SPORTY DATSUN IS 50
Turn your mind back to the 1960s and imagine being handed the task of designing a sports car to outshine Jaguar’s evocative E-Type. At the time, the Jag was the standard against which rival sports models were being judged and the cream of Europe’s car makers seemed less than eager to take up the challenge.
Not so Nissan which, with a little help from one of Europe’s best-known stylists, developed a shape that echoed the E-Type concept with a design that made it affordable, rugged and practical.
The 240Z originated in 1964 as an open-top concept car conceived by German design guru Albrecht Goertz. It was shelved until 1966 when Nissan’s own design studio revived the project – renamed S30 – as a long-nosed coupe with two seats, independent suspension and access to its luggage space via an E-Type-style hatch.
“CONTAINING COSTS MEANT SHARING MECHANICAL COMPONENTS WITH EXISTING MODELS”
Containing costs meant stick ing with drum brakes at the back rather than discs and sharing mechanical components with ex isting models. An enlarged version of t he L20 si x-cylinder (as used in t he Prince GT) was a logica l choice for t he Z which wit h its enlarged bore and stroke plus t win SU-st yle carburettors would produce 151bhp (113kW ).
Also standard was an a luminium cylinder head and single overhead camshaft. Tuning for competition involved various ploys including boosting capacit y to 2.8 litres, wilder camshafts, extractors feeding ‘drain-pipe’ ex hausts and triple carburettors of t he Weber variet y.
North America was correctly seen as the Z’s biggest market and it was rushed into US showrooms during 1969. In deference to the work done by Nissan’s open-top Fairlady in establishing the Datsun brand, that name was retained by US versions of the new coupe.
In Austra lia, where it would a lways be k nown as the 240Z, we saw our f irst cars late in 1970. Local Zs initia lly came only as a f ive-speed manual, followed in mid-1971 by a smattering of three-speed automatics. A $4500 introductor y price ensured the new Datsun cost less than a GTV Alfa Romeo or Triumph TR6, however it was still considerably more expensive than an XU-1 Torana or Chr ysler’s new E38 Charger.
In the USA where the Z took on Porsches and TR6 Triumphs to win its categor y in Sports Car Club of America events, sa les during 1971-73 averaged 43,000 cars annually. In our much smaller market with minimal on-track
exposure, the 2.4-litre Z still managed to attract around 2400 buyers during the same period.
Rallying was a different case and definitely the Z’s forte. During the early 1970s it won the tough East African Safari on two occasions and took out a string of European events. In Australia, Ross Dunkerton used Zs to win the national Rally Championship three times between 1974 and 1976.
A 2.6-litre version of the Z was launched locally in mid-1974, with a minor power increase and optional 2+2 seating. Improvements included lower gearing to improve acceleration, wider, better-quality tyres and revamped seats. Ventilation
“RALLYING WAS DEFINITELY THE ZED’S FORTE – IT TOOK OUT A STRING OF EVENTS”
had been upgraded in 1973, but Zs still suffered a hot cabin on summer’s days and air-conditioning was a welcome 260Z option.
Longer, wider and more powerful 280 and 300Z X models would follow, including some with monstrous t win-turbo V6 engines. However it is t he 240Z’s purit y and genuine sports car attributes t hat have seen demand and its va lues surge during recent years.
Brad Twyning – 1973 model: “I started buying them (Zeds) in 1984, and had a bit of a passion for them. I started playing around with the first car. It had a 350 Chev V8 in it, Turbo 400 transmission and nine-inch rear end and it won a national street machine title. I was showing that car for many years and it was in many magazines.
In 1989 I was moving on, buying a house, family commitments, that sort of thing, and sold the car. About four years ago I decided to buy another Zed and do it up. I bought a 260Z coupe and did that one up.
After joining the club he became even more involved and decided he really wanted a 240. He started looking about 18 months ago and found this one in the back of a wood-cutter factory. “It was a bit of a mess, with the usual rust that 240 Zeds have. The interior was still original, including the radio. I was the second owner and did a restoration.
“I’ve brought it back as close to original as I can. It has matching numbers, and period wheels rather than the originals. It also has a clip-on spoiler.”
It won top 240 at the 50-year show in Sydney recently, along with a clutch of other trophies.
As for his first modified car, these days it would be worth a whole lot more in original trim. “I probably wouldn’t have done what I did years ago if I could have predicted the future – but who can do that?”
John Wakeling – 1970 model: “This is number 259 of just 319 sold in Australia that year. It’s quite bizarre, I think there were
“ITS PURITY AND GENUINE SPORTS CAR ATTRIBUTES HAVE SEEN VALUES SURGE IN RECENT YEARS”
“WE PICKED UP THE KEYS FROM THE LOCAL SERVICE STATION WHERE THEY’D BEEN FOR FIVE YEARS”
only around 2500 240Zs sold in Australia in three years. Most of them were sold in the USA.
“I’ve always been interested in motorbikes, cars, all of that, and have a long history with Austin Healey. I had company cars for a long time and the first car I ever bought was an Austin Healey 3000.
“My story with Zeds goes back to 2008. We drove through Forbes and I saw this 240Z – I’d been looking for one for a while – just sitting in a storage yard. The owner said, ‘Lots of people have asked me about the car, you’re number 2500, what would you do with it?’
“I told her I wanted to restore it and she asked how much I’d offer. I told her and she promised to call back one day. About six weeks later she rang.
“She wanted cash – there was no way the money was to be put in a bank account – and we picked up the keys from a local service station, where they’d been hanging on a hook for five years.
“It sort of went on from there and now I have five Zeds – they breed!
“The green car was bought as a ready-to-go proposition that we could just jump in and go to club events. All I’ve had to do is put tyres on it.”
This and another Zed in his fleet were bought through the club, which John sees as a major benefit of being in the group – you hear about good cars that never hit the open market. He’s right. You can find them at Zcarclub.com.au