Our Fairlady “Z” – The S30 Years (1970-1978)

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 what would become the iconic  “Z” sports coupe. Designed by a team led by Mr. Yoshihiko Matsuo, the head of Nissan’s Sports Car Styling Studio; HLS30 was the original designation given to the left-hand drive model and HS30 for the right-hand drive model.

Due to its relatively low price compared to other foreign sports cars of the time (Jaguar, BMW, Porsche, etc.), it became popular in the United States and was a major success for the Nissan Motor Corporation, which at the time sold cars in North America under the name Datsun. The 240Z also broadened the image of Japanese car-makers beyond their econobox success. Pictured above, a Japanese market 1972 Datsun Fairlady Z.

The 240Z

The 1970 240Z was introduced to the American market by Yutaka Katayama, president of Nissan Motors USA operations, widely known as Mr. K. The 1970 through the mid-1971 model year 240Z was referred to as the Series I. These early cars had many subtle but notable features differing from later cars. The most easily visible difference is that these early cars had a chrome “240Z” badge on the sail pillar, and two horizontal vents in the rear hatch below the glass molding providing flow through ventilation. In mid-1971, for the Series II 240Z cars, the sail pillar emblems were restyled with just the letter “Z” placed in a circular vented emblem, and the vents were eliminated from the hatch panel of the car. Design changes for the U.S. model 240Z occurred throughout production, including interior modifications for the 1972 model year, and a change in the location of the bumper over-riders, as well as the addition of some emission control devices and the adoption of a new style of emissions reducing (and performance compromising) carburetors for the 1973 model year.

The 1970 models were introduced in October 1969, received the L24 2.4-liter engine and a 4-speed manual. A less common 3-speed automatic transmission was optional from 1971 on, and had a “Nissan Full Automatic” badge.

The 260Z

This model was sold in the United States for the 1974 model year only, but was available in other countries until 1978. The engine was enlarged over that of the 240Z with a longer stroke to 2.6 L. In the U.S., federal emissions regulations forced a reduction in ignition timing and compression ratio, resulting in a lower power output (140 hp) for the 260Z despite the additional displacement, whereas in other countries the power output increased to 165 bhp. The 1974.5 models had the full 165 bhp that other countries had by default.

A 3-speed automatic transmission was an option, and the 4-speed manual remained standard.

1974 brought for the first time to the S30 line a 2+2 seating option, which offered room for 4 passengers and an extra 11.9 in of wheelbase. These cars have a notably different roofline from the 2-seat coupes, incorporating larger opening quarter panel windows.

The 260Z claimed a few updates or improvements over the 240Z. The climate controls were more sensibly laid out and easier to work, and those cars with air conditioning now had the A/C system integrated into the main climate control panel. There was also additional stiffness in the chassis due to a redesign of the chassis rails which were larger and extended further back than previous models. A Rear sway bar was added as well. The 260Z debuted a redesigned dashboard and console, as well as new seat trim, and door panels for the interior. The tail lights were updated, moving the back up lights from the main tail light housing to the back panel. Early 1974 U.S. 260Z models had bumpers that resembled those of the earlier 240Z, though increased slightly in size, pushed away from the body somewhat, and wearing black rubber bumper guards rather that the previous chrome bumper guards with rubber strips. These early cars still had the front turn signals located below the bumpers. Late 1974 U.S. 260Z models (often referred to as 1974.5 models) carried the heavier bumpers that would remain on the 1975-76 model years of the 280Z. These late cars had the front turn signals relocated to the outer edges of the front grill, above the bumper.

An Australian market 1977  Datsun 260Z.

The 280Z

In a further effort to keep the S30 models competent sports cars even in the face of increasingly stringent U.S. emission and safety requirements, Nissan Motors released the Datsun 280Z model for the U.S. market in the 1975 model year. Both the 2-seat coupe and 2+2 hatchback models would remain available throughout the 1975–78 model year run.

For the 280Z, engine size was again increased, this time to 2.8 L, by enlarging the bore of the L26 engine to create the L28, and a reliable Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system was added.

1975 and 1976 models continued to be fitted with the Federally required 5 mph crash test bumpers that were introduced for the mid-1974 model year of the 260z. These bumpers were smooth surfaced, and blended into smooth black rubber extensions as they met the body of the car. 1977 and 1978 models received bumpers with recessed channels added to the faces of the bumpers themselves, that blended into corrugated or accordion style black rubber extension trim. Also new for the 1977 model year, 280Zs no longer received the full size spare tire, and instead had a “space saver” spare and a larger fuel tank. This resulted in a raised rear deck area made of fiberboard, reducing cargo space. In 1977–78 an optional 5-speed manual transmission was available along side the 4-speed manual, and the 3-speed automatic options, which included a “5-speed” emblem on the left bottom edge of the rear hatch. 1977 also saw an update from the charcoal painted hubcap style (with a chrome Z floating in the amber center emblems) to a hubcap that resembled an alloy wheel, bearing a center cap with a chrome Z floating in a black circle.

In 1977 and 1978 respectively, Datsun offered two special edition models. The “Zap” edition was offered in 1977 as a “Special Decor Package”. Zap cars were finished in Sunshine Yellow paint, and sported black stripes down the center and sides, with yellow, red, and orange chevrons at the front ends of the stripes. An estimated 1,000 “Zap Z” cars were offered in 1977. The “Zap Z” model was also used as the pace car in the 1977 Long Beach Gran Prix. The Black Pearl edition (produced in 1978) came with Black Pearlescent paint and a “Special Appearance Package” (SAP), which consisted of dual racing mirrors, rear window louvers, and a unique red and silver stripe. It is estimated that between 750-1,500 of these cars were produced.

An American market 1975 Datsun 280Z.