fbpx
Home Car Culture Interest, values boom as Datsun 240Z passes half-century mark with style

Interest, values boom as Datsun 240Z passes half-century mark with style

The sporty GT has become an icon among Japanese collector cars

(Editor’s note: During the month of January, the ClassicCars.com Journal presents a series of stories related to and perhaps explaining the recent increase in interest in collecting cars produced by Japan-based automakers.)

The Datsun 240Z was a breakthrough for Japanese automakers, and just as it raised appreciation of performance cars from Japan a half century ago, it is leading the charge today for vintage Japanese collector cars. 

While the 240Z has not been the subject of the rapid gain in values that was expected five years ago, it has enjoyed a steady rise in genuine interest as one of the most influential cars of its era.

As Nissan has recently shown with its debut of the Z Proto, styled after the original Z, as well as the examples of hordes of enthusiast owners who collect, drive and race Z cars from throughout the generations, the passion for these cars remains strong.

In 1970, as small cars and trucks from Japan were just starting to make headway among US drivers, the 240Z appeared in Datsun showrooms to much acclaim and something akin to shocked surprise.

Acclaim because the attractive sports/GT coupe competed in price with MGs, Triumphs and Fiats but in style and performance with Jaguar E-Types and Porsche 911s.  And shocked surprise because at the time, few in the US sports car community expected such an exceptional craft to be mass-produced by a Japanese automaker.

240z
Hyman Ltd. is advertising this all-original 240Z for sale on ClassicCars.com

The 240Z ushered in what could be considered the decade of Japanese vehicles in the United States, when Toyota, Datsun, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Subaru became the go-to brands for compact cars, the result of rising fuel prices and changing consumer tastes. 

Datsun had earlier introduced a two-seat roadster to the US, the Datsun 1600, which competed directly with small, agile sports cars from England and Italy.  But the 240Z was something else again, powered by an overhead-cam straight-6 that produced more than 150 horsepower with an all-independent-suspension chassis and an evocative body that could have been styled by an Italian carrozzeria.

A well-sorted 240Z is still a great-driving car even by today’s standards, with plenty of strident power, a smooth-shifting manual transmission and handling as refined as many European GTs. They are great road-trip cars and loads of fun for flinging along a winding back road.

240z

A few years back, I had the opportunity to co-pilot a friend’s all-original ’71 240Z on a multi-day Arizona road rally, and I found the drivability and level of engagement to be right up there.  The coupe shrugged off the long stretches of vast desert scenery, as well as slicing sharply though the canyons.  I was impressed both as driver and navigator.

Car collectors and dealers are continuously looking for the Next Big Thing among vintage cars, and for a while there, it seemed that the undervalued 240Z produced from 1970 through ’73 would boom in values at auctions and in private sales.  And yes, there was a rise in prices, but it was pretty much along with the rest of the collector car market in and around 2015, rather than anything exceptional. 

Average prices for these cars in decent condition have remained in the $25,000 range for the past few years, although well-restored examples can go for double or triple that.  Part of the reason they have not soared in value is simply because there were so many of them sold, a good proportion of which still survive.  Commonality reduces value.

As with most cars, however, the sky’s the limit for the rare time-warp preserved 240Z in superb original condition; just about a year ago, a splendid survivor in immaculate all-original condition sold for more than $300,000 on an online auction site, setting a sales record for the model.

But just like when they were new, one of the major attractions of these Datsuns is their relative affordability, not just to buy but to own and maintain, because of the wide range of parts and club support. And their enduring stylishness can provide a good deal of ownership pride.

Prospective 240Z owners have many choices for sale out there, but there are plenty of used-car pitfalls to beware.   Because they were so inexpensive for so long, many of them were not as well-maintained as they should have been or fell prey to shoddy repairs.  Watch out for signs of deferred maintenance and poor upkeep when examining a 240Z for purchase.

Rust was a major killer for Japanese cars from this era, and many 240Zs have fallen victim to the deadly tin worm.   These unibody cars can suffer extensive structural damage from rust, but they also can be properly repaired with readily available steel body, floor and chassis parts.  They also can be poorly repaired, so be sure to look closely for signs of rust damage and any crude repairs that were maybe done on the cheap. 

Also watch out for those that have been customized with ill-advised hot rod treatments, which lessen the value and can create problems.  Performance upgrades are also a sign that the car might have been thrashed regularly by an overly aggressive driver. Look for a car that’s as original as possible. 

Mechanically, 240Zs are fairly robust and hold up well to all but the most abusive characters behind the wheel.  The torquey engines rev nicely and can be driven hard without breaking, and the transmissions generally stand up to sporty shifting.  Within reason. 

One notorious trouble spot for 240Zs is premature steering-box wear, which can make the car feel loose and vague on the highway.  Replacement parts are readily available, though. Another problem area is the dashboard top, which cracks with age.

The 240Z and the later 260Z and 280Z remain great choices for those just getting into the collector car hobby, especially younger enthusiasts with a propensity for Japanese cars.  And because they are retaining and even growing value as collector cars, a solid example should pay for itself down the road.

