Followers of interpretive form believe this car could stand alone beneath any design center spotlight with its best mood set by the cry of a shakuhachi flute. They speak a beholder's beauty of French curves, a shape that is part mako shark with a glimpse of Bugatti's flair for increasing the radii of window arches . . . and the whole sculpted to the dictates of onrushing wind.

Those heavier of foot than thought have considered performance before poise and yearned for long-ago weekends at airfield race tracks. They see the 1990 Nissan 300ZX as a street sports car that would have sucked the tape off the headlights of production Corvettes and Cobras.

So much for the ultraists.

Between their extremes, the 300ZX should appeal only to motorists interested in the most eye-catching, hair-straightening, curve-loving, systems-balanced sports car since the first Porsche 911 and the next Ferrari.

It also is the car that will silence snores for those earlier, porkier 300ZXsthat inherited only the numerology of the line, never the nimble flair set by the Datsun (as Nissan then was) 240Z.

That was 20 years and 1 million Zs ago. The 240Z was both breakthrough and ananomaly: a sports car that was not a drafty, noisy, lumbar paralyzer. The 260Z was its 1974 refinement into headier horsepower and it too became a star of road, track and Kelley Blue Book.

Then the 280ZX arrived four years later--and with it a gradual descent into 2x2 configurations, luxury car digitals, a suspension by Winchell Donut and shriveling of the performance-handling gene into the 1984 300ZX. It was a sports car only to those who consider mud wrestlers to be athletes. It was a two-place Lincoln Continental. As Phil Berg noted in AutoWeek: "It is the car you get stuck with after you lose the Porsche in a divorce settlement."

At Nissan, fortunately, the bowdlerizing of the Z did not escape notice. A better attention-grabber was a 65% slump in 1984-88 Z sales. So a decision was made, an edict came down and a three-year ideal formed among company engineers: To recraft the 300ZX into the world's best sports car.

Compared to upscale Porsches and any level of Ferrari, that end has not been attained. But the 300ZX is going to kill Lotus, Alfa-Romeo, Mazda and the Chevrolet Corvette.

Compared to any other Formula Freeway vehicle costing $27,500, Nissan is indeed the world's best two-seater and an exemplar that could stand until Rolls-Royce starts offering cash rebates.

Visually, the 300ZX clearly is a creature of the '90s.

If, this way, it looks like a shadow of something else, and, that way, it shows a piece of another, it's because there's a limit to the optimums obtained from wind tunnels and supercomputers these days. Or how many times can you design the egg?

Yet remarkable, even for today, is that the car has been whelped with no stick-ons to break the slippery silhouette. No rear deck airfoil. No fender flares. No scoops to suck air nor spoilers to rearrange it because some stylist argued with an engineer.

And may St. Bertone bless the man who gave the 300ZX flush headlights instead of pop-ups best suited to gargoyles and bullfrogs.

Here, simply, are the flawless lines of a tight, single unit; a perfect shell built by a team in absolute agreement that the shape must enhance and maximize the workings beneath.

Expressed Admiration

The penultimate appreciation: On the northbound Harbor Freeway, a Mercedes 500SEL with two white-shirted CEO-types inside waddled alongside our review 300ZX of rich Dubonnet maroon. They expressed their admiration for the car by acting like office boys--mouthing awrights and pumping thumbs up.

The ultimate accolade: Downtown, at a stoplight at 6th and Hill streets, a trio of Japanese tourists fell over the curb, JAL tote bags and their own feet. They wanted to fly home wi h snapshots of this car, their car that has yet to go on sale in Japan.

But once this adulation is done, once exposure has softened the radical to normal and there are 17,000 300ZXs on the streets of Los Angeles, what then for buyers of this car?

They will continue to impress and be impressed by a sports car that is engineered to go fast and to behave impeccably while doing it.

Credit at least a little of this to whatever Nissan traditionalist (probably the same individual who doesn't like Barney Google headlights) who remembered what many manufacturers would have us forget--that an old-fashioned, longitudinally mounted engine up front, with prehistoric rear wheeldrive is a motoring basic. Put another way: If God had wanted us to have front-wheel drive, he would have put our feet on backward.

