1971-1974 240Z (S30) 1974-1979 240Z 260Z (S30) 1979-1983 280ZX (S130)  

Almost without any doubt, the standout car of the 1970’s Datsun range was the Z (S30) series of cars. Imports started in late 1970, after the initial demand for the car in the States was met. The Fairlady, which was badged as the 240Z for export models, sold exceptionally well in North America having a reputation as a cut price E-type. However while the car was keenly anticipated in the UK and Europe, it was priced considerably higher, so sales were not anywhere as strong but did wonders to the image of the brand. The car was developed to replace the Fairlady roadster which helped a positive reputation in the states, but the decision was made to only produce a fixed head coupe. Typically it used many proven parts and components from existing models. The straight six L24 engine was the ultimate development of the new range of engines – which was based on the same block as the 510 engines. It brought in a new caliber of customers into the showrooms, who generally wouldn’t have considered buying a Datsun. As a result dealers were very keen to have the car as focal point in their showroom, but only the bigger UK dealers received them.

 240z_designPreliminary design process

The cars sporting pedigree was quickly established and like the Fairlady before it, it soon became a competitive track racer. However, its the S30 defining moment was in 1971, when it won the tough East African Safari Rally. This was followed up by another win in the hands of the legendary Shekhar Mehta in 1973, supplemented by 9 other Datsun finishes (240Z’s, 510’s and 610) out of 18 finishers. With several Datsun UK prepared cars also entering and finishing the 1973 RAC rally, Datsun UK finally used this positive PR to promote the durability of the brand, while worldwide sales of the Z were on the way to make it the best selling sports car at the time.

 240z_keeganFormer Liverpool and England player Kevin Keegan taking delivery of a Datsun 260Z

Demand for the car was still very strong when the Datsun revised the design, led by American focus groups to address some of the issues that customers felt needed to be resolved. The replacement model, the 260Z was introduced in 1974, offering a longer stroke engine, more interior refinements and subtle updates. A 2+2 model was also offered, adding a little more practicality to the range.

 240z_productionProduction line

The development of the 260Z turned the car into the 280ZX where it received further continuous updates, each refinement generally brought the car further upmarket. In America, the Z strongest market, requests to allow the car to grow with the affluence and status of the original buyers of the 240Z meant more comfort, more room and significant luxury equipment but at the expense of increasing the weight and price. The badging system of the Z changed to reflect the engine size increases rather than the body style updates. As the US only 280Z fell foul stringent U.S. emission and safety requirements, a new larger model, designated the 280ZX was released in 1979 which provided the American public with a comfortable well equipped straight line cruising machine, this was supplemented by a Targa model which offered an element of open air motoring. The Z line was continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s, each successive release relying on the reputation of the original. Markets and customer demands in the mass produced sports car markets changed over years, by the time the 300ZX turbo model had been released, the link to the original 240Z was tenuous. The 2004 350Z had addressed some issues in certain attributes, but the 240Z remains the ultimate Z. The original managed to combine toughness, agile handling, poised and purposeful styling and sheer driving experience.