Has it been 50 years? It doesn't seem like that long. But the original "Z" car, the 1969 Nissan Fairlady Z 432 - 4 valves per cylinder, 3 Mikuni carbs, and 2 overhead camshafts, if you were wondering - is celebrating its 50th birthday this month. Happy Birthday to Z!
The first generation Nissan Fairlady Z, or Datsun 240Z when it was finally released in the states in 1970, was announced in October of 1969 and launched the very next month. It was designed and built to both broaden Nissan's offerings in the U.S. and offer an alternative to pricey European sports models.
It was, by all accounts, a sales and performance hit spawning several generations from the 260Z, 280Z, 300Z, twin turbo models, special editions, on up to the current 370Z, which thankfully is just about to be replaced. We love it but it has been around too long.
Starting under the hood, the Fairlady sports the S20 straight-6 engine out of the Skyline GT-R, which needs no introduction. It's a DOHC 2.0 liter unit with 24 valves producing 160 hp. Redline was an exceptionally steep 7,000 rpm. The engines were uncommonly robust, reliable, and quite accepting of aftermarket mods. Look at the headers on the below engine.
The transmission was a 5-speed manual unit with a standard H-pattern. Out back was a limited slip differential. The suspension consisted of independent struts all around with braking handled by discs in the front and drums in the rear. The rims were 14-inch magnesium pieces (!) with 6.95-H14 tires. And best of all, the curb weight was a tick under 2,300 lbs. Compared to the heavy metal that Detroit was cranking out, this thing was a bona fide featherweight.
When it hit the U.S. market in 1970, it was unclear if the American driving public would be accepting of something other than an econobox from a Japanese carmaker. Smartly proportioned city and sports cars, after all, stood in stark contrast to the types of muscle cars and mammoth land yachts that cruised the American roads in the 1970 model year. Would the American public like it? And furthermore, would they buy it? All those fears were soon put to rest.
With a free spinning motor, 5-speed, independent suspension, and light weight, the Fairlady/240Z possessed excellent driving dynamics. Initial reviews were quite positive and with a price of entry below competing offerings from both American and European nameplates, Datsun was in the enviable position of compiling a waiting list - an a lengthy one at that!
After a 9 year run, global sales for the Fairlady/240Z totaled over a half million cars produced and sold. She continues to offer great performance for the dollar. As to what the next generation Z will bring, we'll have to wait and see. Buckle up.