As far back as 1962 Datsun launched its first two-seater open-topped sportscar, very much along the lines of the contemporary MGB. But with the company selling very few cars outside of its home market, hardly anybody got to sample this neat little sportster, dubbed the Fairlady.
By the end of the 1960s Datsun was selling its products in a much wider range of countries, so when the Fairlady’s successor was announced in 1969, Europeans and Americans would be able to sample it too. And this time it would be more serious; there would be a straight-six providing power and instead of the diminutive convertible this new car would be a more substantial coupé.
The new car – dubbed 240Z – was designed to appeal to the American market. The car would go on to become a formidable weapon in rallying, a superb road car and at one point it was the world’s best-selling sportscar. Now, it’s still superb to drive and if you can find a good one (which is harder than you might think) the Z makes a great investment too.
Which one to buy?
Out of all the Z cars, the 240Z is bar far the most sought after, although later (and more rare) 260Z does have many benefits over its older brother. While its looks are less pure, the 2+2 model is the rarest of all, and is highly collectible.
While Zs are rare in the UK, with a little over 200 registered, there are many to choose from in Europe, Japan and the USA. Buying a 240Z from overseas will potentially be more expensive, however you will probably end up with more rust-free example in the long run.
Projects are best avoided unless you’re a bodywork genius. Indeed, you might be better off avoiding UK-supplied cars, as there were all sorts of derivatives available elsewhere that didn’t make it here – and remember that Japanese-market cars are right-hand drive too. Some home market cars featured smaller engines or four valves for each cylinder. Do your homework by picking up something that didn’t originally make it to the UK, and you could end up with a real classic novelty.
Tough as old boots when properly prepped, the 240Z is also a seriously competitive rally car on many of the world’s toughest events. With suspension that’s sophisticated among its peers it is capable, even if it can be bought out by tight stages due to the big straight-six up front causing a the car to go straight on. One nice feature of the Z for long-distance rallies where the cars are parked up overnight and on rest days is that it has built-in lockers, originally intended for tools, behind each seat. If the rules allow, it’s easy to achieve up to 2.8 litres with later blocks and cranks, and there are plenty of specialists in the UK, too.
These won the Monte and safari in period, and one took the historic Rally Championship in 1992 and 1993. You have to spec them like a Safari car to get to the end of the toughest rallies, and then it can become a £100k car. But everything’s available, and you can use things like Austin 1800 driveshafts if you get stuck.
Performance and specs
Engine 2393cc, in-line six-cylinder
Power 151bhp @ 5600rpm
Torque 146lb ft @ 4400rpm
Top speed 125mph
Fuel consumption 24mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Rust can be blamed for the demise of most 240Zs and 260Zs. Most survivors have seen some work, which may or may not have been done correctly. That’s why you need to look for wonky panel gaps and swage lines that are awry.
• One particular problem area is on the rear quarter panel. Three swage lines intersect at the rear wheelarch and it’s common for them to be all over the place.
• Other areas likely to be riddled with rot include the floorpans – especially the longitudinal crossmembers, which are located just below the front seats. Front chassis legs can also attract serious corrosion.
• Wheelarches and front wings should be carefully inspected, as replacement body panels are difficult to source. Other rust hot spots include the door bottoms and the windscreen surround, the rear panel and tailgate.
• The 240Z interior is fairly basic, and while most of the upholstery can be replaced, cracked dashboard tops are slightly more tricky to sort.
• The straight-six fitted to all these Zs is durable if it’s looked after, which means annual oil changes. Due to the alloy cylinder head, the coolant also needs to be changed regularly.
• Let the engine tick over and remove the oil cap. You should be able to see if the (hopefully clean) oil is flowing freely.
• If there are any problems with the oil supply, there will be an unmistakable rattling from the top end of the engine. There’s always the possibility that the tappets need setting, but plan for the worth case scenario. Any untoward noises from the bottom end will most likely mean that a full strip down is required.
• The five-speed gearbox that was fitted to UK cars is relatively tough, although the bearings and synchromesh do eventually fail. Second gear is usually the first to become crunchy, and a lack of replacement parts makes rebuilding the ‘box a very expensive business.
• Decent used transmissions are scarce, so fitting a 280ZX unit is generally the best alternative. Later 200SX gearbox conversions are becoming more common.
• On the test drive, the steering should feel alert and precise. If there is any slop, the likely culprits are the rack mounting bushes, which have gone soft. This can be easily fixed with a set of polyurethane bushes, and uprated steering coupler.
• There shouldn’t be any suspension problems, although the shock absorbers can leak and the springs will sag after a while. American cars originally came with softer suspension, so fitting stiffer suspension and poly bushes to these is par for the course.
1969: The 240Z goes on sale in Japan.
1970: The UK and America get their first 240Zs; American editions get a four-speed manual gearbox while UK cars have an extra ratio.
1971: The transmission and location of the differential are improved. A Jatco three-speed automatic is offered in some markets while the rear quarter panel and hatch are redesigned for improved through-flow ventilation.
1972: The compression ratio is lowered from 9.0 to 8.8:1, reducing emissions and power. Automatic seat belt retractors are installed and the rear window defroster lines are now horizontal.
1973: The carburettors, manifolds and cylinder head are changed to meet emission standards. Intermittent wipers are now fitted along with tinted glass, three-point adjustable seat belts, a collapsible steering column and fire-retardant trim.
1974: Engine capacity is increased to 2.6 litres, and the car is renamed the 260Z. There’s also a new 2+2 body style, with fold-down rear seats.
1975: The US gets a 2.8-litre model, the 280Z, with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection.
1975/76: The UK market loses the coupe; only the 2+2 is marketed for this period.
1977: The 260Z coupe is re-launched in the UK with revised interior trim, improved suspension and a more luxurious specification. The coupe and 2+2 continue alongside each other until the introduction of the 280ZX.
1978: An all-new, second-generation Z-car is developed, debuting in America and the UK as the 280ZX. Only the engine, transmission and differential are carried over.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.zclub.net – UK owners’ club and forum, catering for all Z cars
• www.s30.org – Classic Nissan 240Z register
• www.datsunclubuk.co.uk – Datsun and Nissan owners’ club
Summary and prices
For such an iconic car, the prices of 240Z models are surprisingly affordable. Like most Japanese classics, the Z models lag behind their European counterparts. Projects start from around £3500, but expect to pay between £7500-£13,000 for something half decent. The very best examples can fetch up to around £25,000.
When looking at building a competition car, things tend to get a lot more expensive, although the 240Z actually remains fairly affordable. Build a car yourself from around £40,000, including a basic 2.8-litre rally engine that will produce 230bhp on three Webers. Total rises past £100,000 if you pay someone else to built a car capable of winning events.
The later 260Z is rarer that the 240Z, and offers even better value. £5000-£10,000 gets you a decent runner, while £15,000 is enough to secure a truly great example.