Nissan Motor Co. U.S.A. said yesterday that it is recalling 180,531 1979- through 1987-model 280ZX and 300ZX sports cars with automatic transmissions because of reports of unintended acceleration. The Japanese car maker said it will install a device to prevent the car from shifting into gear unless the brake pedal is applied.

The device, called a shift interlock system, is similar to the units German car maker Audi is installing on nearly 250,000 1978-1986 Audi 5000s. Audi's action came after the U.S. government forced it to recall the vehicles after reports of accidents, injuries and deaths resulting from unintended acceleration.

A Nissan spokesman said his company is aware of about 180 incidents involving runaway acceleration of 280ZX and 300ZX cars, but he said he had no information on how many accidents or injuries resulted. However, a spokesman for the Center for Auto Safety, a private consumer group in Washington, said that about 50 injuries and five deaths have been caused by the condition and that Nissan is using a "failed fix" to try to remedy the problem.

"Nissan . . . is trying to play Audi's game of blaming its 1-in-650 accident rate on defective drivers," said Dan Howell of the center.

Howell said Nissan should find the problem with the cars or buy them back. "The shift lock is already a failed fix," he said, alleging that more than 50 accidents have occurred in Audis equipped with the devices.