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  2004 Nissan 350Z Touring Roadster

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"Adventure is inconvenience properly perceived." — Llewellyn Thomas
"Places to go, things to do, Porsches to pass..." — 350Z showroom banner
"Think of it as a high-performance park bench with a mechanical beauty far exceeding any external good looks." — the author

350ZR» Break-out!

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Break-in: Temptation more or less resisted

Break-out: Temptation embraced

Observations, old and new

Last revised on 06/04/2005 at 21 months and 15,400 miles from purchase.

Break-in: Temptation more or less resisted

Watch that tach!

For the first 1,200 miles, the ^350Z owner's manual strongly recommends varied engine speeds under 4,000 rpm, and strongly discourages full throttle accelerations at any speed. Nissan also advises against towing trailers.

The break-in period seemed like an endless string of temptations, but that trailer bit was the hardest to swallow. From the moment we drove off the lot, I'd been itching to terrorize the local RV parks with a show of top-down precision donuts performed with a 33-foot 5th-wheel in tow, but I somehow resisted the urge. In fact, aside from a few significant indiscretions during our shake-down cruise at ~300 miles (which hopefully helped to seat the piston rings =8^o), we pretty much took the break-in rules to heart — right up until 1,152 miles, that is...

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Break-out: Temptation embraced

At Roxborough

About a month after purchase, the roadster and I happened to find ourselves just west of Denver near Bear Creek Road (Hwy 74) with another drop-dead gorgeous Colorado fall day under way. Not that I'd been watching, but the odometer had 1,152 miles showing, and I had just under 2 hours to kill before picking up my son at school. Coincidence, or just good subconscious planning? Only the reptilian part of my brain knows for sure.

On the map, Bear Creek Road is a tightly-wound squiggle running 10 miles up into the Front Range from Morrison (of dinosaur quarry fame) to Evergreen (of recent sit-com fame). In the flesh, it's a spectacular 3D piece of mountain asphalt — as good as any I've seen. Taking stock of the situation, I summarily declared the break-in complete and kicked off the roadster's official break-out period right then and there. I'd have just enough time for one run up to Evergreen and back, a sprint back to Denver, and a quick lunch somewhere in between.

It'd be hard to imagine a better place for the roadster to lose its innocence, and that it did.

Traffic held up the fun in places (this stretch of Hwy 74 offers few safe passing opportunities, and of course, the slow drivers never think to use the turn-outs), but I managed to get in several gratifying mile-long dashes, especially on the way up. As many reviewers have noted, the 350Z readily lends itself to spirited driving, with a much shorter learning curve than comps like the Corvette Z06, the BMW M3 and the Porsche 911 demand. Pushing the car hard felt very comfortable after the first few curves. At 4,800 rpm, the torque is near-religious, and the steering, handling and braking are all precise and confident. If ever there was a day for the original-equipment summer gumball tires to shine, this was it, and they did their part well. The engine song had been one of Z's most entertaining qualities during break-in, but I now know that as the engine spins up to redline at 6,600 rpm under load, the music just gets better and better—especially when ping-ponged off sheer canyon walls.

Before heading back down to Morrison, I took on a quick Reuben and fries in Evergreen. Another half-dozen passes up and down the canyon would have been just fine by me, but that 3:00 pick-up was looming. The short but sweet ride down felt as much like skiing as driving. The car flowed effortlessly down the fall line.  

Backside of Red Rocks Amphitheater
View south along Dakota Hogback

Near the bottom of Hwy 74, just above Morrison, I stumbled onto the southwest entrance to ^Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre and turned into the open gate hoping for a scenic shortcut back to I-70. The gamble paid. A slightly bumpy but otherwise well-paved Ship Rocks Road took me north to the amphitheater between imposing 300 million year old red conglomerate flatirons on the east and massive pink and brown 1.7 billion year old Front Range granites and gneisses on the west. (No one knows what went on in Colorado in the 1.4 billion years of earth history missing between these two formations, but it probably had nothing to do with reality TV. Similar red flatirons crop even more spectacularly at Roxborough State Park.)

I'd been too busy having fun on Bear Creek Road to photograph it this time around but managed to squeeze off a few quick snapshots (right) near the amphitheater before heading out the main park road, bound for I-70.

Interstate 70, Hwy 6 and I-25 took me back to Denver and Matt's school. I-70 moved well enough but was too thick with traffic to have any fun with the monster I'd just unleashed. I-25 was its usual Brownian-motion major-construction mess. In between, a relatively uncrowded Hwy 6 provided several opportunities for unencumbered roll-on acceleration tests in the 4,000-6,600 rpm range. At semi-legal freeway speeds, the 350Z's roll-on scoot in 6th gear is rather modest but improves dramatically with a downshift into 5th and becomes instantaneous as the tach jumps into the peak torque band in 4th gear (see the roadster gearing table for details). Torque is good.

Back home with 1,208 miles showing

Matt flopped down into the passenger seat. After some prodding, he drearily reported yet another day of "nothing" at school. "Surely, in 7 hours, you must have done something worth talking about," was my next line in the daily ritual. "Nothing I can remember, Dad. Can we talk about something else?" My move: "Ok, name your topic." Checkmate: "I can't think of anything." And I'm paying nearly half a Z in annual tuition for this?

The odometer hit 1,208 miles (right) as we pulled into the garage at home. The roadster's break-in and first break-out were now dim and fond memories, respectively. Good riddance to the break-in, but I foresee many more break-outs to come. Let's see now, what's on tomorrow's schedule?

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Observations, old and new

Reflecting the West Elk Mountains near Crawford, CO — 22 months and 15,000 miles after purchase

The unleashed roadster exceeded all expectations that day. Some 14,000 miles later, our initial shake-down cruise observations still stand.

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