Datsun 240 Z

Who said Japaneser cars were cheap and boring?

Datsun 240 Z Image

Towards the end of the 1960s Japanese cars were looked upon as being reliable, cheap and economical to run, but somewhat unexciting. The management of Datsun – later to be known as Nissan – decided to change all that and take a tilt at the market for sports cars. The chief designer of Datsun's sports car design studio, Yoshihiko Matsuo, was tasked with producing this new model, and this initiative was labelled Project Z.

The first car to come out of the stable in 1970 was a two seater coupe labelled the Fairlady Z. It featured a two litre straight four cylinder overhead camshaft engine producing 130 horsepower with five-speed manual transmission; this was in an era when many manual gearboxes were still limited to 3 forward gears! Four-wheel independent suspension featuring Chapman struts to the rear and MacPherson struts to the front gave it excellent roadholding and cornering, and disc brakes to the front provided more than adequate stopping power. It was roomy, comfortable and even came with air conditioning as an optional extra – unheard-of in a sports car in it's price range.

An extra two cylinders were subsequently added to make it a straight 6 2.4 litre engine producing 163 brake horsepower.

Performance was impressive with a maximum speed of 125 mph an acceleration from 0 to 60 of 8.3 seconds.

It was in marketing however that Datsun really excelled. First of all that name had to be changed for the export market; the word 'Fairlady' didn't exactly bring to mind a fast and gutsy sports car and so it was renamed the 240 Z. Pricing was kept competitive, particularly in the important market of the United States, where it was comparable with the cost of the MGB-GT which was by then becoming rather elderly. It was in distribution that they really scored however. Thanks to an extensive dealer network and efficient distribution, buyers were able to take delivery of their new cars almost immediately, rather than having to suffer the long waits that other manufacturers were prone to.

As a result of excellent marketing, stylish design, a reputation for reliability and sparkling performance the 240Z became extremely popular and changed for ever the common perception of Japanese car manufacturers of being creators of cars that were cheap and reliable, but boring. A long line of 'Z' cars followed and in recognition of his contribution to motoring excellence Yoshihiko Matsuo was even inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.