Michael Bennett didn’t get off to the greatest start with his new Datsun 240Z back in 1973.
There certainly wasn’t anything wrong with the car. It was awesome then — and it’s pretty awesome now. It was dealing with the hardball car dealership and a prickly salesman that turned out to be the biggest challenge.
“When we went to order it and put our down payment on the car, they said it would be like a month or so before it would come in, and they called us a week later and they said ‘Be here by 9 o’clock tomorrow morning with the rest of the payment or it goes to the next person on the list,’” recalls Bennett, a resident of Oshkosh, Wis.
The dealer had also demanded that Bennett pay for add-ons that inflated the price of the new Z-car: rust-proofing for $99, a front spoiler for $60, a front bumper overrider for $30 and Shelby Viper mag wheels for $220. The total bill was a healthy $5,439.50.
And before he got the car off the lot, Bennett got one more piece of unwanted advice from the salesman.
“[He] gave me the key and said, ‘There’s a gas station two blocks down the road, don’t go by it.’ I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘There’s no gas in it.’ At that time a full tank of gas might have been 10 bucks, I don’t know. And a salesman wouldn’t even pull that out of his pocket. That felt pretty bad, leaving the place the way I was treated, but that was pretty common buying Z-cars back then because they were all on order and everybody wanted them and it was a seller’s market.”
Bennett can chuckle about the whole ordeal now because his 240Z turned out to be a great deal. Michael and his wife Paula are still the proud owners of the Datsun and it still looks fabulous 49 years later. Bennett admits that if he had had a few more dollars in his bank account at the time, he wouldn’t have bought the Datsun. The couple had their eyes on a completely different type of car.
“Actually, I wanted to buy the Volvo 1800 ES Sport Wagon, that was the car I was interested in. We drove one of those and then drove the Z-car and the difference in performance was just so incredible , but the thing that kicked us over was the Volvo was $1,000 more and I couldn’t get the loan for that! [laughs].”
A 240Z might not have been the most practical choice for a “family car”, but the Bennetts have never regretted their decision. Michael still laments driving the Datsun through that first winter, but after that he retired the snow tires for good.
“After that I got another car to drive in the wintertime,” he says. “I had just graduated from college and that was my only car so I did drive it that one winter. I really had no problems with it, but I paid the price in [rust] later on.”
“But we drove the car all over. We had it as a daily driver. We drove it to California and we drove to New York and coast-to-coast.”
The 240Z rolled up most of the 109,000 miles that are on the odometer in the first 10 years it was on the road. In the late 1980s, Michael said the car was running rough and he decided to put it in mothballs.
“Those 1973 240Zs had what they call the flat-top Hitachi carburetors. They were part of an anti-pollution package that the government mandated, along with some other things, and the car was subject to vapor-lock and the carbs were hard to maintain. That’s when it wasn’t running well. I think that was in about 1988 when we put it in storage for 15 years, maybe 20 years. And when we finally got it out it was in pretty rough shape. But at that time I decided to put the money in it and have it restored.”
An icon arrives
Billed by Nissan U.S.A. as a “personal two-passenger fastback” whose “sleek, low lines are complemented by a roomy, luxurious interior,” the 240Z fastback couple, the first of the famed Z-cars, was the next step in the progression that began with the Fair Lady roadsters a decade earlier. The 2.4-liter (2323cc) single over-head camp six-cylinder engine delivering at least 150 bhp allowed speeds as high as 125 mph, according to the company. An all-synchro four-speed manual transmission handled the shifting chores. ‘’Four-wheel independent suspension, consisting of coil spring sad MacPherson struts, was said to be “designed to meet the requirements of all world markets.” The all-steel unibody rode a 90.7-inch wheelbase, with front disc and rear drum brakes.
As for the interior, “flow-through draft-free fresh air system combined with an aerodynamic shape make the car a quiet experience to drive,” according to Datsun. “Oil pressure water temperature, fuel and ammeter gauges were recessed in a padded and formed dash. A large speedometer with trip odometer and a tachometer sat directly ahead of the driver. Deep cushioned vinyl bucket seats with built-in headrests adjusted horizontally and vertically and reclined up to 10 degrees. Standard 240Z equipment included: radial tires, a radio, clock, steering lock, collapsible steering wheel, three anchor seatbelts, backup lights, a wood steering wheel and gearshift knob, front/rear bumper overriders, console box, door armrest, driver footrest, glove box with lock, windshield and rear window drip moldings and coat hangers.
