1972 DATSUN 240Z
One of the most successful sports-car lines ever produced, the Datsun 240Z’s innovative design signalled the emergence of Japan as a major contender in world markets. And, given Datsun was wholly owned by Nissan, it heralded Nissan’s entry into a period of serious international motor racing and rallying.
The phenomenon of the Z, also known as the ‘S30’, was originally created specifically to cater to the US market, and it was a car ahead of its time. It was not only an innovative design, but it also set standards of reliability and ruggedness that many competitors found hard to equal. The launch price of US$3500 in 1969 was a critical factor, as it offered so much as standard equipment for such a low price, and it went on to be the number-one-selling sports car in the world.
Development of the 240Z was not without controversy, and what an involved story it proved to be. At the end of the day, Nissan acknowledged the skill passed on by its consultant, designer Albrecht Goertz, and the impact his ideas had on sports-car design.
Katayama — father of the 240Z
Many great sports cars have been conceived through the vision of one man. The 240Z — and the line of later models that followed through to 1978 — might never have happened had it not been for the drive and initiative of Nissan Motors US president Yutaka Katayama.
Crucial to the development of the GT programme for Datsun were the change of direction from producing successful-butdated designs, such as the Mgb-like Fairlady roadster models, and the American attitude towards Japanese econoboxes. Three factors that greatly assisted Datsun in its quest for an outstanding design were the emergence of the GT style of car in the US, the early influence of consultant designer Albrecht Goertz, and Datsun’s acquisition of Japanese company Prince Motors.
Katayama was sent by Nissan management to the US in 1960 to manage the company’s Western US Datsun car operation, at a time in America when anything labelled with ‘Made in Japan’ was perceived as lacking quality. Nissan officials in Japan fully expected him to fail, and with just 1000 units sold each year in the US and an advertising budget of US$1K, this seemed entirely possible. Katayama quickly realized that the key to the company’s success would be reversing market perception of Japanese products. He needed innovative designs that offered not only performance, reliability, and value for money but also dimensions and specifications more in line with what the US market expected. A favourite personal yardstick of design for Katayama was BMW’S hugely successful 1600 sedan, and he pushed the home design team to include a number of modern features to make the new car competitive.
It was no surprise that when Datsun launched
“WITH THE BIRTH OF THE Z, THE COMPLEXION OF THE AMERICAN SPORTS-CAR MARKET CHANGED OVERNIGHT” — YOSHIHI K OM ATSUO Words and photos: Quinton Taylor
its 510 sedan model — the Datsun 1600 — in the US with a price way under that of the BMW 1600, it was also a big success.
A bit of a speed freak, Katayama had encouraged his employees, such as ex– Shelby man Peter Brock, to race Datsun’s Fairlady roadsters and, later, the 510 sedans. Katayama enjoyed motor racing, and he enjoyed driving fast — he’d developed a reputation for acquiring a few speeding tickets along the way — and it was Brock’s successful Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) race team and others that went on to successfully campaign the 240Z in America from 1970.
Goertz’s influence — the new GT programme
Nissan appointed Teiichi Hara as overall team leader to head the new GT programme. Hara brought in chief designer Yoshihiko Matsuo, and it was fortunate that, in 1962, designer Albrecht Goertz had signed on with Nissan as a consultant, as his influence was eventually a crucial factor in the design of the new car.
Goertz had immigrated to the US in 1936 from Saxony, in Germany. A chance meeting with Studebaker designer Raymond Loewy resulted in his working with that company until he set up his own design studio a few years later. Goertz also designed BMW’S lovely 503 and 507 sports cars of 1955. Nissan had signed him as a consultant mainly to develop a 2000GT powered by a Yamaha-developed engine, but it didn’t live up to expectations, the project was shelved in 1965, and Goertz left. His prototype GT later bore a significant resemblance to what the engineers eventually built in 1967 as the 240Z. Such has been the controversy around who actually designed the 240Z that, in the 1980s, a letter was sent to Goertz from Nissan. The letter, from the Nissan Motor Company’s Toshikuni Nyui, general manager of its legal department, acknowledges Goertz’s time as a consultant, for the “basic methods of building a general sports car”. It goes on to say, “You were also the sole design consultant on a 2.0-litre sports car which Nissan was trying to develop as a joint venture with Yamaha. The car was not produced.” The letter finishes with, “While it is our view that the design of the 240Z was the product of Nissan’s design staff, Nissan agrees that the personnel who designed that automobile were influenced by your fine work for Nissan and had the benefits of your designs.”
