Why you’d want a Datsun 240Z / 260Z
The perfect sports car for the ’70s came from the least expected source: Japan.
It was targeted at the lucrative US market, then largely the preserve of British and Italian brands, and rapidly became the world’s best-selling sports car because the Americans couldn’t get enough.
It’s hardly surprising: over there, it cost just 10% more than an MGB GT and offered so much more. The 125mph top speed and 8 secs 0-60mph time grabbed the headlines and pulled customers into showrooms, where they were then won over by the car’s attractive lines, quality build and great packaging.
It had plenty of interior and luggage space, a long-range fuel tank, good noise suppression and extremely comfortable, high-backed seats (pioneering integral head restraints), plus good heating and ventilation. All of which made the Z very pleasant to live with, both everyday and for long-distance touring.
We now know that the input of German stylist Albrecht Goertz into the 240Z has been overstated in the past. It was the concept of Yutaka Katayama and designed by Yoshihiko Matsuo, assisted by Akio Yoshida, with – at most – distant memories of a stillborn c1964 design by Goertz.
The 240 had an oversquare 2.4-litre straight-six that gave its best past 4000rpm. Japan had an even more revvy 2-litre for tax reasons, initially single-cam but later with the option of twin-cam with triple Mikuni twin-choke carbs.
This Z432 had 160bhp, but the ultimate Z was the 250bhp Z432-R racer, of which 362 were built.
The 260Z got a longer stroke and, though still oversquare, felt a great deal more torquey. Its introduction coincided with the launch of the 2+2, which was a much bigger car, with a foot longer wheelbase and 16in-longer body.
As rust has decimated survivors and rebuild costs have soared, the 240Z has at last begun to be appreciated. In Europe, where smaller numbers were sold, values have risen dramatically in recent years, partly thanks to top-quality specialist restorations and the cars’ popularity for rallying.
Many both here and in the US have been modified but, apart from historic rally cars – which command double the concours price – the big money is paid for standard-spec Zs.
Front wings, bonnets and headlamp cowls are still available from Nissan, while specialists, particularly in the USA, can supply pretty much everything else, new or second-hand.
Datsun 240Z / 260Z: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Engines are immensely durable if well looked after, even 400,000 miles is possible. Neglect can play havoc with them, though. Inspect the cam condition through the oil filler (use a torch and turn the engine on the starter) and watch out for signs of head-gasket failure; expect 55psi oil pressure on the move.
As with any alloy head, lack of rust inhibitor leads to silting, inadequate water flow, overheating and potentially a warped head and blown gasket.
Listen for worn bearings and check for worn synchro, esp on 2nd and 5th. UK cars all 5-speed, imports may be four. Early ’box has straight lever, later bent.
Simple and robust, the suspension is unlikely to give more trouble than weak dampers and worn bushes. Beware of rust or cracks around inner mountings.
Standard wheels were steel; alloys (here Dan Gurneys) look better. Listen for diff whine and clonks: may be just worn UJs, but could be a slack diff.
Pre-’77 vinyl seats prone to splitting and ultimately disintegrating, but replacement covers are available. Cloth panels last better but discolour.
Check dash top for cracking: sunshine destroys it. Also look for electrical maladies; the clock often fails and the oil-pressure sender can be misleading.
Datsun 240Z / 260Z: on the road
Using SU carburettors built under licence by Hitachi, the 240Z engine was simple, durable and reliable – but it will wear out eventually, so listen for untoward noises and pay close attention to engine temperature and oil pressure.
Unleaded fuel is no problem (though the 240 prefers super), but infrequent oil changes lead to worn cam lobes and noticeably lacklustre performance.
Zs gained weight disgracefully over the years, especially in 2+2 form, which slowed acceleration but barely affected top speed except in the USA, where emissions demands took their toll: fitting earlier carbs is worthwhile. Check to see if the car still has its original engine: the serial number is stamped both on a plate under the bonnet and on the block.
Most road testers preferred the 260 to the 240 due to its wider tyres and torque spread, though European 260s were considerably faster than emissions-hampered US models. Many enthusiasts prefer the revvy nature of the 240 engine.
Check the gearbox for signs of wear, and for number of gears: European cars were five-speed, but almost all US cars were fours. The independent rear suspension is robust, but mountings can suffer, diffs are prone to whine and universal-joint wear will cause clunks from the back end.
The Z should give a firm but comfortable ride with excellent, predictable handling – anything less means suspension wear or misalignment. Check for accident damage in the chassis rails or poor repairs to suspension mountings. The steering, which is light and direct on 175/80 tyres, is heavy at low speeds on wider rubber.