Distinct recessed headlamps were set deeply into nacelles, far back from the 240Z’s protruding. nose. Rectangular parking lights sat under the headlamps, below the bumper. Front fenders held reflector lenses, just to the rear of the headlamps. The low, wide grilled had a pattern of subtle horizontal bars, while the hood had a moderately sized bulge. A small round insignia went above the grille. Tiny rear quarter windows were used. Three-section tail lamps were mounted in rectangular housings.
The new coupe we could “Datsun’s answer to the high-performance personal car market,” developed with the guidance of considerable market research. “We think Datsun has a real winner,” said Ron Waklefield of Road & Track. That magazine further predicted that “Datsun will establish a market of its own, one which will force other makers to come up with entirely new models to gain a share in it.”
The 1971 and ’72 model years came with little change in the 240Z, other than a price bump up to $4,106 for 1972 — up from the $3,526 base price of the debut model. There was a slight drop in compression in 1972, and late in the year an emissions equipment mandate cut back on the 240Z’s overall performance.
For 1973, the model’s fourth and final year, there was again little change, other than all of the cars had the new emissions equipment. The base price also jumped more than $500 up to $4,695.
The 1973 240Z was not the end of the Z-cars by any means. The 260Z debuted the following year, paving the way for the 280 and 300Zs that followed later. The 1973 240Z was, however, the final chapter for a glorious first generation.
Round 2 for a sweet survivor
For all their good qualities, the 240Zs were not known for their longevity and had a fairly high mortality rate. They were often, as the saying goes, “driven hard and put away wet,” with many eventually succumbing to high miles, rust, or a combination of both.
The Bennetts’ car had quite a few miles, but was still a good candidate to be restored even after its long slumber.
“We debated when we took it out of storage whether to sell it or restore it. We probably wouldn’t have gotten much of anything for it if we had sold it at that time. So putting the money into it and having it re-done … It was my first new car, my wife and I, so it’s one of those things, you have more emotional ties into it that it’s worth.”
The problem was finding somebody to tackle the job who really knew the cars and knew what he was getting into. The couple found a guy with the same last name — no relation — who seemed plenty qualified.
“In Milwaukee [Wis.] there is a guy named Bob Bennett who used to race Z-cars back in the ‘70s and he’s a real expert on those cars,” Michael noted. “His business is called Bennett Coachworks and I figured I’d take it to him because if anyone knew how to restore them properly, he was it. It took a year before I got it back.”
“He basically took everything off of the car — the suspension, engine, transmission, everything came off the car. It was all rebuilt or replaced. The rusted parts were properly replaced and it got a new paint job ,which was very expensive because that Cocoa color is very expensive. The floor pans needed replacement, which was real common with those car. The frame rails — there is really not a frame — but the supports needed to be re-done. It’s very common with those cars back then, and I think the doglegs in front of the rear tires, those were the common rust areas. They cut them out and got the proper patches and did everything properly. There is no Bond-0 on it or anything.”
Fortunately, the interior was still in great shape, although Bennett did replace the seat covers and seat upholstery in front.
“They didn’t need to be replaced, but they didn’t look new anymore so I had those replaced. The carpeting and everything in the interior is original.”
“Bob Bennett also did some engine work “on the top” of the six-cylinder power plant, but about a year ago the car got some more work to finish the overhaul. “I had the engine and transmission pulled and everything re-done: fuel pump, oil pump, pistons, cam — everything. It’s nice now!”
Indeed, the 240Z is a fast and feisty as ever these days, and performs with a hearty growl. Bennett chuckles that he won’t be sneaking up on anybody behind the wheel of his Datsun, but he insists it was actually a lot louder when he first got it restored.
“When we first picked the car up it was very loud. My wife and I could not stand it being that loud, so we took it back and they put another muffler and another resonator on it. It was still a little loud, but I accepted it and as I was leaving the mechanic that worked on the exhaust system came up and whispered in my ear ‘This is the quietest Z-car we’ve ever let out of our shop [laughs].’ It was still loud!”
The Bennetts probably won’t be heading off on any cross-country runs to the coast anytime soon, but they still thoroughly enjoy breezing down Wisconsin country roads on nice summer days and showing off their Z-car at events like the Iola Car Show, where it was on display this past summer. It’s not the plushest or most refined machine on the show field, but its owners prefer it that way.
“It’s a sports car. So it’s very stiff and the now power steering, power assisted brakes,” Michael notes. “It’s kind of a beast to drive, especially around town without power steering. Parallel parking, your forearms can get a little store. But when you are on the road and running everything works just perfectly. It’s been a very fun car to own.”
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