The Fairlady Z432R Is the Most Valuable Z in the World (2023)

“I like driving. A car is useless if it doesn't move. By riding, the 432R is pleased.”

With these simple words, accompanied by an apology for his limited English, Akira Takeuchi reveals himself to be the sort of caretaker you'd want for a priceless artifact of automotive heritage. Nothing is lost in the translation. Takeuchi-san is not a collector. He is a driver. He puts his car into the world, and the world is better for it.

His car is a Fairlady Z432R. Z you already know. The 432 means four valves per cylinder, three carburetors, and dual camshafts, the S20 straight-six heart found in the race-dominating original Skyline GT-Rs. The R means that this is Nissan's most hardcore homologation special, built to satisfy the requirements in the Japan Automobile Federation's GT Prototype class. Essentially, this is Japan's version of the original 1967 Porsche 911 R.

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A normal Z432 in exceptional condition might fetch as much as $200,000 at auction, in line with values for a 1960s Mazda Cosmo. Z432Rs hardly ever come up for sale, but last year one sold at auction in Tokyo for 88.55 million Japanese Yen. That's $800,000 U.S. In terms of Japanese collector cars, there's the Toyota 2000GT, there's the Z432R, and then there's everything else.

The price is only one aspect of value. Takeuchi-san's 918 Orange Z432R is one of the most famous cars in Japan because he is so unselfish with it. He shows up at classic car events all over the islands. He gives people rides in it. Every year, he drives it between 4000 and 6000 miles, and has been doing so for the past forty years.

Nissan produced just over 400 Z432s. How many Z432Rs were made is a matter of some contention, as many were used as racing machines by both factory works and privateer teams, and thus never registered. Nineteen road cars are known to have existed, with total Z432R production thought to be less than fifty cars, including racing machines. The cost to purchase an ordinary 432 was roughly double that of a normal Z car, but the Z432R cost slightly less. Adjusted for inflation, a Z432R would set you back the equivalent of $60,000 today.

What you got for your money was a machine with purity of function. Like the 2000GT, the Z432R was handmade, but where the curvaceous Toyota is an object of beauty, the Z432R is a tool of focused performance. Put it this way: during the long peace of the Edo period, ruling samurai elites carried masterfully crafted katana as ornaments of their position and wealth. Their constantly warring ancestors owned swords that were far more plain, but very, very sharp. The Z432R is the latter.

Sections of the bodywork were stamped out of thinner-gauge steel, and all the glass apart from the windshield was replaced with acrylic. There were no creature comforts, no heater, no radio, no clock, no glovebox, and no sound-deadening. All the stainless-steel garnish was missing from the windows, not so much a decision to remove weight as about only adding the essentials. Some road-car owners optioned heaters just to clear the front window on a wet day, but the R was as bare-bones as it gets.

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Everything was optimized for racing. The rear spare wheelwell was deleted to make room for a 100L endurance racing fuel tank. The ignition key was relocated to behind the gearshift, making it easier for a driver to reach while strapped into the standard four-point racing harness. The R was delivered without an intake airbox assembly to save weight and without a brake booster to improve pedal feel. Curb weight on a Z432R is a feathery 1885 lbs.

Steel wheels were fitted as standard, with the factory-supported racing teams fitting 14-inch Kobe Siebo Rally magnesium wheels. Privateer teams used a host of lightweight or wider options, with some eventually cramming ten-inch-wide wheels under overfenders. Some R road car owners optioned the standard 432 wheels which Takeuchi's car wears.

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Under the hood was the aforementioned S20, a 2.0-liter inline-six producing just shy of 160 hp in factory tune, the same as the more common Z432. This was the engine (and transmission) out of the four-doored PGC10 GT-R, which was already cementing the GT-R's legend in touring car racing. The two-door Skyline coupe didn't come out until after the Z432R, and this created a Z vs. GT-R rivalry, which we’ll explore later.

First, it's worth pointing out that both the Z432 and Z432R weren't just Zs with a Skyline engine stuffed under the hood, but probably closer to the original intent of the Z-car. Original 1967 clay models for the Z project were built around the S20, and the hood had to be stretched to fit the L-series engines that powered most production Zs. Both the U.S.-market 2.4-liter, and even the 240Z badge, came later.

The S20 straight-six had come under Nissan's umbrella as part of their acquisition of the Prince motor company and their Skyline sedans. Former Prince employees were perhaps not enthused about giving the Nissan Z teams equal support in development. Far from it: the svelte Z432R was obviously prettier than the hakosuka Skyline, and Prince's team jealously considered the S20 “their” engine. The Oppama (Nissan) works team was as much as a year behind in being supplied race-tuned solutions such as mechanical fuel injection.

Still, the Z432R won. It was first victorious in April of 1970, at the Race de Nippon, and also at the subsequent All Japan Suzuka 1000 km race in May. These were convincing wins, beating the likes of the mid-engined Porsche 906.

Had the racing Z432Rs been able to access the same level of engine development as the PCG10 and KPCG10 Skyline GT-Rs, they might have been even more dominant. The proof, perhaps, is in the Z's early rallying wins. Before 1972, Nissan's works rally Z cars were actually lightweight Z432 bodies fitted with L24 engines. The move was slightly underhanded, but the team got away with it, winning the 1971 East Africa rally outright.

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Despite hiding its light under a bushel, the R is still a hero car in Japan. A few years ago, I met Takeuchi and a few of his fellow S30 Z-car club members at Daikoku Parking Area in Yokohama. Takeuchi's Z432R was very subtly different from the U.S.-market Datsun 240Z it was parked next to. This is likely why the Z432R, despite its rarity, doesn't quite yet fetch the same prices as the more-common 2000GT does: you have to know what you're looking for to spot a real one: the ignition key placement, the lack of a center console.

On that day, a surprising number of onlookers clocked the real deal. Many drivers came over to admire the R, respectfully asking questions and being encouraged to look closer by a beaming Takeuchi. He opened the hood, showing off the gleaming intake trumpets of the triple Mikuni carburetors.

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Perhaps the people gathered there had seen the car on the cover of Nostalgic Hero magazine. Perhaps they had seen it at Daikoku before. Perhaps they were seeing a Z432R for the first time.

Whatever the case, each person walked away from the experience with a new appreciation for one of the rarest examples of Japanese racing heritage. An auction house might be able to assign some kind of value to Takeuchi's Z432R. The way he chooses to share it is priceless.

The Fairlady Z432R Is the Most Valuable Z in the World (7)

Brendan McAleer

Contributing Editor

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.

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