I  never owned a Z, be it the original Datsun 240Z, the most recent Nissan 300ZX, or anything in between. (For the better part of two decades, I drove a Toyota Celica, which is to the Z what The Daily Oklahoman is to journalism — any resemblance is purely superficial.) Nonetheless, the passing of the Z from the American scene is something I'm inclined to mourn.

There had been Japanese sports cars before the Z. Toyota's neat little 2000GT, first appearing here in 1967, took a vaguely Jaguaresque body shell and filled up most of it with a two-liter double-overhead-cam six, which might have made buyers of their polite little econoboxes take notice, but definitely didn't persuade them to write $7000 checks. Not even an appearance in a James Bond film (You Only Live Twice) could persuade Americans to look upon this Toyota as an Aston Martin alternative.

With Toyota out of the sports market for a while, Nissan saw its chance. The original 240Z appeared for the 1970 model year, with styling a tad less audacious than the 2000GT's, an engine of comparable heft but less complication (only one overhead cam, but 20 percent more displacement), and a price tag barely above $3500, at a time when Corvettes were pushing five grand and the Z's most obvious influence, the E-type Jaguar, was around seven.

For those who had had their hearts set on a British sports car, the Z was a most reasonable alternative. In producing its pseudo-Jag, Nissan stuck close to British standards for appearance and performance — plausible wood on the dash, complete instrumentation, enough engine to play with, and a chassis matched to the engine's capabilities. More to the point, Nissan utterly ignored British standards for reliability; delighted Z buyers found themselves not spending three days a week at Datsun dealerships.

But, as George Harrison so sentiently observed, all things must pass. The British have retreated from sports cars, the Americans are building great stuff again, and the market is moving towards more sedans and sport-utility vehicles, so Nissan will send us no more new Zs. Ten dealerships have been designated as Z Stores, which will sell well-kept examples of the breed and, one hopes, keep the mystique alive. I hope they keep it alive long enough for me to be able to afford one. For that matter, I hope I can keep me alive long enough for me to be able to afford one.

The Vent

#40
9 February 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill