The Datsun 240Z just celebrated its 50th birthday, and it’s hard to believe this sporty little masterpiece is already half a century old. If you purchased one back in the day, you made a smart move. In 1970, you could get a fully-loaded 240Z for just $3,500 — an amazingly affordable price for a brand new sports car, even 50 years ago.
This was Nissan’s savvy counterpoint to Toyota’s 2000GT, which screamed across the screen in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. But for many car buyers, the Datsun 240Z blew the 2000GT out of the water in almost every way.
Compared to the 2000GT, the 240Z was nearly half the price, much more fuel-efficient, easier to maneuver, full of interesting hardware, and bursting with 70s sports car style. If someone was dreaming of owning a Jaguar or Shelby GT500 but couldn’t afford it, the Datsun 240Z was their new type of dream car.
A Fresh Face in International Auto Manufacturing
Envision the point in history when the Datsun 240Z debuted. The world’s sports car market had long been dominated by European automakers — even as U.S. automakers were trying to secure a strong foothold.
Meanwhile, Toyota was a relatively unknown entrant in the marketplace, and many new car buyers were suspicious of buying an expensive vehicle with untested durability. Yutaka Katayama, the President of Nissan Motor Corporation USA, saw this as an opportunity to produce a competitor car that was inexpensive, stylish, and would make middle-class American buyers think, “Why not?”
When it first rolled off the assembly line in 1970, it was known as the Nissan Fairlady Z within the Japanese market. But for American buyers, Nissan gave it a much sportier name. “Datsun 240Z” sounded sexier and more 70s than “Fairlady.” The “240” in its name comes from its light and efficient 2.4-liter in-line SOHC six engine.
It’s Not an Economy Car — It’s a Sports Car!
Anyone who bought an early Datsun Z could tell you it wasn’t just an economy car. It had the throbbing heart of a sports car, and Nissan took great pains to advertise the 240Z’s sporty trim details and styling options. It came in eight bright body colors, two interior colors and offered numerous ways to customize it to your tastes.
Nissan also gave several 240Zs away to U.S. racing teams, providing an immediate boost of recognition and credibility within the sports world. Racers and everyday drivers alike appreciated the fact that the Datsun 240Z — unlike most race cars of the era — offered plenty of headroom for taller drivers.
Don’t forget about all the new mechanical features that made this car an instant favorite: disc brakes, two-position door hinges, push-button seat belt release, behind-the-seat storage, powerful heating/venting with extra louvers, and the 240Z’s signature four-wheel fully independent suspension.
Flat out, it could reach a top speed of 125 mph while sipping gas at 21 mpg — a fuel efficiency that premiered at just the right time in history. America’s biggest muscle cars were being hamstrung by federal emissions regulations due to the global oil crisis. The efficient Datsun 240Z held the pole position in a new era of Japanese car dominance.
The Legend and Lore of the Datsun Zs
Perhaps the all-time most famous owner of a Datsun Z is movie icon Paul Newman, who raced several of these cars in the early 70s with his Newman Freeman Racing team. Adding to the mystique, the precise location of Newman’s own personal Datsun Z is still unknown. Legend has it that a private owner attempted to sell it for $5 million in 2015, but skeptical buyers refused to bid.
But there’s no denying that the Datsun 240Z holds a place in racing history. It won the grueling East African Safari Rally in 1973 and has continued to compete in elite races right up to the present day. Some say it’s a car that will never die because Nissan is smart enough to make it last forever.
In a brand-new commercial for the latest Nissan Zs, modern models race against their ancestors from previous generations. Meanwhile, the voiceover narrator reminds us that today’s Nissan Z still honors the vehicle’s legendary triple threat: efficiency, driveability, and affordability.
Protecting Your Fun, Fast, Ultimate Dream Datsun
Isn’t it great to see this beloved sports car get the respect it deserves? If you own one, make sure you’re honoring its historical value with a Classic Auto Insurance policy.
We offer collector and classic auto insurance policies with agreed-value coverage at affordable prices. Let our friendly staff at Classic Auto Insurance help you find the perfect policy for your Datsun 240Z. Visit our website at www.classicins.com to see how we can help safeguard your dream car.