Datsun 240Z / 260Z price guide
- Show/rebuilt 240: £25,000+
- Average 240: £18,000
- Average 260 2+2: £12000
- Restoration: £3000
Datsun 240Z / 260Z history
1966 Yoshihiko Matsuo creates clay model
1967 Glassfibre prototype with ‘Z’ designation
1969 Nov Fairlady Z 2.0 and 240Z 2.4 launched
1970 240Z’s rally debut on RAC, finished 7th; also wins US SCCA Production Class C
1971 Auto option announced, rear vents move from hatch to C-pillar; UK sales begin August; 240Z 1st and 2nd on East African Safari Rally
1971 Oct centre console and seat changes
1972 Aug larger bumpers and overriders; US cars lose power with head and carb changes
1973 Oct 260Z replaces 240 in US and Japan, with 2+2 option, wider tyres, stiffer springs
1974 260Z replaces 240 in Europe
1975 Fuel-injected 280Z replaces 260 in USA
1976 Feb two-seater dropped in Europe
1977 US cars get 5-speed ’box; 260Z 2-seater reintroduced in UK; seat centres now cloth
1979 260/280Z replaced by 280ZX 2+2
The owner’s view
Rob Smith has owned this 240Z for 10 years, but it all started with a 260.
“My son bought a 260Z that needed restoring and he didn’t get around to it, so I rebuilt it,” he explains. “I joined the Z Club and started going to various shows. I enjoyed driving it and also had a 300ZX for a while. Then I had the chance to drive a 240Z and I loved it – you really feel a part of the car. So I started looking and found this one locally.
“The rear end had been custom-painted with newsprint, so I had it resprayed. I also bought an interior trim kit from the US and retrimmed it. It was remarkably solid for a UK example, but at some point it had been fitted with a Laurel engine, so I put the motor from the 260 in temporarily – and it’s still there!”
Though sold in tiny numbers and only on the home market, the BGT V8 was a serious rival to the Datsun in performance. It lacks space and only has a live rear axle, but it’s desirable now, especially in chrome-bumper form.
Sold 1973-’76 • No. built 2591 • Mpg 19-26 • 0-60mph 7.7 secs • Top speed 125mph • Price new £2294 (1973) • Price now £7000
The Capri rivalled the 260Z 2+2 at half the price with very similar pace: no wonder it was also a best-seller. Rot and neglect have decimated numbers and they are costly to rebuild, with poorer parts availability than you might expect.
Sold 1969-’77 • No. built 1,576,512 (all MkI/IIs) • Mpg 18-25 • 0-60mph 8.5 secs • Top speed 120mph • Price new £1824 (GXL, ’73) • Price now £8000
Datsun 240Z / 260Z: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
With customers paying £25,000-plus for rebuilt 240Zs from the top specialists, it’s clear that the Z is out of the doldrums, but there are still plenty of bodged ones around from the days when proper restoration wasn’t worthwhile.
Take a really good look underneath and probe everywhere to be sure that you buy a good one, then enjoy it!
- Eye-catching styling
- Robust, well-engineered mechanicals
- Good parts supply
- Smooth and rapid performance
- Rust takes hold and is expensive to put right
- Became heavier, softer and slower (esp in USA)
- Parts often swapped for lesser models
Datsun 240Z / 260Z specifications
Sold/number built 1969-’78/531,601
Construction steel monocoque
Engine iron-block, alloy-head sohc/dohc 1988cc or sohc 2393/2565/2754cc ‘six’, with twin Hitachi-SU carburettors or Bosch K-Jetronic-pattern electronic fuel injection
Max power 150bhp @ 6000rpm-162bhp @ 5600rpm
Max torque 148lb ft @ 4400rpm-163lb ft @ 4400rpm
Transmission four/five-speed manual or auto, driving rear wheels
Suspension independent, by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bars (no rear anti-roll bar in the USA)
Steering rack and pinion
Brakes 103/4in (272mm) front discs, 9in (229mm) rear drums, with servo
Length 13ft 7in-14ft 8in (4135-4715mm)
Width 5ft 4in-5ft 5in (1630-1650mm)
Height 4ft 3in (1285mm)
Wheelbase 7ft 7in-8ft 6in (2305-2605mm)
Weight 2355-2875lb (1070-1305kg)
Top speed 125-127mph
Price new £2690 (1973)
BUY A CLASSIC DATSUN 240Z / 260Z