Datsun 240Z History
Article by Mark Trotta
With 0-60 MPH acceleration in about eight seconds and a top speed of 120 mph, the 1970 Datsun 240Z became an instant hit with budget-minded sports car enthusiasts. A few short years later, the basic frame and body would serve as the platform for the 260Z and 280Z models. The success of the Datsun Z-cars helped pave the way for many other Japanese-built sports cars.
Datsun is an automobile brand owned by Nissan Motors of Japan. Nissan introduced the first Datsun to the American market in 1958, in which it sold 123 cars. From 1958 to 1986, vehicles exported by Nissan were identified as Datsun.
Nissan's first sports car, the Datsun Fairlady 1500, was introduced in 1961. The Fairlady 1500 evolved into the Datsun 1600 Sports, which became the Datsun 2000 Roadster. In 1967, the company introduced the 510, a sporty little sedan.
Back in 1965, Yutaka Katayama, President of Nissan Motors of USA, began working with designers, stylists and engineers on a new sports car project. Dubbed internally the S30, it was to be a two-seat fastback with a rear hatch, which Katayama cited would be "easier to get into the market" than a roadster.
The body of the S30 was all new, a design spearheaded by Yoshihiko Matsuo. Wheelbase was 90.7" with an overall length of 161.3". Running prototypes were completed by 1968 and early 1969.
The S30 had four-wheel independent suspension with struts front and rear. Braking was disc up front and drums in back. To keep production costs low, many components were sourced from other Nissans. Much of the S30 was based on the 510 sedan.
First offered in Japan in October 1969, the S30 was marketed as the Nissan Fairlady Z. The engine for the Japanese market was 2.0 litres, to comply with Japan's lower tax rates for smaller engines. The inline-6 produced 130 horsepower.
Yutaka Katayama is credited with giving the 240Z it's name, which Nissan had intended only as a working model number. Mr. K, as he is referred to, convinced management to establish a U.S. division and introduce the new sports car to America. He also made sure that 6-foot-tall Americans could fit in the car.
Datsun 240Z (U.S. Model)
Released in America late in 1969, the U.S. 240Z featured a 2.4 litre engine. The inline-6 was equipped with twin Hitachi variable-venturi side-draft carburetors, and produced 151 horsepower. A traditional single overhead cam, two valves per cylinder format was used. Although the U.S. Datsun 2000 had a 5-speed, the American 240Z came with a 4-speed manual.
Read: Best Oil For Classic Cars
Series I vs Series II
The 1970 through the mid-1971 Datsun 240Z are referred to as Series I. These early cars had small but noticeable differences from later models. One visual difference is that on early cars, there was a chrome "240Z" badge on the roof pillar. In mid-1971, Series II cars had only the letter "Z" placed on the roof pillar emblem.
Another difference between early and late 240Zs were the early models had two horizontal vents in the rear hatch below the glass molding, which provided flow-through ventilation. On the Series II models, these vents were moved from the hatch to the c-pillars.
East African Rally
Running through several nations on the African continent, the East African Safari Rally is one of the world's most grueling sports car events. The stages of the rally span a five-day period at average speeds of over 60 MPH.
In its first entry in the 1971 East African Safari Rally, the Datsun 240Z won in four categories; overall victory, class victory, team victory and Manufactures Championship. The 240Z also won overall victory for a second time in 1973.
The 260Z was released in 1974, featuring an increased engine displacement with a longer stroke, making 2.6 litres. This model was sold in the United States for the 1974 model year only, but was available in other countries until 1978.
Read: Sports Car History
The 260Z featured a redesigned dashboard and console, new seat trim, and new door panels. Other improvements included a switch from points-type ignition to electronic ignition. Additional stiffness in the chassis was provided by a chassis redesign. A rear sway bar was added as well.
Like the 240Z, the 260Z had a four-speed manual as standard equipment, with a three-speed automatic transmission optional. An available 2+2 model with a slightly longer wheelbase was offered mid-year.
260Z models sold in the U.S were equipped with large five-mph safety bumpers, that would become standard on the future 280Z. The additional weight affected handling, and power steering became a more popular option.
Datsun Z-car Production Stats
With performance close to the Porsche 911 at about half the price, the Datsun 240Z sold very well. Over 45,000 240Z's were sold through the 1971 model year, with 50,000 sold in 1972 and 40,000 sold in 1973. Including the 260Z and 280Z, nearly one million Z models were sold in a decade.
The 1970-1973 models are most desirable, since they were less affected by U.S. emissions regulations, and are the quickest in stock trim. Early models also handled more sharply, without the weight of the five-mph bumpers.
The Datsun 240Z helped pave the way for other Japanese sports cars, like the Mazda RX7. If you're looking to restore an early Datsun Z-car, be forewarned that most Japanese cars from that era were rust-prone. However, interest has brought about good parts availability for the 240Z and 260Z. They are practical and reliable classic sports cars that are fun to own and enjoy.