Datsun’s first ‘Z’ coupé was in production until the end of ’73, when it was superseded by the 260Z which offered more power and torque – needed to maintain performance in the increasingly emissions-conscious US market – thanks to a 2.6-litre engine. It was also available as a 2+2, although that meant an increase in wheelbase of 300mm which compromised the design, although not as drastically as going 2+2 did with Jaguar’s E-Type. From 1975, the 260Z evolved into the 280Z but only in the US – the rest of the world got the 2+2 version known as the 280ZX.
And that was the first ‘Z’ to be made available here in SA as, despite this press car being shipped over, the model was never officially listed here. And neither was its successor, the 260Z. No, it was only in October ’82 that the 280ZX appeared in CAR magazine’s price guide, at R26 405 or R27 145 if you wanted a self-shifter. But, fully loaded with aircon and power steering – not to mention an interior similar to its Laurel saloon cousin – it was a lardy and pastiche take on the original.
The sheer demand over in the US is probably to blame for South Africans not getting the chance to savour the original Z: by the end of ’73 Datsun had built over 135 000 240Zs. Yet in the UK (a more important right-hand-drive market than SA, where Datsun was already making healthy inroads with the likes of its 1200 Bakkie and 1600SSS) just over 1 600 customers got the keys to one. It’s obvious the 240Z hit its target market so precisely that even the ever-thorough Japanese were caught off guard. Volume aside, it, along with Toyota’s exquisite 2000GT, is one of the country’s standout automotive prodigies. And if you want proof, then consider this: it’s the only Japanese car in this collection, which includes such motoring icons as a Blower Bentley, Ferrari Dino and Aston Martin DB2 MkIII. Enough said.