Datsun 280Z and 280ZX or Nissan S30 and S130 models

Datsun 280 Zx advert poster

Datsun 280Z and 280ZX, beautiful Japanese sport cars

The Nissan S30 (sold in Japan as the Nissan Fairlady Z and in other markets as the Datsun 240Z, then later as the 260Z and 280Z) was the first generation of Z GT two-seat coupes, produced by Nissan Motors, Ltd. of Japan from 1969 to 1978. One of the most successful sports car lines ever produced, the trend-setting S30 was designed by a team led by Yoshihiko Matsuo, the head of Nissan's Sports Car Styling Studio. 

The 240Z

Seeking to compete head-to-head with established European sports carmakers, Datsun priced the new 240Z within $200 of the British MGB-GT in the United States. The 240Z's sleek styling, modern engineering, relatively low price, and impressive performance struck a major chord with the public. Positive response from both buyers and the motoring press was immediate, and dealers soon had long waiting lists for the “Z” model. It was ready to rumble !

In case you wonder, the Datsun S30 240Z is unrelated to the later 240SX, which was sold as the Silvia in Japan, although initial advertising for the 240SX mentioned the S30.

This 240Z used twin SU one-barrel side-draft carburettors. These were replaced on the 260Z with Hitachi one barrel side draft carburettors beginning with model year 1973 to comply with emissions regulations in California, resulting in diminished overall performance. Bosch designed L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection was added to U.S. 280Zs in 1975 to compensate.

The 240Z had a 2.4L engine able to produce 151 hp (113 kW). The 260Z though had fitted a mechanical fuel pump, twin Hitachi HMB 46W 1.75 in (44 mm) SU-type carburettors and they increased the power to 162 hp or 121 kW. The Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injected 280Z managed to produce 170 hp (127 kW) reaching 130 mph (210 km/h), what a corker !

The 280ZX and 280Z

The Datsun 280ZX is the successor of the 280Z and actually she should be called Nissan S130 model. It is a sports coupé produced by Nissan in Japan from 1978 to 1983. It was sold as the Datsun 280ZX, Nissan Fairlady Z and Nissan Fairlady 280Z, depending on the market.

The car had 4 different engines: a 2.0L regular and a turbo version and the same for a 2.8L. As you can imagine the most interesting one is the 2.8L Turbo model. It also had automatic and manual (4 and 5 speed) transmission too.

As in 1981 both turbo and normally aspirated engines were offered, but non-turbo cars now used the upgraded L20E for the Japanese market or the L28E for the export market, which on the 2.8 L version, due to increased compression, were rated at 145 hp (108 kW) rather than the earlier engine's 135 hp (101 kW). The naturally aspirated 1982 Datsun 280ZX boasted a 0-60 mph time of 9.1 seconds, 1.2 slower than the Corvette of the same year. The 280ZX Turbo manual had a 0-60 mph of 7.4 seconds while the automatic managed to turn out 7.1 seconds. That compares to the Aston Martin Volante with a 0-60 mph of 8.9 seconds and almost seven times the cost and the Ferrari 308GTSi with a 0-60 mph of 7.9 seconds. The only cars in 1982 to beat the Turbo ZX were the Porsche 911SC and the BMW M1. How you like them apples !

Datsun 280Z

Datsun and Nissan History

How did all get started? Datsun is a Japanese automobile brand owned by Nissan. Datsun's original production run began in 1931. From 1958 to 1986, only vehicles exported by Nissan were identified as Datsun though. 

Before the Datsun brand name came into being, an automobile named the DAT car was built in 1914, by the Kaishinsha Motorcar Works, in the Azabu-Hiroo District in Tokyo. The new car's name was an acronym of the surnames of the following company partners: 1) Kenjirō Den, Rokurō Aoyama and 3) Meitarō Takeuchi. Funny enough, datto (how a native Japanese speaker would pronounce "dat") means to "dash off like a startled rabbit" which was considered a good name for the little car. The firm was renamed Kaishinsha Motorcar Co. in 1918, seven years after their establishment and again, in 1925, to DAT Motorcar Co. DAT Motors constructed trucks in addition to the DAT passenger cars. The first prototype Datson was completed in the summer of 1931. The production vehicle was called the Datson Type 10, and "approximately ten" of these cars were sold in 1931. They sold around 150 cars in 1932, now calling the model the Datsun Type 11.

