Datsun 240Z & Nissan 370Z: Old & New Review

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We take a look back at the cut-price coupe that started a revolution – this is the story of the Nissan ‘Z’ car

Sometimes the original is simply the best. In the case of the Datsun Z and latterly, the Nissan Z range, you’d be hard pressed to argue against the classic 240Z as the sharpest car to ever bear the name. We’ve taken a closer look at a fantastic example of an early 240Z, build number #803 that resides locally in Melbourne. Can the current 370Z hold a candle to this classic?

The end of an era?

Until very recently, it was expected that the current Nissan 370Z would be the last of Nissan’s line-up to bear the ‘Z’ moniker, putting an end to an almost 50-year history of the famed Japanese performance nameplate.

Within the past few weeks, however, has learned that the Z name is likely to live on, albeit in the form of a larger 355kW model; potentially available with all-wheel drive and on-sale before the marque’ 50th anniversary.

And, as the Datsun 240Z approaches next year’s half-century celebrations, we sought-out a local example to line up against the 2018 Nissan 370Z to see how the Z performance brand has evolved over the past four decades – and how the 240Z earned its reputation as an icon.

A Fairlady, by all accounts

The Datsun 240Z was introduced by Nissan at the end of the swinging-Sixties with the hope that a new halo vehicle would generate interest in the Japanese marque.

Bearing the model designation S30, the vehicle was called the Nissan Fairlady Z in Japan and Datsun 240Z in overseas markets, including Australia, where it was pitched as an affordable alternative to sportscars like the Jaguar E-Type.

Powered by a six-cylinder 2.4-litre petrol engine, the rear-drive, two-door coupe was launched locally in 1969 with a four-speed manual gearbox. An automatic transmission was made available a year later.

Competitively priced against the established European sports car brands, the 240Z found favour with car critics and owners alike and quickly established the Z nameplate as a performance moniker to be reckoned with.

In Australia, the 240Z was a refreshing change from the grunt of locally-built V8 muscle cars, while it’s wedge-styling presented a more modernist design for changing tastes. It’s futuristic styling and relative rarity make it an attractive classic, but prices are on the rise good examples now fetching between $40,000 – $60,000.

They’re only original once

Since its introduction the Datsun 240Z has been a popular car for modifications, so very few local cars remain unmolested. We were lucky enough to find a car that’s stayed relatively true to its roots, owned by Melbourne-based enthusiast, Dale Mracek.

While its history isn’t 100 per cent confirmed, Dale’s car does bear matching numbers indicating it was an early build, number 803. While the car wears Fairlady Z badges, an indication that it may be a Japanese vehicle, the engine is an original L24 which would seem to indicate that the car is an Australian import which was originally badges as a ‘240Z’.

Prior to Dale’s purchase, the car underwent a full engine rebuild and paint restoration in 2014 and since he bought it, Dale has carried out some sympathetic modifications.

He has added aero upgrades to the front air dam and rear carbon-fibre boot lip spoiler, carried out a full suspension replacement – including the fitment of adjustable coil-overs – and fitted new wheels and tyres.

The engine has been enhanced, adding beefy triple Weber carburettors, a Kenmari intake manifold with all-new connecting rods, an electric fuel pump and aluminium radiator. While in the cabin, Dale’s had the front seats re-trimmed and added an updated steering wheel and gear shifter.

A real head-turner

A true Nissan enthusiast, Dale said he had been looking for a good example of a 240Z for a long time before he found this one.

“The history, and the iconic shape, are the two things that drew me to it originally,” he enthused. “I’ve had four or five Nissan Silvias, I drift a Nissan Silvia, and I’ve always been involved with Japanese car clubs.

“I had been looking for one for five or six years, my friend had one and it just really grew on me. I thought ‘I need one of those’, and fortunately a friend found this one and it was a reasonable price.”

Regardless of its recent modifications, the 240Z retains all of the charm of a heritage sports car. There’s no central locking, no air-conditioning and no power steering. But on the road it is easy to forgo the creature comforts in exchange for a ride in a real enthusiast’s vehicle.

Yes, there’s more theatre created from the engine thanks to its upgrades, and the exhaust note offers an encouraging rumble. But, thanks to its iconic exterior lines, there’s just as much from this car for passers-by as there is its occupants.

The Datsun 240 Z has a distinct wedge-like styling that was popular in the late sixties and into the seventies. Its lines are futuristic and with modern vehicle styling favouring rounded lines and aerodynamic forms, there’s nothing much like it on the road today. This is a car that turns heads.

The spiritual successor?

Fast forward almost 50 years from the launch of the 240Z and the 370Z continues Nissan’s focus on sharply styled sports cars.

Introduced in its current form way back in 2009, the Nissan 370Z bear similarly iconic lines which, considering this is a new car approaching 10 years on the market, have actually aged quite well.

In comparison to the 240Z, the 3.7-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine of the 370Z offers a tonne more power and torque (at 245kW and 363Nm respectively), and of course, there are modern safety features like stability control and airbags, and in-cabin mod cons like satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.

The 2018 Nissan 370Z boasts updates that include smoked front and tail-lights, a new red paint hue, and new 19-inch alloy wheels. The 370Z is available as both a coupe and roadster (pictured) with each available as a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.

Long in the tooth

Stacked up against newer rivals, the Nissan 370Z is showing its age. Sure, it’s been refreshed in recent years, but as it stands today it’s almost 10 years old, and as a result features infotainment and safety technology – and a man-machine interface – that’s now a little long in the tooth.

The Datsun 240Z was introduced as a stylish and affordable alternative to the sports cars of the sixties. In 2018 the Nissan 370Z will set you back $49,990 for a basic manual coupe, the automatic-equipped roadster asking $63,490 (plus on-road costs).

And while that’s affordable when compared to many European rivals, the ‘Z’ is a dearer proposition than many of its Japanese contemporaries.

Despite its age, however, the Nissan 370Z is still a solid driver’s car. With the top down, it’s a true

Roadster and an excellent vehicle for a Sunday afternoon blast through the hills. It’s also restrained enough to be a manageable city commuter, though I reckon the engine only really comes into its own when it is pushed hard.

Today the Datsun 240Z and Nissan 370Z are on a par price wise and you’d have to say that given all of the technology and safety equipment on the 370Z as well as its creature comforts that it is the modern car that is much better suited to day-to-day living.

If you’re a fan of Japanese icons though, it’s the Datsun 240Z that’s the real showpiece. If you’ve always wanted one, there’s only a limited number of cars on the open market, so it’s probably wise to jump on one now, before they become unattainable.

Datsun / Nissan ‘Z’ series timeline:

> 1969 Nissan 240Z (S30)
>> 1974 Nissan 280ZX (S130)
>> 1978 Nissan 300ZX (Z31)
>> 1984 Nissan 300ZX (Z32)
>> 1999 Nissan 240Z Concept revealed at NAIAS
>> 2002 Nissan 350Z (Z33)
>> 2009 Nissan 370Z (Z34)

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