There was another Goertz design prototype that did a tour of dealers in 1965. This would become the Nissan Silvia 1600 Sport coupé. Reaction from dealers in the US to the Silvia was clear: it was nice, but Nissan needed something special to suit the US market, and it was not the Silvia. The car did signal the direction Nissan styling was moving in, though. Katayama returned to Japan, and he made it clear to management that a change in design direction would be needed if the company were to succeed in the US market.
In the mid 1960s, Datsun merged its East and West Coast car divisions and put Katayama in charge of all US operations. With the emergence of successful American cars such as the Camaro, Mustang, and Charger, Katayama recognized the need for Datsun to develop its own GT. He then convinced the conservative opposition in Datsun’s (Nissan) hierarchy to change its design focus and initiate a range of new modern models. To do this, he gained approval for a team to be put together to build a new flagship car — this would eventually be the successful Z. Prince Motors, acquired by Nissan in 1966, had been instrumental in developing an overhead camshaft (OHC) engine for the Datsun 2000 roadster, and the result was the U20 2.0-litre OHC four. The Nissan small-engine designers then came up with the brand spanking 1600 L16, which went into the then-new 510, which is still popular today and known as the ‘Datsun 1600’.
Design Project Z
The new ‘Design Project Z’, led by Hara, began work in 1965. The genesis of the design team and the political manoeuvring inside Nissan followed an interesting path. By 1966, chief designer Matsuo was feeling the pressure filtering down his management chain to come up with a conservative design and upgrade existing products.
The legacy of Goertz’s time with Nissan was that he had taught the designers to use clay mock-ups for styling their cars.
He also encouraged them to think of international styling cues, rather than concentrate on Japanese ideas, if they were to gain acceptance internationally for their designs. The Silvia had been the first example styled by the company using clay models. Several prototypes of GTS were built, and an increasingly attractive design began to take shape: it looked very much like Goertz’s completed prototype from a few years back that had been retained by Nissan. Matsuo was buoyed by a visit from Katayama during the early days of the project, who encouraged Matsuo to pursue something a little more radical. “Nissan, and Japan as a whole, needed to build something stunning, something original that would make the foreign manufacturers sit up and take notice of us,” Katayama said.
New US federal motor-vehicle safety and emission standards requirements affected the design, and the future of convertibles was beginning to look doubtful. The 240Z’s signature ‘sugar scoop’ front headlight mountings were one result, as Datsun sought to meet minimum headlight-level standards without using a pop-up headlight system. It was at that point that the design became wider, longer, and higher, to suit not only larger-build US drivers but also planned larger automatic transmissions to go on the back of the new L24 engine, while still retaining good legroom. The fact that the design integrity, the overall dimensions, and the shape of that stylish coupé were not compromised and remained in balance is a credit to the design team. The end result was a distinctive car that was not diluted by financial constraints. For once, the designers won the day, and produced something special to suit the US target market.
Prince Motors had developed the L24 engine by adding two more pots to the L16, and this engine went into the cars destined for the US, producing 113kw (151bhp). To fit Japan’s severe tax regime for engines
over 2.0 litres, the Nissan Fairlady sold in Japan boasted a 2.0-litre L20 six-cylinder engine of 97kw (130hp). There was also a new 2.0-litre in-line six developed by Prince Motors, the 432Z, with a performance homologated version of the S20 engine shared with the Skyline GT-R. The 240Z went into production in October 1969.
In Katayama’s opinion, Jaguar’s E-type and Ferrari’s GTO were at the forefront of GT sports-car styling and performance, so it was not surprising that these two cars had a big influence on both the interior and exterior design of the 240Z. In a speech to Nissan US employees at the launch of the Datsun 240Z in 1969, he said, “The 240Z represents the imaginative spirit of Nissan, and was designed to please a demanding taste that is strictly American. It meets all the requirements of sports-minded drivers, fulfilling their desire for superb styling, power and safety, and provides them with the most thrilling and enjoyable ride available in any car.” Katayama went on to explain how Nissan had studied the “memorable artistry” of European coachbuilders and engine builders, and combined that knowledge with Japanese craftsmanship. “The result is an exotic, highperformance car exclusively for America,” he said. What he didn’t see, and what few predicted in Japan, was the manner in which the 240Z would eventually contribute to Datsun’s already numerous successes in motor sport.
