The List Our reader bought a BMW M635CSI over a Dat­sun 240Z – will the bucket-list drive we give him challenge his choice?

Be­fore buy­ing an M635CSI, six-footer Steve Hough viewed sev­eral Dat­sun 240Zs, but never got to drive one. To­day we put that right – and the first sur­prise is that there’s room in­side to spare

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words RUSS SMITH Pho­tog­ra­phy CHAR­LIE MAGEE

How­ever much plan­ning goes into one of our reader dream drive fea­tures, there’s one el­e­ment that we have zero con­trol over. And if any­one’s bucket list does in­clude a thor­oughly grey day in Grays, barely a con­tainer lorry’s brak­ing dis­tance from Til­bury Docks on the Thames es­tu­ary, to be hon­est I’d prob­a­bly rather not meet them any­way.

This is­sue’s par­tic­i­pant, Steve Hough, re­mains up­beat about the damp and gloom out­side, though – which is no small re­lief. He also makes a re­as­sur­ing point. ‘As a for­mer Caterham owner I’m used to a bit of weather.

‘Any­way, I think it’s eas­ing,’ he adds, peer­ing out of the raised roller door at the rear of Vin­tage and Pres­tige Clas­sic Cars’ show­room. He may be on to some­thing, too. Though the Ra­dio 4 weather man has been very clear that we’re un­likely to be in­clud­ing any clichéd ‘ris­ing sun’ pho­tos in to­day’s shoot, the driz­zle is def­i­nitely thin­ning. It’s al­most time to fire up the 240Z and head for the rel­a­tive de­lights and hope­fully qui­eter roads of Can­vey Is­land.

But there’s still time to fin­ish our tea and ex­plore Steve’s mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the in­clu­sion of the sporty lit­tle Dat­sun on his wish­list. ‘The 240Z’s a car I’ve al­ways had a thing for. Be­fore buy­ing my BMW re­cently I was torn be­tween get­ting a clas­sic with two or four seats. Top of the list for two-seaters was the Dat­sun 240Z – good to look at, rare but with good spe­cial­ist sup­port, and in to­day’s market seem­ingly good value.

‘I even looked at a few re­stored cars, in­clud­ing one at a north­ern dealer that had pre­vi­ously been owned by leg­endary racer Bar­rie “Whizzo” Wil­liams. But de­spite all that I never got to drive one, which I wish I had. In the end, with a grow­ing son in the fam­ily, I de­cided I wasn’t go­ing to use a two-seater car enough, so plumped for the four-seater BMW M635CSI.’

So it’s time to put those missed driv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties right, and Steve is in­stantly im­pressed with one im­por­tant fac­tor de­signed into the Z with the Amer­i­can market firmly in mind. ‘I’m six-foot-two and there’s plenty of space in here, re­mark­able for what is ac­tu­ally quite a small car from the out­side. It’s rare that I have to pull a seat for­ward from its most rear­ward set­ting, but that’s what I’ve just done. It feels very roomy around me too.

‘But though I like the lay­out, it does look quite low-rent in here – per­haps aus­tere is a bet­ter word – con­sid­er­ing what th­ese cost new, and it’s quite tinny the way the door shuts with a clang rather than a thud. Why wasn’t it more up­mar­ket, smarter, or is this just of its time? Maybe it was just built to a price.’ That’s a fair ob­ser­va­tion – in Bri­tain the 240Z most closely com­peted with the

‘It’s a very easy car to drive and feels quick’

‘With a grow­ing son I chose the four-seater M635CSI, but I’ve al­ways had a thing for the 240Z’

Re­liant Scim­i­tar GTE, and cost 50 per cent more than a Tri­umph TR6 back in the early Seven­ties. Against those mea­sures it is lack­ing in the spe­cial touches we’ve been con­di­tioned to ex­pect in a pre­mium prod­uct. Steve’s find­ing plenty of pos­i­tives, though. ‘It’s all well laid out and I love the deep-dish di­als – very Alfa-ish – and the cen­tre air vent that rolls shut to leave a chrome bar on dis­play. It’s all quite stylish for its day, don’t you think? All this black­ness re­minds me of an E-type.’

We fas­ten the lap belts – this Dat­sun is a re­cent US im­port – and set off, Steve quickly not­ing an­other thing that marks this out as an Amer­i­can-market Z. ‘It’s a shame this only has the four-speed gear­box – we got a five-speed over here. And I’m find­ing it quite hard to find the gears, but then I’m used to a mod­ern springloaded shift; with this you have to guide it into the right slot your­self. The lever has quite a short throw, but it’s a bit like stir­ring por­ridge while you seek the next gear.