Operations in the US

The use of the Datsun name in the American market derives from the name Nissan used for its production cars. Nissan favoured Datsun brand in passenger cars, so as to distance the parent factory Nissan’s association by Americans with Japanese military manufacture. In fact Nissan's involvement in Japan's military industries was substantial, so it was clearly a great disguising move. The company's car production at the Yokohama plant shifted towards military needs just a few years after the first passenger cars rolled off the assembly line, on April 11, 1935. Datsun entered the American market later on, in 1958, with sales in California. By 1959, the company had dealers across the U.S. and began selling the 310 model (known as Bluebird domestically). The Nissan American branch was named "Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A.", and chartered on September 28, 1960, in California, but the small cars the firm exported to America were still named Datsun. From 1962 to 1969 the Nissan Patrol utility vehicle was sold in the United States (as a competitor to the Toyota Land Cruiser J40 series), making it the only Nissan-badged product sold in the USA prior to that name's introduction worldwide decades later. 

The company introduced the Bluebird 510 in 1967.This was followed in 1968 with the iconic 240Z, which proved affordable sports cars could be built and sold profitably: it was soon the world's #1-selling sports car. It relied on an engine based on the Bluebird and used Bluebird suspension components. It would go on to two outright wins in the East African Rally.

Operations in Europe

Nissan began exporting Datsun-badged cars to the United Kingdom in 1968, at which time foreign cars were a rarity, with only a small percentage of cars being imported – some of the most popular examples at the time including the Renault 16 from France and Volkswagen Beetle from West Germany. The first European market that Nissan had entered was Finland, where sales began in 1962. Within a few years, it was importing cars to most of Western Europe.

Datsun was particularly successful in the British market. It sold just over 6,000 cars there as late as 1971, but its sales surged to more than 30,000 the following year and continued to climb over the next few years, with well-priced products including the Cherry 100A and Sunny 120Y proving particularly popular.

The Datsun Z models and Yutaka Katayama involvement

When Nissan sent executive Yutaka Katayama to America in March 1960, he was something of a corporate exile. Less than two years earlier, he had persuaded his superiors to led him enter the company’s diminutive Datsun 210 in Australia’s gruelling, 10,000-mile (16,100-km) Mobilgas Rally, seeking to boost Datsun’s international reputation. To everyone’s surprise, he led his tiny team to a class victory and considerable publicity. The adulation accorded Katayama, however, did not sit well with his superiors. Katayama was not politically well-connected — he had not joined Nissan’s management union, which had been a bad move from the standpoint of career advancement — and his enthusiasm for sports cars was, paradoxically, considered unseemly for a Nissan executive. Considering his well-publicized victory, firing him or laying him off would have been embarrassing for the company, but Katayama’s superiors were also reluctant to reward him too richly. Katayama was sent to America on a vaguely defined market-research assignment, with the implicit hope that he fade from view.

Instead, Katayama took to America like a fish to water. He almost single-handedly built Nissan’s U.S. dealer network and in the fall of 1960 became West Coast VP of the fledgling Nissan Motors Corporation USA (NMC USA).

By 1965, Katayama had begun to put Datsun on the map in the American market. As a reward, he was named president of NMC USA. He was still in a tenuous position with his superiors in Japan — he was successful enough to keep them from sacking him, but not so wildly successful as to prompt them to replace him with a more tractable and compliant executive. He had also acquired a powerful ally in Keiichi Matsumura, who had recently joined Nissan from Japan’s powerful MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry). With Matsumura on his side, Katayama had finally gotten the home office to listen to him, albeit sometimes grudgingly.

By 1967, Datsun was fourth among U.S. imports. Moreover, after years of begging the home office for products more suited to the American market, Katayama now had the highly competitive Datsun 510, a sporty little sedan modeled loosely on the BMW 1600. Thanks to the 510, by 1969, Datsun was selling nearly 60,000 cars a year in America.

