Rising sun classic: 1971 Datsun 240Z

Posted in Cars

Aimed squarely at the US market, the Datsun 240Z played a starring role in changing the world’s perception of Japanese performance cars

Graham Lindsay remembers visiting his grandfather as a youngster and marvelling at his collection of chain-driven Albion trucks which, along with old Chevrolets and Dodges, he had tucked away in his shed at the back of his house in Hunua. Over the years, as property prices began to increase during the ’70s and ’80s, and visiting property valuers offered to buy what appeared to be rotting old cars in the shed, the collection gradually dwindled to the point that there wasn’t much left. In many respects, Graham always regretted that his grandfather never kept any of those older cars.

One of his high school teachers — his music tutor — drove an early Alfa Romeo, and that further fuelled his growing passion for older cars, although when it came time for Graham to purchase a daily driver, he couldn’t run to anything as exotic as an Alfa Romeo. Instead, his transport was a rather mundane Austin 1300. Unfortunately, the land crab’s life came to an abrupt end one particular evening when Graham was driving home to Hunua — in short, the Austin ended up on its roof! At that time only 19 years old, Graham was already working full-time for the ERA (Auckland Regional Authority) within the forestry industry.

He moved on from there and joined the RNZAF in 1978. His recollection of cars represented during this era was MG and Austin-Healey sports cars driven by the middle- to upper-class gentry, which brought him to the conclusion that he must one day own his own sports car.

Z cars

Several years later, in 1988, Graham moved to Hong Kong to take up a position with Cathay Pacific, where he developed a hankering for the Toyota Supras and Datsun 280Zs of the time. These cars were freely available in the then British colony, and while a few of his friends from the RNZAF owned 240Zs, those earlier Z cars were extremely hard to come by, even in Hong Kong. Subsequently Graham purchased a Datsun 280Z, but that car was written off following an unfortunate accident with a taxi. He went on to buy a second 280Z, this time a red Targa-top version which he kept for a while, before rust finally reared its ugly head. Strict relicensing regulations in Hong Kong meant it wasn’t viable to keep the 280Z on the road, and it was subsequently sold.

Graham went on to own various other cars in Hong Kong — and at one time he even considered the purchase of a 1972 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow that had been owned and lovingly cared for by a wealthy Chinese banker. However, when Graham discovered a replacement radiator grille would cost half as much as the car was worth, he decided that it probably wasn’t particularly practical for negotiating busy, cut-and-thrust Hong Kong traffic — he figured the car’s pristine original condition would not survive long in that environment. According to Graham, the only mark on the Rollo was where the owner’s cufflinks had scratched the walnut finish of the interior side panels. Needless to say, he ended up with a slightly more practical vehicle — a Saab 9000 Turbo. And, just to prove his point about Hong Kong’s hazardous traffic, like his first 280Z the Swedish saloon was written off after being severely shunted from behind.

Three-pointed stars

As Graham visited Auckland often, he decided to buy a 1972 Mercedes-Benz 350SL convertible in New Zealand for use during his visits. His philosophy behind buying a classic car was that it not only saved the cost of hiring vehicles every time he was in the country but, hopefully, it would also retain its value in the longer term.

When Graham permanently relocated to New Zealand in 1996 he kept the Mercedes and, despite having vowed to never to own another brand-new car after having owned a new Toyota some years previously, he relented and acquired a Land Rover Discovery. Graham eventually sold the Land Rover, replacing it with another Mercedes — this time a 1983 300TE station wagon, which he thoroughly enjoyed driving. He then decided to replace the Mercedes 350SL with a Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth 2.3, a car that had been imported new from Singapore by one of his colleagues. Another Mercedes soon joined Graham’s collection — a 1993 E320 convertible imported from Hong Kong. At this point, the Cosworth-tuned car was sold to the brother of the original importer.

Mustang alley

Graham got divorced in the early 2000s, and as his 16-year-old son was also interested in cars, he thought an old Mustang would be a good way of directing him into classic cars — as well, he’d always had a quiet desire to own one of these iconic pony cars.

Graham had spotted an old Mustang many years earlier in a Hong Kong workshop during the early ’90s , a car that had apparently once been used by a famous movie actor. At the time, he couldn’t help thinking it would be a cool car to own, but its poor condition meant it wasn’t viable to run in that country.

Fast forward to 2005, and Graham started seriously searching through local magazine advertisements and auction sites for a suitable Mustang. He also discovered a company in the Philippines — Classic Speed — that specialized in restoring classic Mustangs, as well as building custom examples. He toiled with the idea of visiting it to investigate the possibility of building an early right-hand-drive Mustang, but his yearning passion to own a monstrous V8-powered car lead him to buying another Mercedes, this time a 2000 E55 station wagon, which he tells us was an absolutely stunning car.

Thoughts of pony cars ended up on the back-burner until, in early 2013, Graham got talking the Mike Pearce, a fellow member on the board of trustees of Stanley Bay School. It transpired that Mike owned a very nice 1965 Mustang Fastback, and suggested that Graham contact Malcolm Sankey at Matamata Panelworks about purchasing a Mustang.

Subsequently he decided to pull his son, Cameron, out of school one day, and they both headed down to Matamata. Malcolm was more than happy to show them around his workshop, the highlight of the impromptu tour being the chance to examine a 1966 Mustang Fastback that was in the process of being transformed into a Shelby GT350 Hertz recreation. The owner had apparently run out of funds to complete the project, and that raised Graham’s interest.

