Nissan Z: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance

This thoroughly enjoyable new book by Pete Evanow is a Nissan-official chronicle of the Nissan Z history, starting with Datsun planning for the new 240Z model in the late 1960s, and follows the car’s transition right the way through to the latest 50th anniversary 370Z and sixth generation of the car.

The original 240Z put Japanese car manufacturers squarely on the map as it revolutionized the sports car industry with this sexy, sleek looking and fast sports car, banishing the assumption by many people that Japanese car manufacturers only built economy cars.

The last 50 years has seen the evolution of six generations of this iconic car which has developed a huge devoted following with over 1.5 million cars having been sold in North America alone, with many more worldwide.

The retro-inspired 350Z gave the Z a new lease of life for the 21st century, with the latest model, the 370Z, continuing the tradition of giving the driver high-performance in a modern yet affordable car.

Chapter 1 - Nissan 240Z

Not only does the book offer a full and complete history of the Z, but it also gives details of the car’s extensive racing history. It enjoyed many a success in IMSA and SCCA sports car racing, including extensive racing by Paul Newman for Bob Sharp and John Morton with Brock Racing Enterprises.

Evanow also talks about the cult Z-fans around the world who have supported Nissan’s sports car through the good and bad times, as well as the early car’s emergence as a rapidly appreciating collector’s car.

Pete Evanow has worked in and around the motor industry for over 30 years, which included four years with Nissan Motorsports and its Z-Store and has enjoyed a long working relationship with Nissan. His insights into the history of this automotive icon provides a new and compelling perspective on the five decades of the Z and follows on the back of his book: ‘Z: 35 Years of Nissan Sports Cars.’ Evanow is currently a professor in advertising and public relations at California State University in Fullerton in the USA.

The book’s foreward is written by Hiroshi Tamura, who is Chief Product Specialist for the Z and in it he says that “It is an honour to have been selected to be in charge of this car’s development, inheriting the love and passion of any enthusiasts for over five decades, and passing it on to future drivers.” He talks about how the car has evolved in the last 50 years and that “Z is Nissan’s heart and soul – a truly special vehicle.”

Datsun 240Z versions

Chapter 1 is all about the launch of the Datsun 240Z in 1970. By 1969, parent company Nissan has produced its five millionth vehicle and exported its one millionth with the US being its largest market and monthly sales reaching 10,000 vehicles. The 240Z represented the imaginative spirit of Nissan and was designed to satisfy the American sports car market. Nissan studied the artistry of European coachmakers and engine builders and combined that with their own Japanese craftsmanship. The end result was an exotic high-performance car built exclusively for Americans.

Having a strong dealership network was extremely important, and in chapter 2 Evanow starts by looking at Nissan’s success in the 1970s thanks in part to its loyal dealers. Having a foothold in the lucrative US market was critical to the company’s success. But rather than go about establishing their own individual dealerships, Nissan cleverly left it to distributorships such as Luby Chevrolet of Forest Hills in New York, who would cover the East and distribute Datsuns to 22 Eastern states. Whilst on the West Coast, Woolverton Motors in North Hollywood, California, handled their imports in 11 Western and Southwestern states. Subsequently, these two dealerships were known as Luby Datsun Distributors and Western Datsun Distributors.

The chapter continues to talk about the first Skyline, the predecessor of the revolutionary Nissan GT-R of today and there are some wonderful photographs of early designs of the 240Z from the 1960s. However, the 240Z was to serve two purposes, firstly, the cost of the car had to be affordable in order for it be attractive to the younger buyer and secondly it had to be capable of racing, which was to help build consumer awareness of the brand.

Datsun’s US operations continued to flourish and grow during the 1970s and well in to the 1980s as chapter 3 looks at some of the other models such as the stretched wheelbase version of the 260Z, which some purists were not so keen on, but it helped with sales for sports car enthusiasts who had families, thanks to having four seats rather than two. A section of the chapter is given to Yutaka Katayama, who was the NMC USA President. It was his leadership, enthusiasm and vision that made NMC-USA the successful corporation it is today. He passed away only five years ago, at the ripe old age of 105, having spent his career at Nissan doing what he loved, and that was being around cars, motorsport and other people who shared his passion. He was well-known for his terrific signature autograph:

“Love Cars
Love People
Love Life”

He also had a number of other sayings that carried a profound meaning, one such example being: “A thousand customers will bring ten thousand good customers.”

Datsun 240Z Detail

The chapter goes on to talk about how Nissan embraced motorsports and how it could be used to illustrate the tenacity of the brand’s products. Race car driver Steve Millen won two IMSA GTS Driver’s Championships in 1992 and 1994 in a 300ZX Turbo, whilst the 240Z won the African Safari Rally. And it was the GTP ZX-Turbo that promoted Nissan’s Z through its official red, white and blue colour scheme and identity.

There is also a wonderful tribute to Paul Newman who raced the Trans-Am Nissan 300ZX Turbo race car for Newman-Sharp Racing. Newman, for all his Hollywood achievements, simply wanted to be known as P.L. Newman, driver. You would find him at a racetrack humble, quiet and deep in thought. Newman continued to drive into his 80s, with his age serving as his car number (81), when he won at Lime Rock. He partnered with the legendary parts supplier Carl Haas in CART, Champ Car and Indy Car series, where he formed Newman-Haas Racing which had some of the world’s top racing drivers driving for the team, such as Mario and son Michael Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi, Sabastian Bourdais and of course Formula One Champion Nigel Mansell who was the first driver to ever win both the PPG Indycar World Series whilst still holding the Formula One Championship and the first Rookie to win the Indy Series in its 82 year history back in 1993 in his Newman-Haas Lola-Ford.

