The Japanese Invasion, Sports Cars That Is
Japanese sports cars made a name for themselves in the 1970s with the highly popular Datsun 240, 260 and 280Z.
While European sports cars dominated the sports car market in the 50s and 60s, Japanese cars took the reins in the 1970s. The affordable Triumph TR6 and MGBs were replaced with similarly priced Datsun 240Zs and Mazda RX7s. The Japanese cars lacked the soul of the British cars, but they made up for it with performance and reliability.
As you would expect, the Japanese sports cars were basically reverse engineered. The highly popular Datsun 240, 260 and 280Z were reportedly loosely based on the Jaguar XKE coupe. The original engine was a big in-line six like the XKE, and if you squinted you could see the E-Type coupe lines in the shape of the Z car.
I mentioned in a previous article that my first sports car was an MGB, but I have to confess the first sports car I wanted was a Datsun 260Z. I made an agreement to purchase one, but when my insurance agent informed me my insurance would go up I backed out of the deal. I was a college student on a very tight budget, and even a small bump was out of the question.
A few years ago I was looking in the paper when I noticed a peculiar ad for a 280Z. It mentioned the car had brake issues and was “empty.” Intrigued by the ad and the price, I called. The young owner of the car explained that he couldn’t afford to repair the brakes, so he would occasionally start the car and let it run. He kept this up until the gas tank and battery were “empty.”
I went to look at the car, and it was in incredibly good shape. It had only 110,000 original miles. The interior looked almost unused except for some minor wear on the driver’s seat. It even had the original hubcaps, which is unheard of for an old Z car. But it did need brakes and new paint. I bought the car for $900 and the seller threw in a used set of aluminum rims from a 280 ZX Turbo. The rims alone were probably worth $200.
I had the car towed home, put in a splash of gas and a new battery. The car fired right up. I had the brakes done and splurged on a coat of original (definitely 70’s) butterscotch paint. I also put on a new set of tires. But that was it! I probably spent around $3,000 total. Within a few weeks I was driving the 280Z just about everywhere.
After driving this car for a bit, it hit me for the first time why most of the British manufacturers went out of business. I have always loved British cars, but even after 30 years this old Z car was still a great driving car. It actually felt fairly modern in its steady idle, easy shifting transmission, firm steering and strong acceleration. It may not have the great sounds of a British car or even the crisp steering, but the lights worked, it didn’t leak oil and it started every time I went somewhere.
I will always prefer British cars, but the Japanese obviously won this one.
Did You Know?
Nissan is planning on bringing back the Datsun nameplate. It will adorn low priced cars sold in emerging markets. The 240, 260, 280 all refer to the engine size. My Z has the larger 2.8 liter fuel injected six cylinder, generating 165 horsepower.
Jones Garage is monthly column by Kevin Jones, President of MIDFLORIDA and certified car guy to talk about his cars and automobilia and the cars of MIDFLORIDA’s members. In addition to his stories, we will feature a different member’s car and story. Please email your car story with a picture of your car to Julie Townsend at jtownsend@MIDFLORIDA.com
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