Katayama was extremely enthusiastic about the 510, but he had a greater dream that was still unfulfilled. Katayama had, after all, been the first chairman of the Sports Car Club of Japan and he still wanted a real Datsun sports car.

Nissan had actually built a modest number of sporty cars before. The company fielded its first postwar roadster in 1952, although it sold in tiny numbers and was not exported. In 1959, Nissan introduced a new roadster based on the Bluebird sedan, the Datsun SP211 Sports Roadster. In its home market, it was called the Datsun Fairlady, a name selected by Nissan president Katsuji Kawamata, who had been very taken with a performance of the musical My Fair Lady on a visit to the U.S. in 1958. Katayama, fearing that effete-sounding names like Bluebird and Fairlady would be ridiculed in America, insisted on more prosaic alphanumeric designations for the U.S. market.

The Datsun Fairlady evolved in parallel with the Bluebird on which it was based, becoming the SP310 in 1963 (Datsun Sports Roadster 1500 in America), and the 1,595 cc (97 cu. in.) SP311 in 1965. Export models were known as SPL, indicating left-hand drive. The final iteration was the 1968 Datsun 2000 Sports Roadster, with a new 1,982 cc (121 cu. in.) engine inherited from the Prince Motor Company, which Nissan acquired in 1966.

The Fairlady drew clear inspiration from the inexpensive British sports cars of its era, particularly the MGB and Triumph TR4. Contemporary reviewers criticised the Datsun’s haphazard styling and badly sorted suspension, but were pleased by the robust construction and build quality, which put Datsun’s British counterparts to shame. By the late sixties, the Fairlady benefited further from strong brakes (with discs in front) and one of the most powerful engines in its class. In the right hands, it became a viable sports racer, campaigned with some success.

Still, the Fairlady was not enough to satisfy Katayama, he wanted more to fulfil Americans taste for sport cars.

Nissan’s first glimmer of serious effort on the sports car front was the A550X project, a proposed 2.0-liter (122 cu. in.) GT intended as a joint venture with Yamaha. To design it, Nissan hired freelance stylist Albrecht Goertz, an Austrian nobleman who had previously designed BMW’s lovely but commercially unsuccessful 507 sports car.

The A550X project soon collapsed due mainly to concerns over its cost, although Nissan (at least partly at Katayama’s insistence) remained interested in a sporty coupe for the U.S. market. Goertz did some initial studies toward that end before his contract ended in 1965. He also developed the production version of the first Silvia coupe (refining a concept originated by in-house designer Kazuo Kimura) and introduced Nissan designers to the Western practice of creating full-size clay models as an intermediate stage between concept rendering and production design.

Exactly how much Goertz’s work influenced Nissan’s subsequent sports car project is still hotly debated. In later years, Goertz frequently intimated that he designed the original Z-car during his consultancy and actually threatened to sue Nissan for libel when the company said otherwise. (Contrary to many accounts, he never actually filed such a suit). Surviving photos of Goertz’s designs don’t look much like the finished product, but some historians note certain common elements and argue that at the very least, Goertz’s work represented the point of departure for Nissan’s in-house designers.

In a letter to Goertz in November 1980, Nissan’s head of legal affairs acknowledged the influence of Goertz’s contributions, but maintained that the production car was nonetheless an in-house design. That was the end of the legal confrontation, but the idea that Goertz designed the Z persisted even after his death in 2006. Although the A550X project did not come to fruition, Yamaha subsequently developed a conceptually similar project with Toyota that resulted in the Toyota 2000GT sports car. To our knowledge, Goertz had no involvement with the Toyota project.

In October 1965, Teiichi Hara, head of Nissan’s Engineering Design and Development department, assigned a young designer named Yoshihiko Matsuo as the head of the Sports Car Design Studio, with Akio Yoshida as his assistant. Matsuo was excited about his new assignment, but he quickly discovered that his new job was, like Katayama’s American assignment, a form of exile. Like Katayama, Matsuo was an enthusiast, something that his superiors viewed with exasperation, and his little studio seemed to be little more than a way of shutting him up.

