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A Game-Changer Marks Its Golden Anniversary: Datsun’s Z Celebrates 50 Years

Posted March 13, 2019 9:00 AM by dstrohl

By the end of the 1960s, Japanese automakers struggled to overcome the perception among U.S. buyers that their wares were little more than transportation appliances. In October 1969, Datsun debuted a GT coupe at the Tokyo Motor Show, designed with American consumers in mind, and in short order the 240Z rewrote the book on what an affordable sports car could be. In 2019, the Datsun Z will mark its 50th anniversary, an achievement that will be recognized with a dedicated Z Car class at the 2019 Hemmings Motor News Concours d’Elegance.

The Datsun Z wasn’t the first aspirational sport coupe produced by a Japanese carmaker, an honor that would instead go to the 1967 Toyota 2000GT. Built under contract by Yamaha, which also handled much of the 2000GT’s design, the Toyota was a halo car meant to help the automaker shed its conservative image. It worked, with American magazines of the day heaping praise on the coupe, which carried an aluminum body and came powered by a Yamaha-tuned, double overhead-camshaft 2.0-liter inline six, rated at 148 hp.

Looking back at a classic auto pacesetter.

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#1

Re: A Game-Changer Marks Its Golden Anniversary: Datsun’s Z Celebrates 50 Years

03/14/2019 3:35 AM

Back in 1987, I worked for the Dept of Defense and my boss had an early 70's 240Z. He told me a lot about the car and I'll admit that I liked the car (looks better than the 260 or 280) but I thought it wasn't that quick and the power/weight ratio was only 15.6. My hot rod Camaro was around 13.9 - much better!

Back then, I had a 1980 Camaro with a "built" 5.0L V-8, hot cam, double roller timing chain, bigger heads, Edelbrock dual plane intake, Holley 650, headers, turbo mufflers, 3.31 Posi rear axle and some nice 235 60 15 tires on Magnesium 1982 Pontiac Firebird wheels. It was pretty quick and it really screamed - sounded like a NASCAR Stock Car! Back then, I didn't "get" the 240Z - only a 2.4L straight 6 with only 151hp. Why not buy a Camaro or Firebird?

Now, I do! The Camaro/Firebird still has a cool look, but it's heavy. And the suspension isn't very sophisticated. Nor is the steering and the seating position is fair at best. Visibility is fair at best. Fuel economy stinks. Yes, the V8 has a nice grunt - better than the straight 6. Cheapo plastic inside that breaks (door pull, dashboard, console cover, etc.).

Now we look at the Z car. Light weight and nimble. Good visibility, good steering, braking and handles well. Peppy, though not fast. Makes a great sound! Better interior, better made, more forgiving and most of all, much more desirable.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: A Game-Changer Marks Its Golden Anniversary: Datsun’s Z Celebrates 50 Years

03/14/2019 10:13 AM

I had a 79 Z28/350/3 speed auto. Terrible in snow, spun out on I55 halfway between Chicago and Champaign and took out the only mile marker sign for a mile during snow and wind conditions. The inside parts were definately cheap, especially the plastic door pulls that had a life of less than a year before the thin handle connection would break. Overall it was a good looking vehicle (mine was a no option unit in arrest-me-red with matching red rally wheels and oyster cloth interior) but not overly quick. In 1993 I was living in Raleigh driving 50 miles each way to Goldsboro, NC on back country roads. The limits of the car (or mine) were quickly reached and I traded the Camaro and an S10 Blazer for a 1993 280 ZX Turbo 5 speed in silver over blue. No comparison in handling. Even though the 280 was bloated by 240/260 standards, the acceleration and handling dynamics were far superior to those of the Camaro. It also handled better in the wintery mix than the Camaro even with all season (non snow) tires. Disappointments with it? First year for auto climate control and no manual over-ride, it was either full on or on low with no middle ground. The larger issue was that it would not run after the car was started and moved for only a short distance (like backing it out of the driveway and parking it on the street). Afterwards the only way to get it to not sputter and nearly stall was to high rev it for a couple minutes, run it full open on the highway for a mile or two, or let it sit at the dealer for a week while they tried to work it into their service schedule. They never could explain why this happened or correct it despite multiple occurrences and shop visits. I ended up moving back to the Midwest and traded it for a GMC Jimmy to better handle overall weather conditions (including winters).

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#3
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Re: A Game-Changer Marks Its Golden Anniversary: Datsun’s Z Celebrates 50 Years

03/22/2019 3:17 PM

Aaawww, come on "Terrible in snow". Isn't it fun to take a turn at 10 mph and have the back end come around, so you're now facing the wrong way? And taking out mile markers helps the local economy - the state has to spend money on the repair - buy metal for the new sign, pay to have it made into a sign, buy paint, pay for the painting company, buy metal for a new post, pay to have it stamped and drilled, buy bolts and nuts, pay to have a hole due, buy concrete to hold the post in the ground and finally, pay for the install.

Seriously, I did enjoy driving my Camaro. It made a lot of noise, could go sideways without having to pull the e-brake, looked cool and went fast. Would I buy one now? No on your life! There are too many cars that are far better in nearly every aspect of what a car is suppose to do.

Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it.

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