- Best model: 240Z
- Worst model: 60Z 2+2
- Budget buy: 260Z
- OK for unleaded?: Post-‘77 260Zs fine, but not earlier cars
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4450 x W1630mm
- Spares situation: Generally ok apart from panels
- DIY ease?: Not bad
- Club support: Reasonable
- Appreciating asset?: Yes, as a poor mans’ E-type
- Good buy or good-bye?: It’s not a Z list classic…
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Is the Datsun 240Z and 260Z Japan’s Big Healey and just as enjoyable and collectable? We think so…
Pros & Cons
The first Oriental car to be truly accepted by the classic fraternity, Datsun’s Z-series was designed for the Japanese and American markets – but not by Albrecht Goetz (designer of the lovely BMW 507 no less), as is usually assumed, although he played a major role. Datsun’s own in-house team created a masterpiece that works superbly thanks to its sleek styling, lusty engines, good handling and Swisswatch levels of reliability.
This wasn’t the first sports car to come from the Datsun stable though; there had been a series of small open-topped MGB-style twoseaters which all carried the Fairlady tag, just as the Z cars did in their home market. The 240Z was different insofar it was arguably the fi rst Japanese ‘muscle car’ designed with the E-type and Big Healey in mind. While Z cars have come and gone over the years, it’s the 240Z that is by far the most collectable and yet still amazingly affordable; read on and you’ll see why.
Nissan in US sold restored 240zs via dealers!
Datsun had been planning the 240Z since the early 60s, not least because it knew Toyota was planning a similar spor ty coupe (2000GT), which Goer tz also had a hand in! The 240Z fi nally made it to Jap market in 1969 – the same year that the Capri arrived in Europe. It wouldn’t be until the following year that the US and UK got their fi rst taste of the 240Z though; US-supplied cars got a four-speed manual gearbox while those bound for the UK got an extra ratio although less standard kit to compensate.
When our 240Z arrived, import duties made it an expensive if good choice; at more than £2191 it was in company with more prestigious cars like the Stag and a BMW 2002Tii By 1971 the Z was available with a Jatco three-speed automatic in some markets, while the rear quarter panel and hatch were also redesigned for improved throughfl ow ventilation. One year later and the compression ratio of that lovely 151bhp straight six 2.4-litre engine (itself a virtual copy of the Mercedes unit it built under licence) was lowered from 9.0 to 8.8:1, reducing emissions and clipping power, slightly while at the same point automatic seat belt retractors were installed. For 1973 the carburettors, manifolds and cylinder head were changed to meet even more stringent emission standards, while intermittent wipers were now fi tted along with tinted glass, three-point adjustable seat belts, a collapsible steering column and fi re-retardant trim.
There were much bigger changes for 1974 though with the launch of the 260Z. The engine capacity was increased to 2.6-litres although the power output was hiked to 162bhp, the engine featured softer valve timing and other de-tuning to meet US smog laws. There was also a new 2+2 body shell option, which incorporated folddown rear seats for those with growing families – shades of the E-type. Infl ation had jacked up the 260Z’s price to within £1000 of the Jag’s £3812 by then incidentally.
The Datsun was almost £500 dearer than the recently launched MGB GTV8, a grand more expensive than the outgoing TR6 and almost the same price as the Reliant Scimitar GTE.
Within a year US buyers were offered a 2.8-litre model, the 280Z, with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection. UK buyers still got the 260Z, but for 1975 and 1976 there was no coupé option; only the 2+2 was imported – offi cially anyway. However a change of heart by 1977 saw the 260Z coupe on sale once again in the UK with revised interior trim, improved suspension and a more luxurious specifi cation. The coupé and 2+2 continued to be sold alongside each other until the introduction of the US-inspired 280ZX in 1978. This was a second-generation Z-car as only the engine, transmission and differential were carried over and it lost much of what made the earlier cars so great.
This is what it’s all about; the 240Z is massive fun to drive, thanks to a torquey straight-six (redlined at 6500rpm) and rear-wheel drive. Weight distribution is almost 50:50 and the ride is great too, thanks to independent suspension all round, courtesy of MacPherson struts.
With just 151bhp as standard, it would be easy to assume that the 240Z’s performance wouldn’t be all that strong. But with a kerbweight of just over a tonne, it’s more sprightly than you’d expect – that’s what Autocar reckoned, anyway, when it drove a 240Z in May 1971. The magazine’s road tester also commented on the perfect spacing of the fi ve gearbox ratios along with the perfect torque curve.