The first Datsun 240Zs for the American market arrived badged as ‘Fairlady’. Katayama was furious, and refused to let these cars go to dealers until the correct ‘240Z’ badges were added. The story goes that he personally removed every Fairlady badge he saw! It didn’t take long for Nissan headquarters to get the message, and soon the cars arrived correctly badged.
The stylish GT also proved its mettle in brutal world rallies, including an outright win in the East African Safari Rally of 1971 and 1973, and it continued the success the 510 Datsun 1600 SSS had had in the US in 1970, with eventually seven outright Datsun
wins and a multitude of high-place finishes in the gruelling event. The original winning car of 1971 (driven by Edgar Hermann and Hans Schuller) has since been restored by Nissan and is displayed at events in Japan.
An original 240Z in New Zealand
Since its launch in 1969, Datsun’s 240Z has often been the subject of modification. Usually, that’s down to bigger Z-engine transplants or American V8s to Nissan V8s, as well as everything in between — from suspension to body adornment and wheels. An unmolested original 240Z is something of a rarity, and while the model sold well in New Zealand — as did the later 260Z and 280Z — an original 240Z can be hard to find. Several are still raced regularly around the country.
It was something of a surprise to find the subject of this article in Southland and in such great shape — in fact, it’s hard to find a blemish on it anywhere. A 1972 model, originally believed to have been brought in from Australia, this well-looked-after example has retained its original factory colour and is still on its original factory wheels. It’s been cared for over the past 15 years by Gore Datsun enthusiast Garry Inder.
Garry grew up around Datsuns thanks to his father, Fred, who was the area dealer for the make, and he also has a rare 510 SSS two-door in his collection.
“I bought the car off Christchurch Datsun dealer Gary Cockram. It was in pretty good order, and I’ve kept it that way, gradually doing the little bits to keep it in the condition it is in as you see it now,” Garry says. From every angle, this is one straight car, and the delicate shade of sparkling metallic blue suits it.
“Nissan really did set the market standard when they introduced the 240Z. This one is a rare unmolested example, exactly as it was in the day, and I like it,” he says.
As mentioned, it’s still fitted with its factory wheels — steel items shod with Dunlop Aquajets — the tyres to have back then and rare these days. This car is also notable for its perfect, white vinyl interior. The Japanese loved black vinyl, so it’s pleasing to see this contrasting with the just-as-immaculate black dashboard and gauges. A set of white sheepskins seat covers may be a Kiwi touch, but they make those deep bucket seats look good and should help protect them for a
long time to come. It’s definitely a twoseater, but the big opening rear hatch makes it easy to store a lot of luggage.
Move up front to that long nose, and the forward-tilting bonnet opens to reveal a tidy engine bay dominated by a very Mercedeslooking six-cylinder engine. Hitachi supplied the SU carburettors under licence, and everything is remarkably as it should be, as per the original. Nice touches are the little mini covers on each side at the trailing edge of the bonnet, which lift for easy inspection of the battery and fluid levels.
Filling in the gaps
Speaking with Gary Cockram to try to fill in a few gaps in the car’s history, he tells me he has sold quite a number of different Z-models over the years, but this one was special. “I remember the car I sold to Garry,” he says. “That was a lovely car, and perhaps I should have kept it.” It was stored at his premises for some time after he acquired it. “It was owned by a car dealer, Lawrie Mcgovern, who died, and I then had the car. I know Lawrie did quite bit of work on it, although it was in very good order when he bought it,” Gary recalls.
He didn’t drive the 240Z much, but remembers that it was very nice to drive: “They were lovely cars to drive. My father had overseas funds and bought the very first 240Z in the South Island.”
These Datsun owners are real enthusiasts, as is obvious when Garry speaks about his rare Fairlady roadster. “I’ve owned the Fairlady for 30 years now. It’s a lovely little car too,” he said.
