A Car that Simply Wouldn’t be Ignored
Even though it compared favourably against anything the Europeans were churning out at the time save perhaps for Lamborghini and Ferrari, the people at Datsun were somewhat reluctant to call the 240Z a ‘sports car’. To them, it was a ‘personal GT car’ even thought the young upwardly-mobile Americans buying it wanted a cheap, well-built sports car.
History of the Datsun 240Z
The Datsun 240Z – aka the Nissan S30 or even the creatively-monikered Nissan Fairlady Z for the Japanese market – was produced between 1969 and 1974 as a ‘halo’ car. Essentially, this means it was meant to be the best car in a company’s range or even a high performance, high spec version of a standard model (think entry-level Fiesta vs. the XR2). The aim was to increase the image and appeal of Nissan over and above a manufacturer of non-descript 70s versions of today’s eurobox clones.
Designed in Nissan’s Sports Car Styling Studio by a team led by Yoshihiko Matsuo (with some motoring journalists at the time suggesting it gave a subtle nod to the E-Type or the Ferrari GTO), it wasn’t Japan’s first sports car. It wasn’t even Nissan’s but it was the very first sports car from south-east Asia to make the international market sit up and notice what was happening on the other side of the Pacific.
Maybe they didn’t want it to be called a sports car because it was as comfortable cruising in the countryside as it was on a 3,000-mile cross-country journey as it was pootling around town. But you just have to look at it to know the truth.
It offered similar performance numbers to the available Porsche offering, and styling that rivalled Jaguar’s for a small percentage of the cost of its European cousins. For these reasons and more, when it arrived in America in the autumn of 1969 priced at $3,526 and in the UK a year later at a shade over £2,000, it sold in big numbers.
The Volvo 1800E was $4,500, the Corvette was just over $5,000 and the E-Type was nearly a grand more so even with a few additional bells and whistles, the 240Z represented excellent value for money. This was a car that looked like it should have cost a lot more and that made it a very exciting prospect for customers.
The 240Z was launched with a 2.4-litre in-line six cylinder SOHC engine as well as independent suspension, front brake discs and rear brake drums and in the UK it rivalled the Ford Capri and the new MGB GT. While it didn’t sell as strongly in the UK as it did elsewhere, most notably the US, it brought sports car customers into Nissan dealerships for the first time and, as a business model, it was a resounding success for what came after.
Each new version of the 240Z brought with it minor improvements including adhering to federally-mandated emission standards which affected performance. That notwithstanding, the 240Z was great to drive. The old-school thin wood-effect steering wheel, the ‘70s cool’ wing mirrors mounted halfway down the beautiful lines of the sloping bonnet and Nissan’s legendary pathological commitment to reliability, the throaty roar of the 2.4-litre engine reminiscent of the Austin Healy 3000 breathed international life into Nissan from which they have never looked back.