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Datsun 240Z

Datsun 240Z Published: 29th Aug 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Datsun 240Z
Datsun 240Z
Datsun 240Z
Datsun 240Z
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How’s this for a tasty recipe – a dollop of Big Healey, a splash of TR6 and Mercedes, a sprinkling of Lotus Elan, topped by E-type looks. Datsun’s 240Z blended them well…

The Japanese were renowned for being copy cats. Its motor cycle industry was founded on taking established designs and improving on them before doing same with cars – with devastating effect. The most recent and without question best known example is the Mazda MX-5, an unashamed modern take on our Lotus Elan, although Datsun (Nee Nissan) did it first 50 years ago with its 240Z even though the car copied nothing in particular.

Launched in ‘69, this sleek and stylish two-seater coupé created a real stir – a daring design from a manufacturer not known for making sports cars, so it relied upon the Big Healey E-type and Lotus Elan for some guidance to become the market’s best seller and it’s a line of sports cars that continues to this day, still big-engined and rear-wheel driven.

On the move

Sports cars are all about good looks and the 240Z (known as the Fairlady in its home market) has them to spare. Its nod to the E-type Coupé is obvious and the car’s clean lines (aided by BMW designer Albrecht von Goertz) have never been bettered by successive Z cars over the decades in our view.

Inside, there’s a definite 60’s look although tends to be more American-biased with heavily cowled instruments and a Corvette-like decor. It’s all plastic fantastic – with mock wood thrown in for good measure – but seems somehow right and entirely in period. The low slung driving position feels just right, unless you’re very tall, too. While the 240Z looks large, emphasised by that long bonnet, it’s deceptive as the body is actually five inches shorter than our Mk1 Capri although all-round visibility isn’t as good.

Fire up and there’s that unmistakable growl of straight six, a single cam 2.4-litre, itself a virtual copy of a Mercedes unit built under licence, offering 150bhp. However, our test car (Nissan’s own, in fact) was fed through a trio of large Weber DCOEs instead of the original cloned SU carbs called Hitachi, again made under licence… With an estimated 175bhp at least, it certainly went well although the standard car is said to be good for 125mph and 0-60 in eight seconds; not far off a typical 4.2 E-type Coupé pace if truth be told.

European 240Zs all sported a light, baulk-free, if slightly loose feeling, five-speed gearbox and with a decent, though hardly remarkable 146lbft of torque (@4400rpm) the engine doesn’t need to be canned mercilessly to get the full effect even though it can rev to 7000rpm if you want it to. Very impressive for its size but apart from exceeding 40mph in first gear and the legal limit in second, there’s scant need to.

There’s touch of the Healey/MGC about the straight six’s lusty, lazy nature and the Datsun is a commendable cruiser for such a vintage, possessing a good high speed ride. This, along with a pair of uncommonly good 1960’s seats makes the miles fly comfortably; fairly quiet, three figure cruising was reported in period road tests and the 240Z is far less tiring than a TR6 or Elan to tour in.

For it’s size, this Datsun is very roomy for two (a sop to the US market where it sold brilliantly) and the hatchback facility offers fair practicality plus is 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 25mpg fuel returns.

Round the corners

Japanese cars of this era were generally mediocre handlers but again the 240Z took its cue from some distinguished companies to change all that. The engine is set quite far back for a near ideal 51/49 weight distribution for starters plus the suspension features the celebrated ‘Chapman’ struts which makes the Elan so endearing. The 240Z is no lithe little Lotus mind yet handles extremely well for a 50 year old. Put two people inside and suddenly the weight has a rearward bias, so it’s no wonder that the car remains so pleasant to pilot if you adopt the ‘slow in fast out’ approach just as you would with an old school rear-wheel drive sports car.

The unassisted rack and pinion steering, worked by 15inch thin wood rimmed, heavily dished steering wheel, is heavy alright (further highlighted on our car by its wider alloy wheels and lower profile tyres instead of the standard 4.5inch 175x14 rolling stock-ed) but is positive and quite tolerable when on the move. Urethane mounting bushes and a plastic steering coupler (in place of the original rubber item) improves steering precision by a huge margin it is claimed, while the Subaru Impreza’s rack is also a great conversion.

There’s definitely a Big Healey flavour about the 240Z’s driving manners although, with a low centre of gravity, it rolls, much less and the handling is generally much more precise and neutral, simply going where it’s placed with relatively little drama. Having said that, a 1972 road test reckoned the car could be made to oversteer “quite spectacularly”.

The disc/drum with servo brakes (itself a Girling design built under licence by Sumitomo) are a bit heavy under foot but again, perform respectably enough for their age and design.

Go or no go

Autocar’s 1971 test concluded by making comparisons with the MGC, stating that the 240Z is the car that the C should have been. Monthly Car, three years later commented on the Datsun’s “robust, strong sort of character…it has the same sort of hairy-chested vintage appeal of the old Austin-Healey sixes”.

Is the Datsun 240Z, and the later 260Z replacement, ’Japan’s Big Healey’ and just as enjoyable and collectable? We think so after sampling this lovely example. Arguably the first Japanese ‘muscle car’, you can buy one for considerably less than the aforementioned, MGC, or Big Healey and we wager you’d savour the experience – at least – equally as well.

Spares, while not MG sufficient, aren’t a major problem as this Datsun remains well served in the US. A fair number in the owners’ club (Z Club –www. zclub.net) are fitted with Toyota Supra and BMW straight six engines which fit a treat so if originality isn’t important you can make this fine car even better.

Just as the MX-5 redefined the evergreen British sports car by merging all the good parts of accepted classics 30 years ago, Datsun showed the way first 20 years previously proving that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. The 240Z was known in Britain as the ’24 ounce’ , a comical play on its name tag. Good ones are fast becoming worth their weight in gold.

Quick spin

PERFORMANCE Excellent in ’69 and still good enough for today’s roads with Healey-like lust

CRUISING Five-speeds even back then, it’s as good as any modern

HANDLING Very good; little roll, very predictable and easily improved

BRAKES Up to the job for normal road use

EASE OF USE Great all rounder; MGC GT hatch practicality, Capri user friendliness



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