It was red, it was gorgeous and it was mine.
From the long snout to the sensuous slant of its rear hatch, I was the owner of an original, albeit slightly used, one-year-old, 1971 240Z Datsun, one of the most lusted-after, yet affordable sports cars to ever put a wheel to pavement.
I grasped at the paperwork the used-car sales manager thrust in my general direction from across his ash-stained wooden desk. The appropriate amount of money was produced, the heavens parted and I drove off the lot as smooth as you please.
A grin between two earlobes is all anyone in the oncoming lane saw behind the genuine wood wheel.
Shifting into second gear, I punched the throttle of the 151-horsepower 2.4-liter inline SOHC six-cylinder and, like, right now, rocketed up the freeway ramp that guided me home. The sounds from the baritone-blessed powerplant reminded me of a 289-cubic-inch Ford V8. Compared to the old 122s Volvo I had up until that point, the “Z” (the first model in a long line of Z cars) was a marvel. In the next few days and weeks, I was to discover all the joys, as well as a number of shortcomings, that were an integral part of Z-car ownership.
Besides quick acceleration, a zero-to-60 m.p.h. time below eight seconds according to the factory, the 240Z’s handling was faultless. I delighted in frequently wringing the car out along nearby twisty rural back roads.
My red “Zee” held me neatly in place with its deeply sculpted buckets as I carved through the switchbacks and blasted my way around roadblock-creating traffic.
I got a particular kick entering decreasing-radius freeway ramps, steadily accelerating around the circuit with the car glued to ground. The oversized tires provided the car with amazing adhesion.
My first highway jaunt also produced an obvious deficiency; a serious lack of stability at higher speeds. With the front end lifting, the resulting mushy, straight-line steering made the 240Z a handful, particularly in crosswinds. The cure for this malady was the installation of a Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) spoiler, a neat plastic downforce device that not only kept the nose firmly planted, but also vented cool air to the front disc brakes. All was well until my first encounter with some parking lot divider curbing at the local mall. Although the spoiler now sported a chipped-tooth appearance, it remained effective.
A cross-country jaunt in my beloved Z-car revealed more of its unique characteristics. The cargo area could swallow an amazing amount of easily-accessible luggage needed to undertake such a journey. Also, the car was capable of cruising all day at super-legal speeds in the low triple digits. Unfortunately, driving a bright red 240Z at such velocities did not go unnoticed by various law-enforcement agencies. The trip ultimately resulted in three moving violations, two warnings and a promise to pay a summons. I only hope the statute of limitations has expired for that last transgression.
Shortly after the trip, I discovered — to my absolute horror — that my beloved Japanese steed was disintegrating before my eyes. Not only were both rocker panels showing tell-tale orange rust blemishes, but all four fenders revealed a similar affliction. Inside, the car’s super-comfortable seats were literally splitting at the seams. The final indignity was a steady plume of blue smoke billowing out the tailpipe. Already, repair bills for front struts, a transmission rebuild and a new exhaust system had reduced my savings account to dangerous new lows.
After a quick Bondo and paint job and some extra-wide electrical tape for the seats, I traded in my 240 mistress for an equally foible-prone new Mazda RX2.
Many years later, I still long to drive the Datsun of my youth.
And although followed by 260 and 280 derivatives through the late 1970s, the original 240Z ushered in a new era in sophisticated sports machinery. Instantly, every British sports car around became underperforming antiques, with buckboard suspensions and grossly uncomfortable passenger space that only mechanical masochists would dare own. More importantly, mere mortals, particularly young female mortals, swooned in its presence. The soul-inspiring magical properties that the 240Z contained worked like a tonic on this young, impressionable owner. No other vehicle I’ve owned since has even come close.