The Datsun 240Z from 1970-1973 is the car that put Japanese sports cars on the American radar. Perhaps the best word to describe the Datsun is “amalgam,” meaning that the car was designed to handle a lot of different things. Yes, it was a sports car, but it also got more than 20 mph fuel economy. It had a 2.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine that was smaller than most American sports cars, but could easily reach a top speed of 130 mph.
The danger of a vehicle designed to be a “jack-of-all-trades” is that it may end up trying to do so many things that it ends up being mediocre at each one (and at worst, an all-around failure). Those enterprising car designers who would like so see a proper do-it-all car need only study the Datsun 240Z. The inline-six engine produces 151 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. When compared to modern vehicles, these figures seem modest, but when combined with a classic car that only weighs 2,323 pounds, incredible things happen. A standing quarter mile takes 16.5 seconds, with a top speed of 84 mph, very impressive considering both the time it came out and the fuel economy it delivers.
The chassis and suspension of the 240Z were tuned to become more responsive and agile the faster you go. In a 240Z equipped with the optional wider wheels package, the car stays firmly planted on the ground through a corner. Unfortunately, the factory 240Z’s featured anti-roll bars that weren’t all that great, so while the car did stay planted, it sure didn’t feel like it inside the cabin. Of course, considering the car’s fan base and the near 40 years since its release, there are plenty of after market kits that easily rectify the problem.
For those who weren’t around in the early 1970s when the Datsun 240Z made its debut, it is hard to accurately assess the car. Modern vehicles generate much more horsepower (a 2009 Honda Civic Si beats the 240Z by 46 hp), but when viewed in the context of the times, the 240Z was a marvel. And it paved the way for future Z models, culminating in the Nissan 370Z (the American branding switched to Nissan in the mid-1980s), which is one of the premier sports cars on the road today.