Whether you love or hate the 350Z, there is no denying that it’s becoming one of the most popular tuner cars on the second-hand market. You can pick up a Z33 for super cheap and with some simple modifications, build a car that easily competes with much newer sports cars. Of course, there is a massive aftermarket for the 350Z and deciding what mods to install first can be a daunting task. To help you determine what modifications are best for you, we created this short list of the best bang-for-buck modifications for your Z.
#5 Plenum Spacer
Most vehicles use a one or two piece intake manifold which makes the manufacturing process more straightforward and aid in assembly. Most of the time, the manufacturer gets the design perfect and other than mild polishing there is no benefit to modifying the intake manifold. Unfortunately, the 350Z is not one of these vehicles. On the VQ35DE (not HR) the intake manifold does not evenly distribute air to each cylinder. The culprit of the air distribution problem is the size and design of the intake plenum. This airflow problem is where plenum spacers come into play.
On the 350Z, the plenum is split into two pieces: an upper and a lower. A plenum spacer is just a metal spacer with the shape of the plenum. By spacing the upper and lower parts of the plenum further apart, you increase the volume of the plenum which solves the air distribution problem. It’s a weird problem to have, but all VQ35DE engines suffer from it. By the time they introduced the VQ35HR, Nissan knew of the problem and fixed it with the new HR engine. Most times, you’ll see 15+ horsepower from adding a plenum spacer to your 350Z. Considering how cheap plenum spacers are, it’s genuinely the best bang-for-buck modification for any DE powered 350Z.
As you probably know, an aftermarket exhaust is a popular modification for basically any car on the road. The idea behind an aftermarket exhaust is to increase flow with larger piping and also increase sound. Like any modern car, Nissan had to make sure the 350Z met emissions and noise standards. There are a lot of great aftermarket exhausts on the market, but of the best-selling and best sounding 350Z exhausts comes from Agency Power. They construct their single exit exhaust from high-quality T304 stainless steel and use a burnt titanium canister for an awesome look.
Headers are used to route the exhaust gases from the heads to the main system. Nissan did a decent job with the OEM header, but they used a cast design which offers limited flow on top of being very heavy. With improved flow, power is increased and your VQ will ultimately run better.
Another popular modification you’ll find on almost any car, especially a JDM tuner car is the suspension. Nissan designed the 350Z as a sports car, but that doesn’t mean they could give it stiff and precise handling characteristics. The 350Z had to appeal to a wide range of potential buyers, which meant the ride had to be compliant, resulting in less-than-ideal handling. Luckily, there are tons of aftermarket upgrades for literally every component of the 350Z’s suspension.
A cheap way to give your Z33 the look you want is with lowering springs. Theoretically lowering springs should also improve handling by lowering the center of gravity and increasing the spring rate, but often the OEM dampers can’t keep up with the increased spring rates, negating any benefits. Lowering springs are cheap and get the job done, but if you want the best performance possible, coilovers are the way to go.
Coilovers replace the entire OEM strut with a spring and damper combo designed to work in unison. There are a lot of aftermarket choices, and some are better than others. Some coilovers offer damping and height adjustment, while others provide just height adjustment. Some coilovers are designed for track use, and some are designed for street use. The best way to figure out what coilovers are best for your driving style is to speak with a performance specialist, such as our team at Vivid Racing.
The third option for your suspension is an air ride system. Air ride used to be a negative in terms of performance, but modern air suspension systems can be found on some of the fastest Global Time Attack cars. Air suspension gives you the ability to change the height of your 350Z on the fly.
Aside from lowering springs, coilovers, or air suspension, upgrading your sway bars and suspension arms is also a good idea. With upgraded sway bars you can reduce body roll without using a higher spring rate, meaning you can retain a more compliant ride without sacrificing handling. Upgrading your suspension arms is also a good idea, as it’s an easy way to shed unsprung weight and increase adjustabilities such as the camber, Ackerman, caster, and more.
An aftermarket set of wheels is one of the easiest ways to make your 350Z stand apart from all the other Zs on the road. Choosing your wheels is mostly subjective. Some wheels are stronger than others, and some are lighter than others, but most wheel shopping comes down to the design of the wheel. For most 350Zs, a 17”, 18” or 19” wheel is the way to go. A good fitment to start with is 9.5” +12mm in the front and 10.5” +22mm in the rear. This fitment is aggressive and will require some mild fender rolling, but it will give you a flush look.
#1 Brakes and Tires
One of the most overlooked modifications for the 350Z is what holds the vehicle to the road: the tires. It’s common to see a 350Z lowered with a set of coilovers with a set of super cheap tires, completely negating the performance benefits of the coilovers. A set of sticky tires will improve 0-60, cornering grip, high-speed stability, and braking distance. Performance tires are arguably the best modification for any 350Z.
Another overlooked modification is the braking system. They design the OEM brakes to last a long time, be quiet, and put out a tiny amount of dust. The result is terrible braking performance. On the track, the stock brakes will quickly fade, and on the street, they don’t provide the bite you need to run a canyon road hard. A full big-brake kit is the best option for a brake upgrade, but it’s out of the budget for many 350Z owners. A simple rotor, pad, and fluid upgrade is still a massive improvement over stock.