Japanese Collector Car Series

Stories exploring the how and why behind the increasing interest in collecting cars produced by Japan-based automakers.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

15 COMMENTS

  1. As a TR6 and the like enthusiast then (and now) – I hated these cars!
    Yes these Zs were actually wonderful in so many ways – even as useful cars (even in the desert of Arizona) – that I hated them yet more….forcing me to dismiss them since they weren’t convertibles!

  2. I have had my Z for over 45 years. Bought my son home at birth in the back. Secured a child’s seat to the shelf behind the seats where he road till 1985 when his head hit the roof. Been up stairs in the well vented barn since. Almost sold it in 1976 when we bought the farm. [We are retired teachers]. Might have got a couple grand, but my wife said no. It was near perfect in 1985, and little has changed. Lube and turn the engine each year. Driven summers only.
    Driven a +4 Morgan for 40 years. Bought a +8 with 300 miles 10 years ago. The +4 is in great shape, but has not been driven in 10 years. Got to quit doing t his.

  3. While you mentioned the 1600 Roadster, you neglected the 2000 version that entered the market in 1967. It provided the genesis for the “Competition Parts Department” (later NISMO). It was also the car that Bob Sharp and Peter Brock looked to when starting their legendary racing teams. Bob Bondurant also used the 2000 to start his racing school after Porsche balked. Paul Newman’s first exposure to racing was behind the wheel of a Roadster 2000. The 2000, like the 240Z, also boasted an OHC engine, which in Solex form also produced 150hp…but weighed almost 500lbs less. While Nissan produced approximately 150,000 240Z’s, only about 15,000 Roadster 2000’s came off the assembly line. A much more rare car for any collector. It can easily be argued that the 2000’s success in establishing a racing pedigree for Nissan greased the skids for the 240z when it later came to market.

  4. How about the 1984 300ZX. First year with the V6. Fabulous car. I bought one brand new in 1984. I still own it & has NEVER SEEN WINTER ROADS. It is all original & is in New Condition.

  5. Hi Bob. Not from a publication but thoroughly enjoyed ur article on the Z. Reminded me of mid-70’s when I saw my first 260-Z. Absolutely fell in love ( and this from a guy that had previously driven a Chevelle SS 396, a 64 Black on black on black convertible Corvette, and a ‘67 Dodge Cornett R/T 440-6 pack). Then the emissions, insurance and smog ended a great era. Went to Datsun dealer a bought the 260 that week. On my third day of ownership driving to work in normal morning gridlock, sitting at a red light when I noticed the tach instantly drop to (Z)ero. YEP, On 3 lane major road into town. Dead! Tried to start till the battery died. Cars honking, people cursing at me, traffic came to halt. Livid does not begin. Anyway, a stranger took me to work and left the Z sitting. Called the bank and told them where they could pick-up their car and wished them well. For 2 years I dealt with Datsun USA in California. I of coarse lived on the other side of USA. They we’re undoubtedly the absolute worst collection of dirt-bags I had ever experienced in my early 20’s. When they switched to Nissan I was the least surprised 20 something in America. Horrible reputation, rust began after first year, refused to start in the cold etc… one comment I remember some 40+ plus later was,”You should have bought American!” Datsun’s solution was to smack the inside computer with a ball hammer ( located in front of passenger seat). The girls loved the car until I had to hit the computer with the hammer while turning the ignition switch. Have Never bought a foreign car since and bad-mouth Datsun/Nissan (whatever they call themselves).
    Just a nasty recollection of one Z that Failed this guy miserably.

    • Sorry you had such a bad experience. Buy American? Ask my sister about her brand-new Ford Escort which was such a lemon that Ford gave her a full refund less than a year later.

  6. I have 2 running 280Zs one is on nonstop but it is in great condition, no rust and it needs paint. The windows are just setting in place so I can paint everything but I haven’t done anything to it for a long time. The other one is my daily during the summer.

  7. General Motors Australian Holden subsidiary had the GTR-X almost signed off for production when the 240Z hit the market there.
    After much head scratching plans to introduce the GTR-X were dropped. The Australian .market just wasn’t big enough for two very similar cars.
    A great pity. In 1972 the GTR-X would’ve instantly made the 240Z look old fashioned

  8. I have had a 280 since 1989. My original one was a 78 2+2. Sold it in the early 1990s but replaced it with a 75 coupe that I still drive about once a week. It was originally owned by a guy who managed a body shop an maintained by Atlanta’s original z car mechanic until he retired a couple of years ago. Now maintained by another classic car shop. I love z cars. Willing to entertain offers.
    Kenneth

  9. In 1981 I had talked my girlfriend into buying a 4 speed, air conditioned 1971 240z for $1600. It ran and handled great, except for all the rust and difficulty in finding pre internet second hand parts which were expensive. I glassed in a pair of prefabbed fiberglass sail panels, reworked the headlamp housings, and fine tuned the twin SU carbs…
    What a great car.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Japanese Collector Car Series

- Advertisment - newsletter_signup