The engine in the 300ZX is what has become a given of today's performance machine, a 24-valve V6 producing 222 spunky horsepower. Disc brakes, of course. An anti-lock brake system, naturally. And some industrial strength wheels and tires; low profile, speed-rated Michelins on 16-inch wheels that look like they were liberated from the Porsche 959 super car.

String of Innovations

The soul of this machine, however, is its chassis and a string of innovations that, once proven by time and thrashings of the customers, could be bolted on everything but Greyhound buses by 1995.

The 300ZX--shorter than its predecessor, but with a longer wheelbase for less overhang--sits on a four-wheel, independent, multilink suspension system. Translation: it disciplines the wheels; taming those braking, steering and acceleration forces that cause wheels to change their geometry, thus reducing optimum adhesion and control.

It has speed-sensitive power steering. Translation: The slower the speed, the lighter the steering, and vice versa.

Power (through a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual) is managed through a viscous, limited slip differential. Translation: The system "reads" the surface of the road, automatically apportioning power to the rear wheel with the better bite.

Magazine praise for the 300ZX--from London-based Car to Newport Beach-based Road & Track--has been gushing.

But some serious gaffes have been ignored.

Sure, the 300ZX is an out-and-out, gird-your-gears, no-daughter-of-mine-type sports car. But its wizened trunk space won't handle much more than a tennis bag, a two-suiter and a pre-shrunk Chihuahua.

Don't plan on removing the T-top unless you live in a humorless neighborhood. It ruptures the design line. It makes the 300ZX look like a Boeing 737 with a decompression hole in its roof. It also explains why Nissan's publicity stills do not show the car topless.

Dedication to the purity of design--and the creation of an internal pillar to handle mounting of shoulder straps--has created another problem: enormous port and s tarboard blind spots.

And, incredibly, there is no catch to break the seat-backs forward for those of us who like to store our videotapes in the seat well.

Quite Acceptable

Yet the best of this car is so rich that the worst of it is quite acceptable. One look at the car's interior--twin pods to snuggle driver and rider, controls clustered beneath all fingertips, everything else easy to reach--should do it. One ride will make the 300ZX essential to your psyche.

The car starts with a grumble and a growl proving its four exhaust pipes are far from cosmetic. It doesn't simply pull away from the curb. It goes hunting.

It is quick from 0 to 60--about two seconds quicker, in fact, than the Porsche 944.

It has a top speed requiring a fuel cutoff should any owner get a bad case of the hastes--faster, in fact, than a Ferrari 328GTS that costs about $50,000 more.

But to dwell on speed for more than a glimpse is to take away fro the handling, control, balance and honest rapport of this car. In each category, the 300ZX simply is the finest car on the road today.

And there, of course, is the gravy from that multilink suspension, viscous limited-slip differential and speed-sensitive steering that seemed so complicated a dozen paragraphs ago.

Roll across ruts or lumps and this car sops them up with neither skip or kick through the steering. Turning in at 30 m.p.h. takes the same pressure as a quick lane change at 70 m.p.h. because the steering mechanicals are more sensitive than us.

Gone is that dreadful, front-end lightness under load of so many of today's sportier vehicles. Back is a comfortable tendency to gentle oversteer and that gives you a fortnight's warning.

The car is taut and solid and devoid of body roll. It seems to wear a tire patch (the area of tire contacting the road surface) as big as a bath towel. The net result is a 1990 muscle car that turns in, drives through and powers out of corners like it is riding on Garfield's suction cup paws.

The 300ZX goes on sale this month. A 2+2 version will be offered this summer. A Turbo 300ZX will be along in October.

The car will be a success.

We could also become victims of that success.

For when everyone has a 300ZX, when all novelty is diluted, how does one remain different?

Said a Nissan spokesman: "You go out and buy the turbo version."

1990 Nissan 300ZX

The Good Engineering innovations without gimmicks. Superb handling and road manners at any speed. Thoroughbred good looks.

The Bad Trunk space for overnight cases and light packers. Blind spots. No seat-back release.

The Ugly Remove T-top, close eyes.

Cost $27,500 (manufacturer's estimate).

Engine 3.0 liter, 24-valve V6, double overhead cams, developing 222 horsepower.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 6.7 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's figure, 150 m.p.h. Fuel economy, city 20 m.p.g., highway 30 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,200 pounds