What could a Japanese automaker possibly know about building a proper GT car? It was a fair question in the 1960s, when the British, Germans, and Italians controlled the sports-car market, and the Japanese, with a few notable exceptions, built economy compacts. But on October 22, 1969, Datsun unleashed the 240Z: a smooth straight-six with dual carbs and 150 hp, a four-speed manual, four-wheel independent suspension and seductive styling that would have made it attractive at any price. For $3526, about the same as a 92-hp MGB GT and some $2000 less than a Jaguar E-type, it was a revelation. Turns out, Japan knew a hell of a lot about building GT cars. No surprise, the Z is now leading the surge of rising values for Japanese collector cars.
It’s like a British car, but with a much higher probability of everything working. It’s also indestructible. And for anybody accustomed to an old Moss gearbox in a British car, the Datsun transmission is fantastic—it works flawlessly and doesn’t sound like its ingesting parts. It was and is a giant killer, the everyman’s E-type. And, in its own right, one of the most entertaining sports cars of all time. Let’s not forget those looks, either. (The later 260Z and 280Z cars draw another parallel to Series 2 and 3 E-types.)
Rust is the Achilles’ heel for these cars, but accident damage and negligent previous owners are also on that podium. Datsun sold 148,115 240Zs in the United States, but they were “cheap” sports cars for a long time, and many fell into uncaring or incapable hands. So, finding a good Z can be a challenge. But they are out there. Trim, interior, and service parts are all readily available and reasonably priced.
Given proper sorting and tuning, a 240Z offers what many collectible cars do not: near-modern driving dynamics, practicality, and reliability. In this sense, at least, it surely does not compare with an E-type.
Inside the car, the driver and passenger are immediately impressed by a very modern layout, which would seem almost Corvette-like if it weren’t more tastefully done in black vinyl...
1974–1978 Datsun 260Z and 280Z
Obvious, yes, but worth keeping in mind. Later Zs got bigger and heavier and lost some of the looks and performance. But they still have most of the attributes of the early cars, and they cost half as much, if that. Plus with the option of four seats, they offer even more practicality.
1985–1987 Honda CRX si
They are front-wheel drive, but think about it: two seats, lightweight, reliable, and more fun than you can imagine. Also saw success in racing. Produced in huge numbers, but immaculate stock examples are nearly extinct. Sound familiar? Now’s the time to buy.
1989–1997 Mazda Miata
The MX-5 is conceptually the evolution and spiritual successor of the British sports cars of the 1950s & '60s, such as the Triumph Spitfire, Austin-Healey 100, MG MGA, and particularly the Lotus Elan. The MX-5 has won awards including Wheels Magazine 's Car of the Year for 1989