‘The throt­tle pedal is also a bit stiff, which may just be from lack of re­cent use, but along with the gear­box it does make for rather jerky progress. That aside this is a very easy car to drive. The con­trols are all quite light; I ex­pected more meati­ness to them. It feels quick too. Given the Z’s sport­ing pre­ten­sions it would be nice to do a bit of track-day­ing in it, like I used to in my Caterham. I’m im­pressed that the power delivery is not cammy at all. It’s re­ally lin­ear, pulling all the way through the rev range with no sur­prises to catch you out. But then this car was a dif­fer­ent ap­proach for a Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer. They were known for small, high-revving en­gines and this has rel­a­tively large ca­pac­ity at 2.4 litres.

‘I’m not sure about the brakes, though; they’re sur­pris­ingly light. For some rea­son I ex­pected a harder pedal. Also there’s very lit­tle brake force in the first half of the pedal travel and only af­ter that do they start to bite. I don’t get a great amount of con­fi­dence with this lit­tle feel. It’s okay, but I don’t feel ready to try a big stop.

‘One thing you do no­tice, like a lot of cars of this era, is the great vis­i­bil­ity thanks to the slim pil­lars. It’s good in all di­rec­tions in this 240Z, which does help your con­fi­dence when start­ing to drive it more quickly. And talk­ing of vis­i­bil­ity, those wind­screen wipers are very char­ac­ter­is­tic of its time, the way they do that lit­tle half­flick dance be­fore re­turn­ing to the park po­si­tion.

‘I am a bit puz­zled by the steer­ing, though – it’s a bit vague at sixty-ish when you’re go­ing straight, which is a lit­tle dis­con­cert­ing. You don’t ex­pect that from a rack-and-pin­ion sys­tem. The steer­ing wheel it­self is in­ter­est­ing – the deep dish with square slots in the spokes is quite cool and very much of its time, and again il­lus­trates the car’s sporty pre­ten­sions. There’s al­most a grain on the rim, so it looks and feels like wood, and has crenel­la­tions on the back to help grip it, but I’m as­sum­ing it’s some kind of plas­tic.’ Steve’s right, it is. Next, we stop for a few min­utes to take stock of the 240Z’s ex­te­rior di­men­sions and de­tails.

‘I can’t get over how small it looks from the out­side now, know­ing how roomy it is in­side,’ says Steve. ‘It looks all nose, like an E-type, but sits on the same foot­print as a 911 from the same era, so it’s re­ally clev­erly pack­aged. There’s a lot of As­ton Martin DBS and of course Audi 100 S Coupé about it in styling cues, es­pe­cially at the back. At the front there are those hints of E-type, along with a bit of Fer­rari Daytona as you move to the rear quar­ters. Nis­san cer­tainly did its home­work.

‘The black-painted rear panel breaks it up nicely, and goes with the start of im­pact bumpers and a move away from chrome. It’s also great to see one still wear­ing its orig­i­nal wheel trims; you see so many 240Zs fit­ted with al­loys.’ There’s a rea­son for that, tied into this par­tic­u­lar car’s re­mark­able his­tory, which is hinted at by a cou­ple of old stick­ers on the front bumper: ‘USAF reg­is­tered ve­hi­cle FEX 588’ and ‘Dob­bins AFB’. Sold new in Ge­or­gia – where Dob­bins Air Force Base is lo­cated – it re­mained with the same owner, Richard Friese, from 1971 un­til 2014 and has still only cov­ered 56,000 miles. As such it is a re­mark­ably orig­i­nal ex­am­ple of a 240Z: no al­loy wheels, no mod­i­fi­ca­tions and un­re­stored. There’s even a 1987 petrol re­ceipt in the glove­box for a $6.10 fill-up in At­lanta, which bought seven gal­lons of lead-free. So what we are get­ting to­day is the pure unadul­ter­ated Dat­sun ex­pe­ri­ence.

One item in par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­nates Steve. ‘It’s won­der­ful that the orig­i­nal Hi­tachi self-seek­ing ra­dio still works. It’s great press­ing a pre­set chan­nel but­ton and watch­ing the nee­dle sweep smoothly across the dial to the sta­tion. I could play with that for hours, and the sound’s pretty good for such an old sys­tem too.’

