1972 DATSUN 240Z

New Zealand Classic Car - - EDITORIAL -

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


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.

Imag­i­na­tive spirit

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

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