As a measure of just how rapid the 240Z is, Autocar found it could accelerate faster than the TR6 and 911T; indeed, the only contemporary sports car capable of giving it a run for its money was the E-Type 4.2. But the 240Z isn’t just quick (0-60mph just over eight seconds, 125mph top speed); it’s agile too as it’s not as nose-heavy as you might expect this ‘Japanese Healey‘ to be. This is partly due to the engine being mounted quite a long way back, the result being just 51.4 per cent of the car’s weight resting over the front wheels. Put two people inside and suddenly the weight has a rearward bias, so it’s no wonder that the car remains so good to pilot.
With radial tyres as standard, Autocar also concluded that the 240Z offered ample grip and surprisingly little roll thanks to the low centre of gravity. Throw in sharp, precise steering courtesy of a rack-and-pinion set-up and a braking system that was reassuring but with a heavy pedal, and you can see why the 240Z was loved from the outset. Perhaps most intriguing of all, Autocar concluded its review by making comparisons with the MGC, stating that the 240Z is the car that the C should have been. While it would have been easy to see this as a sleight on the MG, it was really a major compliment for the Datsun – especially at a time when oriental cars were still viewed with suspicion by many in the UK.
You’d think the lustier 260Z would be even better but road tests were less enthusiastic, a result of the lazier engine and gearing. “The 260Z carries on the tradition of the 240Z, being a rugged handsome car with good handling and plenty of performance from the big six-cylinder engine. Any loss in performance and economy compared to the 240Z must be blamed fi rmly on emission control requirements,” said Motor who now reckoned the engine was now rough and noisy at high revs. Economy remained decent however and around 24-25mpg is possible.
For it’s size the Datsun is very roomy for two (a sop to the US market where it sold brilliantly) and the hatchback facility offers fair practicality. Trim quality was pretty good and this Datsun far more civilised than, say, an MGC, TR6 or Healey of that era. In fact it’s a daily driver if you can handle the fuel returns and a firm ride.
Some 622,000 cars were made but finding a good one is diffi cult plus too many have been blinged. 240Z restoration projects start at £2000 while the best examples can cost up to £20,000; a really nice car that’s not perfect fetches around £10,000, while average examples that are perfectly usable are generally priced at between £6000 and £8000. It’s harder to value the later 260Zs because they’re so rarely available, but the fi gures for a two-seater version should be around 25 per cent less than for an equivalent 240Z we reckon.
The 2+2 editions are worth even less – maybe another 20 per cent or so less than an equivalent two-seater model. However, the increasing rarity of good 2+2 examples may bring changes in the future…
The 240Z/260Z was a big hit in racing and rallying so there’s a lot of experience and knowledge on making them go better, the most famous UK car being ‘Big Sam’ from Spike Anderson. The limiting factor with most Z engines, in terms of their effi ciency, is the carburation. The 240Z’s were Hitachi SU-type carburettors, made under licence, which work fi ne; the 260Z’s aren’t so good. If the top of the carbs are fl at (like a tin can), rather than rounded like an SU, the original units are fi tted. It’s worth swapping these for SU HS2 items; they’re the same as the Rover P6 2000TC’s.
If you want something really fruity, it’s possible to go to triple Webers or Dell’Ortos – but you’ll need to upgrade the exhaust, valves and camshaft as a package. In this Big Sam guise, some 190bhp was found with no loss of reliability. And rocketed the car to 60 in 6.4 seconds! Not quick enough? The 2.8 engine can be taken out to 3-litres and some owners have fi tted Skyline engines but easier fi ts are the 200SX units. US-market cars featured softer suspension than those sold in the UK. If you’re buying an import from America, it’s worth fi tting shorter, stiffer springs to sharpen things up along with beefi er anti-roll bars. While you’re at it, fitting polyurethane bushes is a good idea.
Steel wheels were fi tted to all 240Zs, while the 260Z featured alloys from 1975 onwards. Most cars now sit on alloys of some sort, either period Wolfrace items or Minilites. Whatever wheels are fi tted, ensure they’re not too wide; many owners get carried away and fi t wheels that destroy the ride and can put too much of a loading on the suspension and steering.
The original wheels were 5.5J items; you can go up to 7J and get away with it, but anything wider may cause problems with premature wear. Problems with supply of performance rubber in period sizes mean that many owners are stepping up to a 16” alloy to improve roadholding. Braking kits feature Wilwood callipers. Some people fi t adapted Subaru Impreza rack and pinion steering.