I know what he means – this pre-dig­i­tal piece of hi-tech wiz­ardry is mes­meris­ing – but we should get on and clock up a few more miles. Steve re­fas­tens the lap belt, wrig­gles his shoul­ders and nods ap­prov­ingly. ‘There are lots of cars from this era that I haven’t fit­ted in prop­erly be­cause of var­i­ous er­gonomic prob­lems; in fact the only re­ally good one was a Tri­umph 2000. But this ac­tu­ally is com­fort­able and sup­port­ive enough, es­pe­cially with the seat’s side bol­sters.

‘I do won­der what all th­ese swathes of black PVC would be like in the sum­mer, though. Those air vent but­tons in the seat backs look like a bit of a give­away – I reckon it could get pretty hot and sticky in here. No won­der they fit­ted

that air­con unit.’ That’s an­other neat pe­riod fea­ture of the car, look­ing like ei­ther a dealer-fit or early ac­ces­sory unit un­der the dash in the pas­sen­ger footwell area. It’s badged ‘Frigitte’ and matches the grained vinyl and chromed plas­tic look of the rest of the cabin. Whether or not it still works isn’t some­thing we’ll need to in­ves­ti­gate to­day given the Can­vey Is­land cli­mate, but it must have been es­sen­tial in the sweaty Ge­or­gian sum­mer­time.

Look­ing more re­laxed as we ac­cel­er­ate down a dual car­riage­way that di­vides in­dus­trial Can­vey Is­land from a re­tail park, Steve ad­mits, ‘You wouldn’t need to do a lot to run this ev­ery day. There’s plenty of prac­ti­cal­ity with that spa­cious boot area. In fact it would be an ideal car to take down to Le Mans. There’s room for a de­cent load of camp­ing gear in the back, but no cubby holes to store things in the front, which is a bit of a sur­prise. Or per­haps I’m just too used to see­ing cuphold­ers and boxes in arm­rests.

‘That’s just de­tail stuff, though. The only real crit­i­cisms I have of this car are that I ex­pected it to be a bit quicker; nois­ier too. It doesn’t re­ally sound like a six-cylin­der – in fact there’s noth­ing from the sound to give you any idea of what kind of en­gine it has un­der the bonnet. For this kind of car it’s a bit muted – what it needs is a bet­ter ex­haust sys­tem to make that six re­ally roar. Then you’d have some­thing that came closer to match­ing its prom­ise.

‘De­spite my ear­lier com­ments, there’s noth­ing wrong with the way it drives, and the more you re­lax and be­gin to push it, the sportier it feels. And I’m sure with a few more road miles un­der my belt, and bet­ter con­di­tions, I could start en­joy­ing that per­for­mance even more. I’m also sur­prised that the four-speed gear­box is ac­tu­ally fine at mo­tor­way speeds, although a Uk-spec car with a five-speed box would still be prefer­able.

‘As nice as it is, I don’t think I’d want to buy this par­tic­u­lar car, how­ever. I drive my clas­sics too much. This is a re­mark­able time­warp mu­seum piece, but it’s so orig­i­nal you wouldn’t get to use it much for fear of adding too many more to its 56,000 miles. For me there’s more to a clas­sic than just look­ing at it. It might sound odd, but I’d want a 240Z with more miles on the clock, that is fully sorted and drives per­fectly; prob­a­bly sub­tly mod­i­fied too, keep­ing the orig­i­nal char­ac­ter but look­ing and sound­ing more fun.’

So is this a busted myth or is there still a chance we might see a 240Z in Steve’s garage one day? ‘Yes, I hope I haven’t sounded too neg­a­tive, be­cause what a great car. The per­for­mance was ad­e­quate and per­haps I was un­fairly judg­ing that as­pect given its age. It has a com­fort­able driv­ing po­si­tion that re­ally suits and the prac­ti­cal­ity would be a ma­jor boon to me. But the big­gest sur­prise was to dis­cover that this was not the grand tourer I ex­pected – it’s a proper sports car. If only it sounded as bit more spe­cial.’

The one badge that has al­ways tempted Steve to stray from Euro­pean metal

Reader Steve en­joyed the Hi­tachi-su-carb-fed 2.4-litre six, but wanted more noise

Life on US Air Force base means the low-mileage Z re­mains un­mo­lested – but is it too per­fect for Steve?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.