Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
To tell the story of the 260Z would normally be short and sweet, simply put the 240Z had its engine size enlarged. But that would be too easy, so in the interests of writing an interesting article let's go back to the beginning. Datsun started life by assembling Austin cars under licence, but was able to break into the lucrative US sports car market in the mid-1960s with its stylish little 1600 Sports and 2 litre models.
Both cars were thoroughly conventional, however their
shortcomings soon became evident. The engine may have been strong and durable, but it was far from being refined, and the cars perceived lack of roadholding and utilitarian style soon saw them lose favour with US customers, despite the price.
The chiefs at Datsun knew, however, that there was enormous untapped potential in the US market and despite their previous setbacks, decided to set about creating a thoroughly new and exciting sports car, the 240Z. It was never intended that the car compete on performance with the such marques as the Jaguar E-Type
or Italian exotica, rather it had more traditional British sports cars in its sights, such as the MGB
Classically designed by Count Albrecht Goertz, the original "Z" featured independent rear suspension
and a silky smooth 2393cc in line OHC 6 already used in other Datsun models - able to run effortlessly to its 7000 RPM cut-out and capable of doing 0-100 km/h in a little under 9 seconds. The sleek fastback looks, with lift-up tailgate, and obviously influenced by the E-Type
and Ferrari 275GTB lines - and the world fell in love with it. The 1970's would see the US tighten its laws on emission and safety, so much so that many traditional European sports car manufacturers gradually slipped back, or pulled out altogether.
This in turn left the market wide open to Datsun, and the Z-Car. By 1972 it had become the world's fastest selling sports coupe. Good looks and stellar performance were soon backed up by two outright victories in the East African Safari rally, in 1971 and 1973
. The original car stayed in production until 1973
, by which time no fewer than 156,076 240Z's had been built. But as with any car, the "Z" needed to be modified to keep the buying public interested, and so in 1974
the 260Z was released.
Effectively it was simply a 240Z with a larger 2565cc engine fitted, however now you could order a longer wheelbase derivative offering extra occasional seats, logically enough called 260Z 2+2. However despite the increase in engine capacity, the new "Z" was actually slightly slower, and less sporting, than its predecessor. The 260Z remained on sale to global markets for four years, however in the US, which was its principle market, it was replaced by the lustier 280Z in less than a year. As its title implies, the 280Z had a larger 2753cc engine specifically tuned to meet the latest emission laws, but the biggest improvements came courtesy of the newly fitted Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection.
Naturally the fuel injection
helped improve fuel consumption, however the "Z" was rapidly gaining weight and, unfortunately, it was not winning the battle of the bulge. Heavier and slower than the original, the allure of the "Z" began to tarnish, which is why today the 240, and to a lesser extent the 260, are so fondly remembered by many.
The Datsun 260Z 2 + 2
To make the 260Z a 2 + 2 the Datsun designers decided merely to stretch the wheelbase a foot (or, to be precise, 11.9 inches ) without making any other major changes - an approach similar to what Jaguar took when the E-Type 2 + 2 was released. This was probably no surprise to many, as the E-Type influenced Nissan strongly when the 240Z was still in the concept stage. The only dimensional changes of note in the new 2 + 2 were the increase of wheelbase (from 90.7 to 102.6 in.) and overall length (the same amount, to 180.9 in.); all sheet metal forward of the windshield posts was identical with that of the 2-seat car. Overhangs were the same, the windshields were the same. The difference in height between the two cars was so slight as to go unnoticed by many : the Z stretch is different from that of the E-Type, where the windshield height was increased by 1.5 in. in the 2 + 2.
As a styling exercise many felt the 2 + 2 looked too long and heavy through the middle. It was still an attractive car, and the transformation from a 2- to a 4-seater was in most respects so subtle that many never even notice it from the outside. But what the 2 + 2 was all about was the extra occasional seating in the rear. Sitting squarely between the rear wheel-wells and flanking the driveshaft tunnel, the rear seats were of necessity narrow, low-slung and deeply recessed to provide even minimum head room. They were really only suitable for children, although two not-too-tall adults could get fairly comfortable back there if the pair up front were willing to move their seats well forward.
The rear seats had a common backrest that could be folded down to provide extra luggage space, and with it folded the driver could look forward and backward and not immediately realize they were in the 2 + 2. Controls, front seats and instruments were identical; the only inward differences other than the rear seating area were carpeting on the transmission tunnel in place of the horrible quilted vinyl of the 2-seater, an extra door-opening lever accessible to rear passengers, and the neat packaging of the shoulder belts' inertia reels in panels under the push-out rear quarter windows.
For some reason the early 2 + 2 models had an unsightly jumble of wires and relays under the passenger's side of the dash, and the terrible-looking vinyl upholstery on the seats marred an otherwise well appointed interior. Luggage space was a trade-off in the 2 + 2, compared to the 2-seater: 5.9 cu. Ft. vs the smaller car's 8.5 behind the seats, but with the backrest folded an extra 9.2 cu. Ft. below the window line. Living with the handicap of 200 lb added weight and no power advantage over the regular Z, the 2 + 2 made zero to 60 mph in an extra 1.2 seconds, and if you optioned the auto transmission you needed to add another second. The quarter-mile took longer too, up to an extra 1.3 seconds in the auto. The automatic was a conventional 3-speed converter type, basically a Ford design and used at the time by both Ford and Toyo Kogyo (Mazda) as well as Nissan. It was smooth and quiet in normal operation, though a bit too eager to downshift to 2nd gear at city speeds. For a sports car it also upshifted a bit too soon: at 5000-5200 rpm on wide-open throttle, well below the engine's peak power.
By the time the 2 + 2 was released, there were a few niggling flaws starting to show in the Z-cars: most noticeable was the differential whine and an annoying clunk in the drive-train every time the throttle opening was changed. But the biggest transformation in the Z character was in the way the 2 + 2 drove, and there are both pluses and minuses in comparison with the 2-seater. The steering was a bit quicker, so with the extra weight of the 2 + 2 it became quite heavy for parking; at speed the steering was light and precise as always. Spring rates were increased to compensate for the weight and carrying capacity, but the 2 + 2's handling was normal Z-car: well balanced and neutral, with understeer at the limit and gentle oversteer obtainable by backing off the throttle in a turn. Some, but not all, road-testers felt the 2 + 2 had more understeer. Braking distances were about 10 ft longer from 60 and 80 mph, and emergency braking was usually accompanied by front-wheel lockup,
The longer wheelbase had a marked effect on the ride too. Freeway hop had all but disappeared, and there was even less jerking of the car over large bumps than with the short car. The wheelbase also got some credit for the 2 + 2's stability at speed in a straight line: the 260Z was much improved over the 240Z but the 2 + 2 was better still. A negative aspect of the longer wheelbase surfaced, however, when the 2 + 2 traversed lane dividers and other sharp, small bumps. There was little compliance in the Z's front suspension and these caused a drumming in the body cavity. The larger cavity also let an engine resonance at 2300-2400 rpm become very tiresome. Overall, the 260Z 2 + 2 was nearly as practical for the family man (or woman) as the 260Z was for those who never needed to consider the possibility of passengers. It lost little in the transformation except straight-line performance, and not much of that. The extra luggage space available could be handy for a long trip by two people, too, and as you would expect, it offered traditional Z-car value for money in a new category of car.