Following discussion with Malcolm, a suitable purchase price was agreed and Graham took over the project from that point. He chose the keep the car as authentic as possible by including such items as the original-style steering wheel, the correct tachometer and full-harness seatbelts, as well as the original black and gold colour scheme. The car was completed just in time for the 2013 National Mustang Convention in Hamilton, winning first prize in the Elite Division.

Once it was tucked safely away in Graham’s garage his son realized that he was probably never going to get behind the wheel of the Mustang any time soon.

Kiwi Z car

With that in mind, father and son sat down for a serious chat about other cool cars that they both liked, and the Datsun 240Z was mentioned — instantly bringing back fond memories for Graham — who still own a Haynes 240Z workshop manual.

The decision having been made, the search for something suitable began even though they both knew that these early Z cars are few and far between in New Zealand. However, persistence eventually paid off, and they uncovered a reasonably nice-looking yellow 240Z being advertised for sale by a dealer in Central Otago. Unfortunately, they felt that the person selling the car wasn’t being entirely upfront about the Datsun, and decided to continue their search. Graham wasn’t prepared to bid on any auctions, preferring to leave a contact phone number with the car’s owner should it fail to sell.

Then, one particular day whilst travelling to work, Graham received a phone call from Dave Turner of Z Parts Auto in Manukau regarding a 1971 240Z that he’d almost finished completely restoring. Graham was very interested to view the car and, five days later and after flying back from a business trip to Hong Kong, he drove straight to Dave’s workshop in Manukau to check out the Z.

Immediately Graham knew it was the car for him, and he made a decision there and then to purchase it — finally, he owned an example of the car he’d wanted since in the early ’70s; the car that starred in all the posters pinned to his bedroom wall during his time at boarding school.

The Z’s restoration

Dave Turner was absolutely passionate about the car, and had always intended to restore the Japanese classic to perfection. During the restoration he didn’t want to be rushed, choosing to finish it in his own time — indeed, he actually bought the car way back in 1993 after seeing it advertised in a local newspaper. Although it was in damaged condition, Dave knew it would make for an ideal restoration project.

Alas, after stripping it down to a bare shell he discovered that it was literally full of body filler, the result of shoddy repair work. He managed to source brand-new genuine, right and left rear guards as well as a complete rear panel, rear hatch and new doors. The front of the car was structurally unsound, so Dave removed the entire front section from the firewall forward, and replaced it with genuine new chassis rails, inner front guards, a radiator support panel and front cross member. The rusted floor was carefully removed and a complete, identical floor panel was fabricated and fitted. Once the bodywork was finished it was treated to a coat of Nissan 906 paint — the Japanese company’s version of British Racing Green.

The next step was to tackle the suspension. Dave ended up virtually replacing everything with new components, including the rear springs, mounting points, shocks and bushes, along with new sway bar bushes. Up front, new tie-rod ends, lower knuckles and suspension arms were fitted, and the bushes were replaced. Additionally, the complete steering rack was overhauled.

The rear brakes received all-new components, including wheel cylinders and brake shoes and, up front, new rotors and reconditioned brake calipers.

The differential and gearbox were also completely rebuilt to original specifications as was the 2.4-litre six-cylinder engine once it had been stripped, while new rocker gear and fully reconditioned carburettors were fitted

The 240Z was then treated to some brand-new genuine Datsun front and rear bumpers, a front grille, head- and tail lights along with a new front windscreen, badges and rubbers. The interior received new door panels, arm rests, door handles and window mechanisms whilst the seats were completely stripped, restrapped and recovered with new, original, seat covers. The dash was also recovered, all remaining trim was replaced with genuine items and new carpet was fitted, and Dave managed to find an original set of wheels and genuine hubcaps for the car.

Period option

After their initial discussions, Dave had been concerned that Graham was buying the car purely for his son, Cameron, to drive — however, as Graham had explained, it was more an opportunity to lead his son into his first classic car. Dave had already had an elderly gentleman interested in purchasing the 240Z, but Graham was happy to pay the asking price and, as we know, he was offered the car with much of the above work already complete.

The Z still needed some minor finishing, so after Graham paid the deposit, in February this year, he left the car with Dave for the final work and took delivery of the 240Z very recently. When Graham saw the completed car he was delighted with the end result, and he reckons that the period wheels really suit the Datsun’s sleek body style. The other period option, which Graham imported from the US, are the rear louvres, while the original rubber front spoiler that sits just beneath the front number plate was sourced from Australia.

To date, the 240Z has clocked up 500km since the rebuild and the gearbox still feels extremely tight, although we’re in no doubt thing will loosen up nicely as Graham and Cameron enjoy driving this fabulous and truly iconic Japanese sports car. The original AM radio may not be able to pump out the appropriate sounds these days, but Graham has taken care of that by adding a Bose Bluetooth speaker for his iPod — so all that’s left is to enjoy the thrill of driving a genuine Japanese classic.

1971 Datsun 240Z

  • Engine: Inline six cylinder
  • Capacity: 2393cc
  • Bore/stroke: 83x73.7mm
  • Valves: Two per cylinder, SOHC
  • Comp ratio: 9.13:1
  • Max power: 112.6kW (151bhp) at 5600 rpm
  • Max torque: 198Nm at 4400 rpm
  • Fuel system: Twin Hitachi HJG 46W SU carburettors
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual
  • Suspension:
    • Front: Independent with MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
    • Rear: Independent with MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Steering: Rack and pinion
  • Brakes: Disc/drum, servo assisted
  • Dimensions:
    • Overall length: 4135mm
    • Width: 1628mm
    • Height: 1283mm
    • Wheelbase: 2303mm
    • Kerb weight: 1025kg
  • Performance:
    • Max speed: 201kph
    • 0–100kph: eight seconds
    • Standing 1/4     16.2 seconds