What To Look For
- If a gearbox rebuild is necessary, you can expect to pay £500-£1000 for the parts alone. While you’re at it, it might be worth fi tting a 280ZX unit if you can get hold of one. These later units have improved synchro design over the 240Z and 260Z items, so they’re even more durable. Beware the mix and match on ratios, however. Only the later 280ZX manual box matches the 240Z’s 3.9:1 differential ratio.
- Clonking noises from the rear as you take up the drive signal that the outer universal joints have worn on the driveshafts. It’s a standard U/J, so replacements are cheap at £35, while renewal is easy. The rack-and-pinion steering makes the Z a delight to pilot, but watch out for soft mounting bushes. Once the rubber has perished the steering will become vague so check for play by turning the steering wheel and getting somebody to see how quickly the road wheels respond. Urethane mounting bushes and a plastic steering coupler (in place of the original rubber item) improve steering precision by a huge margin it is claimed, at under £30 for the set.
- With MacPherson struts and coil springs at each corner, the Z’s suspension is unusually advanced for its era. Its simplicity means the set-up is usually long-lived, but tired or leaking dampers along with sagging springs are par for the course. Drive the car along a poorly surfaced road and feel for a crashy ride; the car should soak up the bumps with ease. If it doesn’t, you need new springs (£160 per set) and/or dampers (from £125 per pair) at each corner.
- The Z’s interior is now fabulously dated; it’s a real piece of Sixties kitsch with its quilted gearbox cover trim and resin-coated wooden steering wheel. The quilted trim often gets replaced by carpet, while all sorts of aftermarket steering wheels get fi tted. Tracking down an original wheel is still possible, while repro quilted trim is available at £235 for the set. Door trims have a habit of warping while the seat trim often splits; replacement seat re-upholstery kits are around £240 for the pair.
- Cars that have been left in the sun (such as US imports) may be suffering from cracks in the dash top; fading and discolouring also common. In the case of the latter it’s possible to recolour, but cracks in the plastic harder to deal with as new replacement surrounds are impossible to fi nd.
- Apart from deteriorating looms, which can be replaced with repro items, there’s little to worry about with the electrics; column stalk and switch contacts sometimes give problems, but the units can be rebuilt. Alternators and starter motors are amazingly durable but can be refurbished if necessary. The front wing indicator repeaters rot badly and are hard to source, but they can be swapped for similar units if necessary.
- The spares situation isn’t bad and, like our Capri, there’s fair interchangability with other Datsun of that era such as Bluebirds etc. Good contacts include Kent-based Fourways Engineering (01732 884288), and the Classic Z Register (01624 357394) and the Z Club (http://www.zclub.net). And checkout the comprehensive The Z-car story from Veloce Publishing (http://www.veloce.co.uk).
Three Of A Kind
Triumph GT6Like the Datsun 240Z, the Triumph GT6 was dubbed a poor mans’ E-type – and you could argue that the GT6 is also the poor chaps’ 240Z. Great looks, sweet engine and strong tuning and upgrading potential plus easy DIY ability make the GT6 a very handy sports coupe. MK3s with overdrive are best all rounders.
MGC GTThe 240Z was launched just as the MGC was ditched and while there’s fair likeness, the Datsun is light years ahead in design and driving. Lazy big C Series six is no match, nor is the handling and ride but the MG makes a fine tourer plus can be had in roadster form. Specialist support second to none and values are rising.
Datsun 280/300ZXLater versions not nearly as good. 280 featured new rear suspension and discs but was heavier, softer, slower and uglier, ideal for Stateside market but there was a targa top. 300ZX was all new and an improvement but still lacked the character of the 240Z All are dirt cheap but few good 280ZXs are left.
Whether you’re after a toy for occasional use, one for historic rallying or even a car for more regular use, the 240Z and 260Z make a lot of sense. They’re less suited to everyday use because of their thirst, but with stylish looks, a great chassis and superb reliability, the Z makes a sound classic buy. And, you don’t have to settle for a UK-supplied car. There were all sorts of derivatives available elsewhere that didn’t make it here – and remember that Japanesemarket cars are right-hand drive too. Some home market cars featured smaller engines or four valves for each cylinder. Nice 240Zs are now very rare; do your home work for something that didn’t originally make it to the UK and you could end up with a real classic novelty.
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