The Datsun 240Z began its lifespan back in 1966, when a new sports-car design was created by Fumio Yashida's design team at Nissan. It caught the attention of Yutaka Katayama.
"Mr. K" was responsible for Nissan's West Coast operations in the U.S. and he was convinced an affordable GT would sell big in America. Yashida's design was just the thing.
But Katayama insisted on a closed car, not a convertible -- "easier to get into the market" -- and a two-seater only, not a GT. When the new Datsun sports car finally appeared in the fall of 1969, there was no lack of midpriced European competition, but the sports car would offer Porsche performance and Jaguar style at a fraction of the cost. At home it was called the Fairlady Z, but in the U.S., it would be the Datsun 240Z.
Datsun's 240Z was a hit. It started slowly, though before long you couldn't buy a 240Z in the States for the $3,526 list price. But even with the inevitable dealer add-ons and profit taking -- the hallmark of a winner -- buyers recognized a bargain.
A Volvo 1800E listed for about $4,500, a Corvette for around $5,000, and a Jaguar E-type Coupe carried a $5,800 price tag. So this two-seater from Japan, even with $500 of extras, was a good value.
Some said the profile resembled the Jaguar E-type. Others saw some Ferrari GTO here and there. Yet the 240Z was a shape ultimately all its own.
The long hood, more than cosmetic, covered an inline-6. The home-market's engine displaced 2.0 liters but the American-market Z was a 2.4-liter six, a two-cylinder-longer version of the single-overhead-cam four that powered the Datsun 510. With 150 horsepower, the engine pushed the 2,238-pound 240Z through the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds.
Although the Datsun 2000 had a 5-speed, the American Z came with a 4-speed manual. Dubbed internally the S30, the 240Z had fully independent suspension, a breakthrough at the price, with struts front and rear, though there were disc brakes on the front only.
Radial tires were standard, but mounted on steel 14-inch wheels with full-disc, mag-look wheel covers, making the Z easy game for dealer-installed "mandatory option" alloy wheels.
A fastback with a rear hatch, the Z had an optimistic 160-mph speedometer and 8000-rpm tach. Three nacelles in the center dashtop held four supplementary gauges and a clock. Two bucket seats covered in leather-grained vinyl were matched by a peculiar diamond-pattern vinyl over the driveshaft tunnel and the shock towers in the luggage area.
Nissan had planned for 1,600 cars per month for the U.S., but despite a late start, first-year sales missed 10,000 by just three cars. The shipping quota was 2,500 Zs per month by mid-1971. If Nissan could have built them, American Datsun dealers could have sold 4,000 monthly.
The Z's success spelled doom for the Datsun 2000 roadster, however. Still in production through 1970, it was built on the same assembly line as the 240Z, and when more of the new Zs were needed, the roadster had to go.
There were few changes to the 240Z for 1971. Earlier running changes moved vents from the hatch to the C-pillars, and mechanical improvements smoothed engine operation. A 3-speed automatic transmission was added, though 90 percent of buyers opted for the manual. With a full year's run, 1971 U.S. sales of the Z hit 26,733. Officially, the list price was $3,696, but with Kelly Blue Book quoting $4,000 for a used 1970 model, dealers still sold new Zs for well above sticker.
There were no discounts off the $4,106 price for a 1972 either, with the Blue Book value for used Zs at $4,400. The 1972 had a new 4-speed manual and other detail changes, while 1973s can be identified by slightly heavier federal impact bumpers.
More significant were changes under the hood to meet federal emissions standards. Leaner carburetor settings, lower compression, and carburetors more prone to vapor lock bedeviled all cars with reduced power and poor drivability -- particularly frustrating in a sports car like the 240Z.
The 1973 Datsun 240Zs were rated at 129 horsepower, a combination of a real drop in output and the change from "SAE gross" to "SAE net" horsepower ratings. The Z's popularity was nevertheless undimmed, with sales totaling 52,556 for 1973.
1970 240Z SPECIFICATIONS
Base price: $3,626
Layout: rear-wheel drive
Curb weight: 2,238 pounds
Wheelbase: 90.7 inches
Length: 162.8 inches
Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts
Rear suspension: Independent Chapman struts
Engine: single-overhead-cam inline-6
Displacement: 2393 cubic centimeters
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Horsepower: 150 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 148 pound-feet @ 4400 rpm
Fuel supply: Two Hitachi-SU 1v sidedraft carburetors
Transmission: 4-speed manual (3-speed automatic optional)
Quarter-mile 17.1 seconds @ 84.5 mph