I’ve always liked the 240Z, though not so much the later versions, which seem to lack the balance of the original Z and tend to show a heaviness that was not there with the first one. When I began researching this article, I quickly realized just how important to Nissan was not only the development of this car but also the concept of a well-thought-out design that had many good features in such an attractive and compact package for its price.
It was often dubbed ‘the poor-man’s Ferrari’ or ‘the Japanese E-type’, and that really is high praise for a design from a company that had never produced anything like it before. The model’s impact on international motor sport was almost immediate and wide ranging. From the track to rallying, the Z was a winner in many categories.
These days, Garry’s example doesn’t get as much use as he would like it to, but it is well stored and out of the weather. “It’s been up to Te Anau a few times and to Wanaka, and it really is a nice car to drive on the open road. It’s very high geared and cruises effortlessly. I would like to get to drive it more often,” he says.
Garry also has some other notable classics in his garage, but the Z is different: “People stop and stare at it. It really does attract attention because it looks so different, and it stands out. I often get people stopping and taking a photo of it. It was my dream car when I was a boy, and I won’t be selling it anytime soon.
“Open-road cruising was what it was
designed for, and it [is] … an effortless car to drive. You can drive it for 300 to 400km non-stop, and get out at the end and still feel refreshed, it’s that comfortable to drive. There are not many cars you can do that with.”
Getting acquainted with the 240Z
Approaching this 1972 Datsun 240Z, I expect it to perhaps not quite live up to modern car dynamics. First impressions as you climb in are that it would have been a pretty complete package from Japan in its day, and it still feels good. This is not a fully restored car, but it has been well maintained and kept in great order, and it feels that way. Once I settle into the all-encompassing bucket seats, I find that it really is a comfortable fit behind the wheel and everything is at an easy distance, which, at 1.87m, I thought might be a challenge. The dash is very business-like and easy to read, and everything works.
Firing up the smooth six is a process requiring careful use of the manual choke. Given that it does sit around a bit, this is a car that likes to be warmed up properly before it gives its smoothest, and, after all, it is 45 years old. On the move, I immediately notice how thin the steering wheel is compared with modern fittings. The unassisted rack-andpinion steering is very direct, transmitting every bit of road information, something not found on many American cars when the Z was conceived. Once it clears its throat, this is a very smooth and torquey six, very much at odds with its size of just 2.4 litres. Fifth is definitely not for town cruising, and, once the open road is reached, 100kph is an easy jog, working up through that smooth gearbox and gearshift. Ride is firm but not harsh, and it doesn’t take long to feel the rhythm with this classic. The direct steering complements the straight-line stability, and it is very steady. I can see why Garry likes taking this car on long runs. It requires little effort to keep it in the right direction. Cruising over undulating hill roads shows how easy it is to total up the kilometres in this car, and why they were so popular. Noise levels are low, and the overall impression is that this is a car inviting you to get in and drive it — not many cars give that involved an impression these days, but this is one of them. In a 1970 road test, Road and Track magazine found the 240Z ‘wiggled’ a bit in a straight line. Not this one. Maybe it was the tyres back then. It is not perfect, but I thoroughly enjoy my time behind the wheel. It’s no wonder that it was number one in its day. It set the standard for others to equal in 1969.
A Z is a nice addition to the Datsun collection, though if you know of a B110 SSS that might be available for sale (pre-120y shape) then Garry would be keen to hear from you.
As for the 240Z, it’s all due to the drive of one man and his team of enthusiastic engineer designers that anyone got to taste the Z experience.
Right: A prototype hardtop version of the Goertz 2000GT looking very like a 240Z
Above right: The finished Goertz 2000GT prototype next to a Fairlady roadster for size comparison
Above left and centre: The Goertz 2000GT in various stages of development
Below: What might have been — Toyota collaborated with Yamaha to create its 2000GT, which never went into full-scale production
Left: Prototype 240Zs getting close to the final shape
The legacy of Goertz’s time with Nissan was that he had taught the designers to use clay mock-ups for styling their cars
Above: The Project Z design team at work on clay mock-ups of various models of the 240Z.
Below: Very British: the lines of the Fairlady roadster echo its MGB influence
Fairlady Z Story by Yutaka Katayama and Yoshihiko Matsuo Roadandtrack — Road Test 1970 REFERENCES