The cars we loved.
Back during the golden age of wired (the 90’s), Nissan had just launched its premium brand Infiniti in America with just two models. The Q45 sedan got most of the attention (deservedly) while a lone coupe, the M30 seemed to disappoint critics and buyers alike.
It was not that the M30 was a bad car. As a personal-luxury car, it was intended to be comfortable in the mode of a Thunderbird, but with plenty of gadgets in true Japanese tradition. In Japan it was called the Leopard and had steadily evolved since its 1980 debut in there.
The M30 shared its rear wheel drive platform with the Skyline. As such, it could be fitted with many different engines and came in versions that were truly performance cars-in Japan. Nissan quickly readied the Leopard for its new North American brand by simply making a left-hand drive version with some Infiniti badges stamped on it.
To its credit, Nissan left the 2.4 liter engine of the lower end Leopards at home and used the SOHC 3.0 litre V6 from the 300ZX and Maxima (code-named VG). In the M30, the VG had only had only 162 hp. The M30 never progressed to the more powerful 190hp engine that came in the 1992 Maxima.
The M30 was also made to be more luxurious than its Japanese cousins to justify the premium price that Infiniti would be asking for this somewhat large coupe. The M30 was available as a hard top coupe or elegant looking convertible. The topless cars were converted in America by American Sunroof Corporation (ASC). The angular lines of the coupe were softened by the convertibles top up profile. It was the more attractive of the two, but could not lift sales to the point of making a dent in the then growing personal-luxury coupe market.
Like many Japanese cars of the period, the M30 was loaded with technology (for better or worse). In fact, they were so loaded that they came with no options. Dealers of course found new things to add like phones, CD players and “gold packages”. Some technology like a bumper mounted sonar based suspension system had been used in the Nissan Maxima to good effect. The long wheelbase insured a smooth ride, especially when the comfort setting was chosen.
The rear wheel drive setup coupled with a fully independent suspension meant that the M30 could handle well on bumpy roads even if it was a bit slow to get up to speed. The quite comfortable cabin only highlighted the fact that the 3,300lb. M30 was no tidy cramped 300ZX (or Maxima for that matter).
Although the interior featured leather seats, the overall feel of the cabin looked more utilitarian than any Lexus or Acura. In keeping with the blocky exterior, the interior had no shortage of blocky angles. The dashboard resembled those in other Nissans and had little except for the amount of switches and buttons to distinguish it as premium luxury. It did not quite fit with Infiniti’s early concept of Zen luxury in the same way the Q45 did. The interior look more like the inside of a tarted up Sentra, especially when there was no contrasting color to add relief from the sea of basic grays on the dash and door panels.
The interior aside, the lack of power was perhaps the M30’s only true weak spot. Not even a convertible could make up for the deficiency for those who wanted something more than just style. Like Nissan’s own 240SX, the M30 was underpowered for its chassis, but unlike the 240SX, the M30 was heavy and did not offer the same driver involvement. It was far more comfortable in keeping with its luxury designation and closer to Oldsmobiles in ride and roadholding.
Gearhead critics generally were not impressed with the value that the M30 offered, especially when pitted against similar cars like the Ford Thunderbird SC and Acura Legend. When matched to its most direct competitor, the Acura Legend, the M30 was simply outclassed. It also lacked the refinement of the Legend Coupe or the grunt of the Thunderbird. Later luxury coupes like the Lexus SC would wipe the memory of the M30 altogether. The M30 did rank highly on the safety charts, with a driver’s airbag and anti-lock brakes as standard equipment.
The four speed automatic transmission offered no driver involvement and was the only one available. The Leopard’s manual never made it to America. In publications like Consumer Reports, the M30 (as did all early Infiniti) scored rather low for its build quality and reliability, further hampering the fledgling nameplate. By 1992, after few substantial changes, production of the M30 quietly ended due to poor sales, while Lexus new SC was taking off and Acura sales were holding steady.
The M30 had the potential to be a true performance car, being that it shared many components with more storied Nissans. For this reason alone it has developed a small cult following and has been the recipient of all manner of engine transplants in the quest to create a low buck Skyline. It’s assumed that fewer than 12,000 M30s were sold during the three years it was available in America with about half being convertibles. It was Infiniti’s only coupe/convertible until the more capable G35 arrived in 2009.