Chapter 4 looks at the 260Z’s relatively short lifespan and time in US showrooms. A number of upgrades were added to the car to keep it up to date before the brand-new 280Z and 280ZX was introduced, the latter being possibly the most innovative car to ever come from Nissan. The ZX (vehicle code S130), was a “Grand Touring” car, as NMC-USA and motoring journalists liked to describe it. The car was heavier and came with better sound insulation, more supportive seats and a long list of options. The car had a more aerodynamic look to it, featuring enclosed bumpers and had a lower centre of gravity and almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution. It also achieved better fuel economy. The 280ZX was also the first time the “by Nissan” subscript was badged with the Datsun logo.

In 1980 Nissan established its first manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. This represented a major commitment to the US market for Nissan.

Nissan's Motorsport History

To reinforce Nissan’s racing commitment, another limited edition was produced – the 280ZX-R – a homologated car to enable Datsun’s factory-supported team to run its own version on the racetrack.

In chapter 5, Evanow takes us through a number of limited edition variants, starting with the new turbocharged 300ZX with a new V6 engine, which was launched at the end of 1984 and was the third generation of the Z. The Shira Special was one of the special edition cars offered during the Z31’s production run. The Z32 had a very distinctive shape to it while the fourth generation Z, still called the 300ZX, was launched in July 1989 and remained in production until 1996 in North America and into 2001 in Japan. The 300ZX Turbo was to be the final turbo version of the car.

Chapter 6 takes us into the new millennium, which started with the successful introduction of the 240Z Concept in 1999 and Z Concept in 2001. It also came at a time when there was new leadership in Japan and Nissan had Renault as a new corporate benefactor, giving the corporation a new sense of energy.

The new 350Z was launched with much acclaim in 2002. The 350Z coupe was fitted with an updated version of the 3.5 litre VQ35DE DOHC V6 engine, giving the car outstanding performance. It was available with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox. A convertible version was launched in 2004. A little later Nissan introduced and exclusive NISMO edition.

50th Anniversary Nissan 370Z

The Z’s 35th anniversary was marked with special Ultra Yellow and Pearl Blue editions. In 2008 the 370Z was introduced, featuring an upgraded engine that produced 332bhp. Five years later, the 40th anniversary was celebrated with the Fairlady Z Coupe Version ST with an exceptionally high-level trim.

Nissan did not however want to leave the European market out of the mix and in particular the lucrative UK market, where it offered the 370Z Yellow Edition as a one-off tribute to the company’s European GT4 race car. In Germany the car was offered as the 370Z Nürburgring Edition with just 70 examples built. Then in 2011, the 370Z Edition was launched in recognition of Nissan’s global successes in GT racing and 40 years of the Z in the UK. Just three body colours were available – Pearl White Kuro in metallic, Black and Black Rose. Special GT stripes were added to the car’s flanks. The car continues to be offered in the UK market due to its popularity.

Around the world, car enthusiasts continue to wax lyrical about the Z, with some individuals even making a career out of their passion for the marque. Therefore in chapter 7, Evanow takes a detailed look at ‘The Car-Hobby Culture’ and the lengths people have gone to not only restore but also modify their cars, some quite radically.

The focus in chapter 8 is the Z market today and the new, used and classic markets for this extraordinary car. To some, “The 240Z is a model that people see for the future.” There are many collectors willing to pay a small fortune for a good example classic Z, with one particular immaculate 240Z that went under the hammer for a staggering $124,240.

50th Anniversary editions of the Z

Chapter 9 details the special 50th Anniversary Z. The 2020 370Z represents an important milestone for Nissan, which very few car manufacturers are able to match. The car’s launch in New York was greeted extremely positively by the world’s press, perhaps in part thanks to the 50 years’ worth of experiences the car carries.

A section in the chapter is also given to legendary designer, racing driver, team owner and businessman Peter Brock who raced Datsun’s 2000 Sports as a privateer and went on to win the SCCA’s highly regarded Pacific Coast D Production Championship with Frank Boise before establishing Brock Racing Enterprises and got financial support from Datsun to race the new 240Z, winning the SCCA’s C Class Championship in 1971 and 1972.

The book draws to a close as Pete Evanow looks at what lies ahead for Nissan and the Z in an aptly named Chapter 10: Moving Forward and Beyond. And as Derek Kramer, Director of Product Planning Z & GT-R Nissan North America says: “The heritage of the Z brings drivers back to where they want to be, and that’s what is most worthwhile.” To understand what Nissan is thinking as regards the future, there are some thoughts from the Head of Global Design Alfonso Albaisa, who says that “It is not purely about the progress of the Z but about the car’s relationship with people.” This I think, sums up the Z’s last 50 years perfectly.

You most certainly don’t have to be a Nissan or Z fan to really enjoy this book. It makes for a fascinating read and helps show how Nissan grew their foothold in the US automotive market and developed this very special sports car into having the loyal cult following it enjoys today.

NISSAN Z: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance by Pete Evanow

Publication date: 23rd June 2020
UK Price: £32.00
ISBN: 9780760367131
Pages: Hardback, 242mm x 282mm, 176 pages
Author: Pete Evanow
Published by Motorbooks, an imprint of The Quarto Group

Nissan Z: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance is available to purchase here in the UK via Amazon, Waterstones, Book Depository and Books etc.

Author Bio:

Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.

Illustrations courtesy of The Quarto Group

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