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Motoring: Datsun 240Z Coupe - 1970

The Datsun 240Z was one of the world s most groundbreaking sports cars. The 240Z wasn't the fastest, the most sophisticated or the most innovatively styled vehicle of its type. But what it did achieve was a combination of sports car driving characteristics, interior comfort and a level of affordability that the world's sport car market had never before seen. Like MGB had done in Britain in the 1960s, the Zed brought the thrill of sports car ownership to the masses in the 1970s.

In the wake of World War II, Nissan Motor Company Limited concentrated on building relatively pedestrian vehicles for its home market; its export program was sporadic. The company knew it could continue building basic, cheap transportation, but to become really successful it needed to turn its attention to America  the most lucrative automotive market on Earth. Mr Yutaka Katayama was employed by Nissan Motor Company Limited in 1960 and was charged with marketing in North America.

Datsun Fairlady 1500 Roadster

Convinced that the best way into the US market was to introduce a line of sports-oriented vehicles, Mr Katayama pushed along the development of the convertible Datsun Fairlady 1500. It is said that the Fairlady 1500 was merely a copy of contemporary British sportscar designs like the MGB. Designed by Hidehiro Iizuka, it was first displayed at the Eighth Tokyo Motor show in October 1961. The 1488cc 4 cylinder motor developed 77 bhp with a top speed of 94mph. The car was released in Australia in mid 1963 and sold in small quantities.

Datsun Silvia 1600 Coupe

The Fairlady platform was used as the basis for a new 2-door sports car, the Silvia 1600 coupe, first shown at the Tokyo Motor show in 1964. Unfortunately, this vehicle did not receive much praise - it was seen as too cramped and having too small an engine. The Silvia 1600 never got a chance to sell in America, but it did appear in limited numbers in other countries. Forty nine cars were exported to Australia, the first arriving in early 1966. The exterior design of the Silvia 1600 is largely credited to Dr. Albrecht Graf von Goertz, a nobleman with experience at Porsche, BMW and Studebaker. Following the disappointing public response to the Silvia 1600, Dr von Goertz and Katayama were teamed up to work on a Nissan sports/GT vehicle that was to be built from the ground up to satisfy the American market.

When Yamaha's efforts related to the design of a 2.0 Litre engine for this car did not meet Nissan's expectations, the project was shelved. Around that time, Toyota approached Yamaha with a view to building a similar car. Yamaha produced the metal prototype for the design they had been working on for Nissan to show Toyota what they could do, Toyota liked it and metal prototype of that design was built by Yamaha. hired Dr. Goertz and Yamaha and the result was the building of the Toyota 2000GT.

The Toyota 2000GT proved that there was some real potential for breaking into the US market with a sports car, however the car was never committed by Toyota for mass production; an examples were hand made by Yamaha in very limited numbers, and were very expensive to purchase. Although this must have been extremely frustrating for Nissan, they not only thought they could create a vehicle similar to the 2000GT but at a much lower price. It would be a mass production car to take on the American Pony cars (Ford Mustang; Chevrolet Camaro etc); thus was project Z born.

Full-steam development began in late 1966 and Nissan Design Project Z had some very specific criteria that had to be met - it had to have a comfortable cabin capable of carrying two people over 6 feet tall, it had to be styled to appeal to the US market and it had to have a relatively large capacity engine. It was also essential that it meet foreseeable US safety and emission standards, and that its biggest selling point would be its affordable price.

One of the ways Nissan kept the Z's price to a minimum was to employ an existing engine design and to use interchangeable parts wherever possible. As its name implies, the 240Z was powered by a 2.4 litre engine, which was a SOHC six-cylinder based on the existing L16 four-cylinder (as used in the popular Datsun 510). Even by today s standards, the L-series six-cylinder is a remarkably smooth engine and, perhaps not surprisingly, its design wass apparently very similar to the Mercedes-Benz 220 of the early 60s.

The 240Z's L24 employed a cast iron block and SOHC alloy head, seven bearing crankshaft, 9.0:1 compression ratio and twin Hitachi carbs. An automatic or manual gearbox could be specified. The new Z engine hit the market producing a creditable 151hp (113kW) at 5600 rpm. With a kerb weight of 1070kg, Nissan claimed 0 - 60 mph (96.6 km/h) performance in around 8.0 seconds. Top speed was 125 mph (201 km/h).

Dr Goertz, who had earlier designed the Silvia, penned the 240Z. The car had muscular lines, a beautiful long bonnet and recessed lights. It was a reflection of what the American market wanted; and for that reason it was deliberately made to look very un-Japanese. Goertz took the basic shape of the E-type, gave it the headlights of the MGB, the roofline of the Porsche 911 and the tail of the Ferrari Daytona. Amazingly, the result was not a hotch-potch as one would expect, but a car with enough difference to all of the aforementioned to have a style, elegance and appeal of its own.

After three years of development, the Datsun 240Z was released in the US only in late 1969. Nissan had managed to follow through with its plan to keep its cost to a minimum, keeping the cost of the car in the US well under the price of a Corvette or Porsche. Production of right-hand-drive 240Zs - which were sold throughout other parts of the world - did not commence until 1970, after the US release and the initial teething troubles found in all new models had been identified and ironed out.

Contemporary magazine tests were overwhelming complimentary of the Z and, as intended, they caught the attention of the public. The initial batch of 1969 cars were quickly snapped up and in early 1970, Nissan Japan increased production capacity to meet demand. Up to 4000 units were being sold every month - well over Nissan s expectations. The 240Z also proved itself as a highly competitive race car. Unlike many other Japanese vehicles, the 240Z was quickly adopted by the aftermarket performance industry, which helped enhance its appeal.

The 240Z continued excellent sales into 1973 when it reputedly topped 116,712 units. The 240Z was then replaced by the longer-stroke 260Z model in 1975. The 260Z was available as a 2 + 2 and with automatic transmission - the vehicle lost some of its true sports car appeal as a concession to automatic transmissions and longer larger wheel bases.and had It had put on substantially more weight  a trend that would unfortunately continue for many years, taking the Z series far away from the basic value-for-money sports car it was created to be.

Nissan 300SX

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