentient and has been trolling me this whole time. So now I have a complete second 300zx kit, though I’m unable to return it to the original seller because it’s been opened. Life has funny ways of breaking your balls sometimes.
A pretty easy build to be sure, but a welcome one.
I super regret not going the extra mile and tinting the rear windshield, side windows, and especially that clear T-Top.
I love the interior and think it turned out really clean, so I’m glad all the work is in full display, but something about the fish bowl look just doesn’t do it for me. There’s too much clear. I think in most cars it wouldn’t be as bad, but the high-contrast blue interior makes it pop a little more than it should.
It’s a miracle I got these wheels working – though I think they fit the personality of the car quite well so I’m glad I used them.
I think I should’ve primed the body black or a dark gray before spraying the gunmetal – the dark metallic paint on top of a white body means the edges really stand out after everything’s said and done. The door seams all have a little less paint on them due to the thin layers, so we get a bit of an ugly highlight effect going on.
I do really like the rear end. Those exhaust tips turned out better than I hoped.
I actually messed up the first time I took this photoshoot and noticed that I applied the 300zx decal upside down, so it read 300sx. Threw me for a loop since I thought I had built a weird skew of the car called the sx for a moment.
I noticed when I first checked out the body shell that it seems to have a trunk lid spoiler already integrated into the body. I’m not sure if this is standard as part of the body lines or a dealer add-on, but I liked its subtly enough not to shave it and tack a giant wang on. Keeps the car clean and also earns its distinction as the only car I’ve built without a wing so far.
The front grille is really an oddity – I didn’t know the car well enough to know what to do with it. There’s no mesh in those thin front bumper openings, and behind them is a little rectangle that juts up from the chassis that I assume is supposed to be an intercooler?
The manual called for it to be painted purple, though I opted for silver to make it less weird. Still, it’s a strange little detail and I’m not quite totally sure what it’s actually supposed to be on the car.
I really like the motor – it’s simplified a bit from the real thing so the bay doesn’t look quite as cramped as the 300zx is so renowned for. Props to Tamiya for achieving this kind of detail way back in the day.
The undercarriage looks better than I expected it to, what with the hacking apart of the rear suspension and the not-properly-fitted rear tires.
I wanted to build this car to the stereotype of an older street car, with just the basic modifications most owners would go with first – wheels, lowering suspension, race interior, and exhaust. I think the gunmetal tied that look together quite well too – it works well with the 300zx’s more dated design. There’s a little too much sparkly metallic in that hue for my liking and not enough of the deep gloss look that I’m so used to seeing with today’s cars, but if I had to use it on any car I think this ended up as the perfect candidate.