If you were a Datsun new car dealer in the summer of 1969, you may have dreamt about Datsun’s brand-new 240Z sports car that would set the automotive world on its ear. In your dream, anxious customers would pour into your showroom to buy every 240Z you received and when the supply ran out, they would pay you to get on a waiting list. You could charge full list price for the car and add on the full price for any number of dealer-installed accessories, and customers would gladly pay. The best part of this dream was, with the arrival of the real 240Z, it all came true.
An immediate sales success
The 1970 240Z was a two-seat sports car that had performance equal to, or better than, contemporary sports cars for about half their price. When the cost of a new Porsche 911T was about $6,400, a new Corvette was $5,200, and the Jaguar XK-E was $5,900, the new 240Z had a base price of about $3,530.
For that price, the 240Z gave you an attractive coupe powered by a 2.4-liter, SOHC six-cylinder engine delivering 151 horsepower at 5600 rpm, a four-speed manual transmission, vinyl-covered adjustable bucket seats, a generous storage area accessed by a hatchback, full instrumentation, and front disc brakes The car was an incredible value and they virtually flew out of the showrooms.
According to a Motor Trend road test in March of 1971, the 240Z delivered a quarter-mile time of 16.45 seconds at a speed of 83.7 mph; a 0-60 mph time of 9.4 seconds; and a top speed of 120 mph, all the while averaging 20.2 miles per gallon. In 2004, Sports Car International magazine rated the 240Z number two on its list of Top Sports Cars of the 1970s.
240Zs dominate on the race track
Mr. Yutaka Katayama, at that time president of Nissan Motor Company USA, was a firm believer in that old adage of “Win on Sunday – Sell on Monday” and wasted no time in establishing teams to race the 240Z in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National races. Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE), with legendary designer Peter Brock at the helm, raced on the west coast, while Bob Sharp Racing (BSR) was based on the east coast.
Both teams were successful right out of the box, winning their respective SCCA Divisions with John Morton handling the driving duties for BRE and Bob Sharp driving for BSR. Meeting for the first time at the American Road Race of Champions in Atlanta, which brought SCCA Divisional champions from across the country together for a chance at a National Championship, BRE’s John Morton took home the gold, just ahead of Bob Sharp. John McComb, BRE’s second driver, finished third for a Datsun 240Z 1-2-3 sweep of the C Production class. Datsun Zs would go on to dominate the C Production championship for a decade, winning every year from 1970 to 1979.
A tribute to Mr. K
No article about the 240Z would be complete without a salute to Yutaka Katayama, or Mr. K as he was more fondly known. Mr. K was more than just the first president of Nissan Motor Company USA – he almost single-handedly built the Datsun dealer network from the ground up. Edmunds.com recognized Mr. K’s efforts, noting, “Katayama built Datsun into a sales powerhouse, personally canvassing every town in America and turning used-car dealers and lawnmower repair shops into Datsun dealers. He made Datsun the most important Japanese brand in America, a signature of quality and innovation instead of cheap imitation.”
Inevitably, time marches on and in 1977 Mr. K retired from Nissan. With varied interests and an ever-active mind, Mr. K did not sail quietly into the sunset, but continued to actively follow the automotive world from the privacy of his retirement. However, he was soon to be discovered by new generations of admirers
25th anniversary of the 240Z
In early 1995, Z-Car clubs around the U.S. began planning their national convention celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 240Z. As a matter of courtesy, the host club extended an invitation to Mr. K who, being in his mid-80s at the time, was not really expected to attend. As the convention chairman later explained, his only notice of Mr. K’s attendance was a fax received shortly before the opening of the convention providing Mr. K’s flight number and his expected arrival time.
Mr. K and his good friend Kenji Sato traveled halfway around the world to attend a convention for enthusiasts of the Z-Car. Mr. K charmed everyone at the convention and had the time of his life. It became a tradition to invite Mr. K to future Z-Car conventions, a tradition he honored by becoming a convention fixture with his Z-Car Hawaiian shirts and cowboy hat, making friends with new generations of Z-Car owners and enthusiasts. Sadly, it’s a tradition that has now come to an end, as Mr. K passed away in February of 2015 at the age of 105. He was a truly remarkable person and it was an honor for all in the Z-Car community to have spent a few moments with him. His credo – Love cars. Love people. Love life. – served him well during his extraordinary life. His love of cars and people gave the Datsun 240Z its heart and soul. Thank you, Mr. K.
Z CAR CLUB ASSOCIATION www.zcca.org/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=79&Itemid=470
MOTOR TREND http://www.motortrend.com/news/1970-datsun-240z/
HOW STUFF WORKS http://auto.howstuffworks.com/nissan-z-history2.htm
BROCK RACING ENTERPRISES http://bre2.net/
SCCA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS http://www.virhistory.com/cars/arrc/index.htm