Road & Track (USA)
The first, slowest, and least luxurious Z-car is still engaging.
The past always grows more distant.
On steel wheels, without even rubber on the bumpers, Jay Ataka’s Fairlady Z is stark, even by 1971 standards. “They’re not really bumpers,” Ataka says, pointing to how tightly their chromed stamped steel fits to the car’s corners. “They’re just the first thing that gets hit.”
This a right-hand-drive, Japanese-domesticmarket (JDM) Fairlady, the name under which Datsun and Nissan have sold sports cars in Japan since 1960. What’s unusual is that Ataka’s example is the barebones, no-frills essential version produced for the Z-car’s second year. And powering it is Nissan’s L20A 2.0-liter overhead-cam straight-six.
Compared with the L24 2.4-liter straight-six used in the U.s.-market 240Z, the L20A has a smaller 78.0-mm bore and a shorter 69.7-mm stroke but is otherwise practically identical. There’s nothing surprising in this engine bay. Since the Z-car was optimized for left-handdrive markets, this 240Z’s twin Hitachi Su–style side-draft carburetors have a convoluted throttle linkage that has to snake across the firewall. Plug wires imply electricity is at least involved. It’s so simple that the vibe is ancient and adorable.
Also, slow. The 240Z was rated at 150 hp in America; the 2.0-liter Fairlady Z mustered only 125 hp. R&T recorded the 1970 240Z waltzing to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds at 84.5 mph. It also measured fuel consumption at 21 mpg. In crowded
Japan, acceleration didn’t matter as much as economy, so the Fairlady Z could be slower and stingier.
Ataka’s Z starts and settles into a trilling idle. “I don’t remember what brand the exhaust is,” he says as the contralto from the stacked twin tailpipes sings, “but it does sound good.”
The Chapman-strut suspension takes up most of the car’s tail, and the driver’s butt is barely forward of it. Most of the interior is electrical-tape-grade vinyl, but the view forward is gorgeous, with the fenders falling away to tarmac. The four-speed manual’s shifter positions first gear so far forward and left that a driver may run out of arm before finding it. But it’s there, and every pound-foot the engine can manage scurries up into the driver’s ulna.
With only manual steering, the driver’s arms are also torquestrained to move the 185/70R-14 front tires. But the exercise pays off with satisfyingly quick turn-in and effort that falls off progressively with speed. There was no chance to explore the tiny tire contact patches in either hard cornering or braking, but why push this old girl too hard?
What old cars offer is an experience unavailable on new things: mechanical joy instead of mediating electronics, exciting noises instead of hums, manual choke and throttle instead of a start button. What was common then is rare now. Today rapid acceleration is ordinary; this circumstance is rare.
Living in the past is impossible. Visiting it is a luxury—one that Ataka sells through jdm-car-parts.com, which made this loan possible. As generations move on, nostalgia for the old sensations will fade. Enjoy them while they’re still around.