An affordable, reliable sports car with looks and comfort, which is easy to use every day; that was the starting point with which Datsun/Nissan wanted to tap into a new market in the XNUMXs. Nissan had already kicked off with the Fairlady, under the name Datsun a sports car with water-cooled six-cylinder engines debuted: the Datsun Z.
Photos: archive AMK, Aart van der Haagen
The Datsun Z made its debut at the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show as a two-seat sports coupe. The silhouette of the Datsun 240Z was the signature of the design that would be the face of Datsun's sports division for years to come, and would be followed by the (further) successors. The lines were inspired by an early sixties concept by Albert Goertz and were further developed under the direction of Yoshihiko Matsuo. Handy was the third door, with which the luggage compartment could be easily reached. And under the long nose, a six-cylinder 2393 cc engine with two horizontal Hitachi carburettors was fitted for most markets. Buyers could choose from a four- or five-speed gearbox. Datsun also had an answer for lovers of automatic transmissions. It also offered a three-speed automatic transmission.
Two liter versions for the home market
Two six-cylinder two-liter versions were on the menu for the home country of Japan, including the top version Z432. It got three double horizontal carburettors in the front, and delivered around 160 HP of power. The Fairlady, as the Datsun Z was called in Japan, had a shorter front than the export models. All Z engines produced had an overhead camshaft, which was driven by a chain. For all Datsun Z models, the chassis consisted of four independently suspended wheels, the MacPherson system at the front and a Chapman axle at the rear, triangles at the bottom and coil springs. The drive was via the rear wheels.
The Datsun Z quickly became successful, and not just because of its relatively low entry-level price. The handling characteristics were nimble and fully matched the sporty image of the Datsun Z. The 1975Z, built up to 240, was especially popular in the United States. The majority of these were ordered in combination with an automatic transmission, today the manual versions are much sought after. The success of the Datsun Z, and the need for more performance, inspired Datsun to bring the 1974Z for the 260 model year, for export markets. In addition, a 2 + 2 body variant came on the market. The 260Z – the name says it all – got a larger engine with a displacement of 2585 cc. For America, the enlarged engine did not mean that the buyer also had much more power available compared to the 240Z. Reason: environmental regulations. In 1977 a small change took place, the engine got a little more punch, partly as a result of a changed (sharper) camshaft.
Injection engines for America and Japan
Two years earlier, Datsun also launched the 280Z specifically for the North American market, with a six-in-line engine (2753 cc) and available as a two-seater and two plus two. The carburetors were left out of this type, instead of a BOSCH L-Jetronic system. Also in Japan, the Datsun Z (still supplied as two liters) received injection instead of carburation.
Nine years in production
Datsun kept the Z in the program for nine years, and actually gave the example of the possibilities to build a (relatively) affordable six-cylinder sports car. The Z was a segment in itself, a barely matched Japanese icon that also gripped the United States. The production of the Z types ended in the fall of 1978. The impressive 280 ZX then succeeded the founder of the Z-legend.