It’s a chance to get into a Datsun 240Z, so Robinson piles in eagerly. What a pity, then, that this particular car is not all it’s cracked up to be…
Iconic is a word in danger of being worn out by lazy reviewers of all manner of things. Films, buildings, books, meals cooked by D-list celebrity chefs – very few things genuinely are iconic if you think about it. It’s a strong adjective to apply to just any old creation, especially when we come to the emotive world of cars.
The Datsun 240Z, however, may just be deserving of the i-word. This was a seminal moment in Japanese automotive history. All right, it’s just a copy of everything the Brits, Europeans and Yanks were doing at the time, but it truly was the first affordable (forget the 2000GT Toyota) Japanese performance car, and it elevated the county’s carmaking business from a global joke to something to be taken seriously. Think of the revolution in acceptance the Korean motor industry is going through now; only the 240Z did that for Japan, all on its own, back in 1970.
So it was a no-brainer when offered the chance to finally get behind the wheel of one and give it a damned good thrashing on Millbrook’s entertaining Hill Route. “Would you like to drive a 240Z, sir?” “Er, no, I don’t think I’ll bother. I’d rather have a go in one of those Chevrolet Sparks I’ve been hearing absolutely nothing about, thanks.” Yeah, right.
What a pity, then, that this particular yellow example was what can only be described as – for want of a better word – shagged. Second gear felt like trying to push a pipe cleaner through three inches of melted bonfire toffee. The brakes weren’t so much wooden, more out-and-out petrified, and the engine was complaining bitterly before we’d even passed 5mph. Things didn’t get better out on the Hill Route, where the steering feedback went AWOL and the suspension crashed, bashed and crunched due to ruined bushing. I was later told this is Nissan GB’s car – so why it is in such a tired state, I have no idea.
All of this is a massive shame, because there was obvious charisma leaching out of every pore of the 240Z. I once hustled a tired old E30 M3 round the Nurburgring and it was much the same story – performed admirably, even though severely wounded. This yellow car repeated the trick, gamely battling around the Hill Route at a pace some moderns couldn’t compete with as I sweated, grunted and gibbered through mortal fear at the wheel, hustling it into corners without any real clue as to whether it would come out the other side or not. But it did – there’s obviously a lot of ability underneath the Datsun’s exhausted crust. And even though the engine was grumbling, it sounded superb; with a grunty low-revs throb to it, all muscle and testosterone. Fantastic. Overall, I sort of enjoyed the Datsun, but more from a cathartic ‘we’ve made it’ relief at coming out the other side unscathed, rather than a true appreciation of a well-sorted classic.
Somewhat alarmingly, the press sheet given out with the car says Nissan GB “restored this 1971 example to showroom standard in 2003”. I can only assume it has had a very hard life since that point, then, as if this is still ‘showroom standard’ I’ll eat my non-existent chapeau.
Why not give it another rebuild, Nissan? Engine out, overhaul the thing top and bottom. Give it a new gearbox, because this one has had it, and while you’re at it, why not treat the old Z to a whole load of bushes throughout? They’re pence to people in the business and they’d transform this car from diabolical to delightful.
Still, I am sure I’ll be shot down in flames for this. I heard a number of other testers on the day get out of the Jap coupe and say it was “marvellous”, so maybe my senses are shot by too many post-year 2000 cars. But I suspect people were being polite on the day. So I’ll stick my neck out and conclude thus: it was great to drive a 240Z, but this 240Z was not a great drive.
Tech Spec Datsun 240Z
- Body Front-engined two-door coupe
- Engine 2393cc 12v straight-six
- Transmission RWD, five-speed manual
- 0-62mph 8.0 seconds
- Top speed 125mph
- Max power 150bhp @ 5600rpm
- Max torque 146lbf.ft @ 4400rpm
- Fuel consumption c.25mpg (combined)
- CO2 emissions NA
- Price from Anything from about £6,000 for ropey ones up to £30,000+ for minters
The Truth & Nothing But…
+ Pert looks matched to a reputation of Goliath proportions, the 240Z is a ‘Must Drive’ car for any motoring enthusiast worth their sodium chloride. Hairy old-school straight-six up front, drive to the rear, light weight – it ticks all the right boxes.
– Umm… this one’s falling apart. Steering absent, presumed missing, brakes needed assistance in the form of my passenger holding his hand up outside the window to create an airbrake, gearbox just a collection of broken cogs roughly jumbled in a metal container and every suspension bush shot to all hell. Nice bodywork, though…
∴ Delighted I’ve got to drive a 240Z. Shame it was a knackered one. I would like to drive this particular car again post-rebuild, or alternatively drive an owner’s cherished example, to get a more accurate 240Z flavour.