Nissan management was still very skeptical about the commercial viability of sports cars, which they saw as frivolous, with little profit potential. The failure of the Nissan Silvia coupe undoubtedly didn’t help, but the response of the U.S. dealers did suggest that there might be some interest in America if Nissan could come up with something more suitable. Matsuo and Yoshida were allowed to continue working on sports car designs, albeit with little serious support.

After becoming president of NMC USA, Katayama had written to the home office to request the development of a sporty car tailored for American tastes, a plan that dovetailed with Matsuo and Yoshida’s efforts. On a trip back to Tokyo in 1967, Katayama paid a visit to the Sports Car Design Studio to see Matsuo’s work, which was then at the clay model stage. The two men quickly realized they shared a common goal. Not only was the proposed sports car the sort of thing they both loved. Katayama also saw it as a matter of corporate — and indeed national — pride.

A year or two earlier, Katayama’s support wouldn’t have been worth much, but with his new position and the backing of Matsumura, the sports car idea, now called Maru-Zetto (Circle) Z, began to gain momentum. Matsuo also found an ally in engineer Hisashi Uemura, head of Nissan’s Section Three production division. The Section One and Two divisions, responsible for regular cars and trucks, were reluctant to spare personnel for what they (understandably) saw as a marginal project, but Uemura, whose section normally focused on specialty vehicles like police cars and garbage trucks, agreed to help turn Project Z into a production car.

Other than the ill-fated Silvia, most of Datsun’s sporty-car projects had been roadsters, following the English tradition. Katayama, however, felt the market was shifting away from open cars; indeed, convertible sales in the U.S. dropped precipitously in the late sixties. He insisted that Project Z should be a closed, two-seat GT, like the Jaguar E-Type, a car he particularly loved. He also wanted a six-cylinder engine rather than a four.

The design of Project Z went through many iterations. The earliest sketches look a great deal like the later Opel GT, while an abandoned variation developed by Yoshida resembled a Maserati Ghibli. The eventual production design bore a striking resemblance to the contemporary Ferrari 275 GTB/4, styled by Pininfarina, which, interestingly, had also been commissioned to do the Datsun 410 Bluebird. Since the Ferrari cost more than four times as much as the Datsun Z car eventually did, however, that resemblance was not necessarily a bad thing.

The Z car’s monocoque structure was basically new, but to keep costs at a manageable level, many components were sourced from other Datsuns, including its suspension (MacPherson struts all around), brakes (discs in front, drums in back), and engine. The Z’s 2,393 cc (146 cu. in.) SOHC inline-six was essentially the 510’s 1,595 cc (97 cu. in.) four with two extra cylinders. In the Japanese market, there was also a 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) version to take advantage of lower tax rates for smaller engines.

Nissan management approved the Z for production in November 1967, and Uemura set about the complicated task of turning the completed design into a producible car. He clashed with Matsuo early on over the height of the car, which Matsuo had set at 1,200 mm (47.2 inches). Uemura argued that it was too low for American buyers, and ultimately persuaded Matsuo to raise it to 1,260 mm (49.6 inches); the production car ended up at 1,283 mm (50.5 inches), but headroom was still less than generous for lanky gaijin.

Running prototypes were completed by 1968 and in early 1969, test crews did extensive road testing in the U.S. The evaluation revealed a number of problems, principally a high-speed rear-end vibration that required an extensive redesign of the differential and half-shaft geometry. Because the new differential required a smaller fuel tank to fit in the Z car’s tightly packed tail, Uemura’s engineers went on a frantic, last-minute weight-reduction campaign, hoping to improve fuel economy enough to compensate for the smaller tank. They ultimately saved about 50 kg (110 lb), allowing the U.S. version a reasonably low curb weight of 1,057 kg (2,330 lb).

Datsun 280Z and 280ZX Valuations

As well know fairly well originality and pre purchase conditions are quite important to decide the value of a car. Statistic say you can find a lot of them for $10-15k but some good examples can reach $50k. I’d expect these cars to remain stable and certainly able of appreciation too.


To write this article we have used some information from and a picture from

Less known stories, Racing History
02/06/2018 - 11:38
Less known stories, Racing History
01/22/2018 - 11:58
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