The First Fairlady Z - Datsun 240Z

When I was a kid, a new car from Japan came to the eyes of young drivers that grabbed our attention. The Datsun 240Z, A small sports car that packed a lot of punch and eye appeal in such a tiny package. Unfortunately named the Fairlady Z in Japan, the 1971 240Z was barely 2,300 pounds, with 151 horsepower and 146 lb-ft from its inline-six engine making it a great performer in its time; it boasted more horsepower than a Porsche 911 of the same year. Coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission and Hitachi carburetors in the earlier models, the smooth six delivered great performance for a fraction of the price of BMW and Porsche. In one fell swoop, Nissan departed from their universal perception of boring economy cars while still utilizing the mindset of giving more for less. So this week in Crown Classic Cars Blog lets take a look at the first Fairlady Z.

It was the first generation of the legendary Z cars – 240Z, 260Z and 280Z – produced between 1969 and 1978. The 240Z itself was built between 1969 and 1973 and included four series.

Although already established in America as makers of economy cars and compact pick-ups, Nissan Motors Ltd of Japan – under the US guise of `Datsun’ to sound less Japanese - knew they needed an ‘image car’ to crack the US market.

In the late 1960s, designers started on a plan for a personal GT car, lifting aspects from other sports cars and putting them together in an affordable package. The E-type Jaguar and Ferrari Daytona were obvious influences.

Although he left before the 240Z project began, Albrecht Graf von Goertz, a German-born design consultant to Nissan in the early 1960’s, implemented modern design techniques during his tenure – including the use of clay models - that enabled the Japanese marque to become a successful performance car producer. He is credited as being indirectly responsible for the success of the 240Z.

The 240Z didn’t just look the part. It was built with performance in mind using four-wheel independent suspension – MacPherson struts in the front and Chapman struts in the rear - and front disc brakes.

It also had quick acceleration, superior handling and a firm sporty ride, comparable to substantially more expensive cars like the Porsche 911.

On October 22 1969, president of Nissan Motors Ltd Yutaka Katayama, introduced the 1970 Series 1 Datsun 240Z to America. Instantly popular, 45,000 units were sold over the first two years - and through to Series IV, a further 50,000 in 1972 and 40,000 in 1973 were snapped up before the release of the 260Z in 1974.

Design and manufacturing changes

From 1969 to 1973 the Datsun 240Z took on several design and manufacturing changes across its four-series run.

Series I had a chrome “240” badge on the B-pillar quarter panel and two vents below the glass molding in the rear hatch. A three speed transmission was introduced in September 1970. By 1971 the vents were gone and the chrome badges were restyled with a white “Z”.

Series II saw several minor changes to things like seat belt latches, sun visors and the tilt mechanism on the front seats. There were also small upgrades to the oil pressure guage and speedometer.

Series III in 1972 got new hubcaps, a new rear end, a redesigned centre console, a new four speed transmission and a seat belt warning buzzer and warning light. Other upgrades included automatic seat belt retractors.

Series IV received dash layout alterations, the headlight buckets changed from fibreglass to steel and intermittent windscreen wipers became standard eqipment.

Racing history

Datsun’s 240Z was very successful in SCCA racing in the 1970’s, notably when it was driven under Peter Brock’s Brock Racing Enterprises – the American, not the Aussie - in 1970 and 1971 by John Morton, John McComb and Dan Parkinson.

From 1970 to 1973 the 240Z also enjoyed success in the International Rally circuit, where it competed in the East African Safari Rally, the Monte Carlo Rally and the Southern Cross Rally, among others.

Drivetrain

Datsun’s 240Z is powered by a 2.4 litre L24 inline six cylinder SOHC engine with twin SU carburettors. It puts out 113kW at 5600rpm and 198Nm at 4400rpm. There is the option of a four or five speed manual transmission and a three speed automatic for cars produced after September 1970. The 240Z will get to a top speed of 201km/h via a 0-100km/h time of eight seconds. Typical fuel consumption is around 11 litres/100km.

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase: 2302.8mm

Length: 4135.1mm

Width: 1628.1mm

Weight: 1068kg

In 1998 - to keep the Z car flame lit - Nissan bought up several 240Z’s, fully restored them and sold them at dealerships for $24,000.

These days

Today the 240Z is fondly remembered as a hugely successful 1970s sports car and one still sort after by enthusiasts looking for an affordable restoration project or - if they can find one in good order - a great looking cheap sports car.

The most common modification for the 240Z is the replacement of the normally aspirated engine with the turbo from the 280ZX due to the relative ease of the swap – it requires no changes to the transmission or mountings.

V8 conversions are also popular due to the unusually large engine bay. And — not surprisingly — many clubs and forums exist for the iconic Datsun 240Z.

Datsun 260Z & The Super Samari

Few nameplates can strike the sensitive chord of hardcore car enthusiasts. One of them is the Nissan Z-car series of sports cars, which started with the Datsun 240Z. These things are as collectible as dinosaur teeth, especially if we’re talking about a Datsun 260Z Super Samuri like the example featured in the adjacent photographs.

Other than the historical significance and its collectibility, the 260Z Super Samuri is a much more intriguing driver’s car than the model it is based on. The L26 inline-six engine generates 165 PS (165 horsepower) in standard tune, but the Super Samuri benefits from various upgrades. A gas-flowed cylinder head, three Dellorto 48 carburetors, ventilated discs with four-pot brake calipers, and a competition-spec suspension are the most important modifications. After a little bit of racing action in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this highly sought-after sports car was preserved for 25 years until 2010. Spike Anderson, the man who founded Samuri Conversions, confirmed the identity and provenance of the car. Shortly after its unearthing in 2010, the owner restored the thing down to the smallest nut and bolt at a cost in excess of £27,000 ($38,255, which is almost as much as a Nissan 370Z Sport Tech). The Nissan Z-car has always been regarded as the Japanese take on the Jaguar E-Type. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the Z-car isn’t just a copycat of the famous feline. It is an improvement on the recipe pioneered by Jaguar, which has been improved once more by the Super Samuri treatment. This model is the epitome of what 1970s sports cars are all about. Though dated in some respects, collectors will certainly bid top dollar on this automobile.

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