scorecardHere's why the Datsun 240Z was the first Japanese muscle car
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Here's why the Datsun 240Z was the first Japanese muscle car

Here's why the Datsun 240Z was the first Japanese muscle car
Tech3 min read

1971 Datsun 240 Z

Wikimedia Commons

A 1971 Datsun 240z.

It's funny how, to the uninitiated, the phrase "Japanese muscle car" seems like an oxymoron.

While it may be true that Japan's national motoring identity might always be more Toyota Corolla than Lexus LFA - more affordable mass-market sedan than stomping supercar - those who know will tell you that Japan has long produced the kind of cars that can make the pulse pound or the heart ache.

There are in fact a whole lot of cars in this category - try tracing an arc from the Toyota 2000GT to the Nissan GTR - but if there was ever a perfect example of classic Japanese muscle, it would have to be the Datsun 240Z.

Datsun 240z

Wikimedia Commons

And then there was Datsun: the 240z was quick, affordable, and economical. And unlike most American thoroughbreds of the 1970s, it stayed that way.

In 1969, aware that his company had not kept pace with the changing habits of contemporary car buyers, Nissan's Yutaka Katayama convinced conservative management to establish a US division and introduce the 240Z to an astonished American populace.

As the story goes, Katayama took great, even personal care to assure the brand (then know as Datsun internationally) would appeal to the American consumer.

The New York Times retold the story in Katayama's obituary in February of last year:

Perhaps the greatest boost Mr. Katayama gave the 240Z was its very name, which Nissan had intended only as a working model number. In the late 1960s, when the car was first introduced in Japan, a Nissan executive, enamored of a certain Lerner and Loewe musical, named it the Fairlady Z.

When the first shipment of Fairlady Zs arrived in the United States, Mr. Katayama, judging the sobriquet horrifyingly effete for the American market, stripped the nameplate off each car with his own hands.

Enthusiasts will forever remember "Mr. K" as the father of the Z-Car, a line that continues to this day.

Finding your own 240z

In a dusty lot in Western Colorado this summer I stumbled on an old 240Z, immediately recognizable next to a dented Ford Bronco and a trailer full of old Subaru bits.

The color was a sort of burnt orange, which for a moment helped hide the overwhelming plague of rust creeping in from almost every seam. Many of the panels were just about see-through, revealing the inner mechanicals of a former road-going beauty.

Unfortunately, finding a good 240Z today is all about finding one that is rust-free. Many, many examples have succumbed to an oxidation affliction, but according to classic car insurer Hagerty, if you happen to find one in fair-to-good condition, that 240Z can be picked up for as little as $7,000 to $15,000. A real showpiece can fetch anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000.

So go get one. Keep it happy. It will return the favor.

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