Flat, sharp and fast like other European sports cars and also unbeatably inexpensive: With these stimulants, the Nissan 240Z was the first Japanese to storm the pole position of the world's most successful sports coupe. Not only in sales charts, but also as a wild rally racer and in virtual racing games.
SP-X / Cologne. The recipe for success formulated by Nissan for the world's best-selling two-seater sports car from the 1970s sounded bold, even a little crazy for the competition: "A super sports car at a great price - a compact car!" It actually cost 50 years ago in Japan and the USA Nissan 240Z less than half comparable Vmax bolides and little more than a well-equipped compact. Making fast dream cars affordable and still making money was the idea of the then Nissan USA boss Yutaka Katayama, who 50 years ago thought the time was ripe for a Japanese challenger from Porsche 911 or Chevrolet Corvette.
Sure, there were spearheads from the Far East like Toyota 2000 GT and Mazda Cosmo, but these expensive image carriers were only distributed in homeopathic doses. On the other hand, the Nissan, the Datsun (then the export name at that time) 240Z as the first Asian large-series sports car, proved that Japanese can build cars with the fascination of a Jaguar E-Type and make them affordable. Racy lines with an almost endless bonnet, including a strong six-cylinder and a formidable chassis, that was the look of the material from which sporty heroes were formed in 1969. And so the Z won immediately, both in the toughest races in the world and in the sales charts. It wasn't until six generations and two million units later that the Z series became quieter.
Not least because of today's in-house rival of the Z, the Nissan GT-R. Originally developed in parallel to the Nissan 240Z, the brutally powerful GT-R has only been marketed globally for a good decade. Since then, the GT-R has achieved cult status on racetracks and in console games, which clearly outshines that of the current Nissan 370Z. Reason for the recently launched 50th Anniversary Edition of the 370Z to remind you of your own glorious motorsport past.
However, it was not only the countless rally and racing championships with which early Z generations in particular made racing history. The appearance of a Z in the very first virtual racing game branded by an automobile manufacturer also accelerated the image and bestseller career of the sports coupé. From 1976 the Datsun 280ZZZap flickered across the video monitors worldwide - after the visionary father of the Z, Yutaka Katayama, gave his OK for this initial spark. While the kids dueled with the Far Eastern video racers, the real Nissan Z also hit their young fathers in the heart. Because in its late phase there was the first Z generation as a 240Z 2 + 2-seater and with more displacement under the type codes 260Z (from 1973) and 280Z (from 1975).
In retrospect, it's hard to believe: The Japanese Nissan management of the 1.600Z hoped to sell just 240 units in four years - but almost a quarter of a million sports cars were sold in North America alone, thus achieving the first of many sales records. When Nissan came to Germany in 1972 under the Datsun brand, the brand was already better known than many small English sports car brands thanks to the 240Z: "Everyone now knows Datsun!" Sounded the print and cinema advertising, because the then famous German driver duo Edgar Hermann and Hans Schuller had survived the dust and mud battle of the 240 Safari Rally with an apparently indestructible robust 1971Z and won the overall victory. In the end, Datsun even achieved a double victory in East Africa, as the Kenyan rally legend Sekhar Mehta was able to secure second place for the Z.
Unintentionally, the East African Safari was just the right endurance test for the 240Z before the start on the fiercely competitive German market. The 96 kW / 130 hp strong and quite thirsty 2,4-liter six-cylinder arrived there in 1973, immediately before the oil crisis. Only 303 coupes, including the larger 260Z 2 + 2, therefore found buyers until 1975. Even in comparison with the half-expensive 130 PS competitor Porsche 911 T, the Japan Coupé took on the role of the wallflower. The German design genes of the energetic drawn Z did nothing to change that. Although the overall design responsibility for the sports coupé known in Asia (here the Z inherited the Nissan Fairlady Roadster) lay with the Japanese Yoshihiko Matsuo, the 240Z adapted the lines of the A550X sports car. And this prototype bore the signature of the German star designer Albrecht Graf Goertz, who had already brought style icons such as the BMW 507 onto the road, but also created a perfect coupe shape for the Nissan Silvia.
About the Fastback Coupé 240Z, inspired by Graf Goertz, with a practical tailgate for golf bags and bulk purchases, the media simply wrote: “Jaguar and Ferrari shapes at Fiat or MGB prices” or “A powerful look with fire under the hood”. In order to rekindle the fire after the two energy crises of the 1970s, Nissan launched a fresh, second Z generation in 1978, which was presented as the 280 ZX and actually rushed to new records at racing speed. With 531.601 units, the coupés - optionally for the first time with a removable, two-part Targa roof - were now the most popular sports cars in the world. The 280 ZX were the only Nippon models to achieve speeds of well over 200 km / h, and yet customers wanted even more power thanks to turbocharging. And so the Nissan 147 ZX-TT, which released 200 kW / 280 hp, also drove away from all European turbo competitors from 1983 onwards. The 230-liter six-cylinder made 2,8 km / h Vmax possible, even Maserati were left behind and Mazda RX-7 or Toyota Supra had no chance anyway.
The third Z-Generation, which was launched in 1983, presented itself even more impressively with the lightest 3,0-liter V6 ever. This 300 ZX Turbo naturally dueled once more with Porsche in North America, but this time only with the entry-level 944. Why? The once inexpensive Z changed to the prestigious power type. Earn more money with fewer cars sold, was the new Nissan motto. The age of great Z sales figures was finally ended by the 1989 ZX Twin Turbo (fourth Z generation) with a full 300 kW / 208 hp and high-tech features such as four-wheel steering, which was introduced in 283. Almost five times more expensive than the 240Z, this Nissan flopped, which was to penetrate the price regions of models from Modena and almost Maranello. "If someone wants to tell you that discerning drivers only sit in the most expensive cars, show them a smile," Nissan advertised at the time. What irony - or self-awareness: When the Z-Story was continued in 2002 by the 350Z, Nissan had understood that some forms could not be improved. And so the civilly priced fifth Z quoted the contours of the original from 1969, a principle that the 370Z still follows today. And like the 911, even the six-cylinder tradition is preserved.