It’s been a long time since I’ve done a marque-specific show (e.g. all Ford, all Chrysler); let alone a model-specific one like all Camaro or all T-bird. And although I’ve touched on Japanese cars a few times throughout the years, I’ve never done an all Japanese show. So when I was contacted by the Z-Con folks to cover the 23rd annual Datsun/Nissan Z-car convention at Nissan’s North American headquarters in Franklin, TN my first reaction was, “There’s an annual gathering of Z-cars that’s been going on for 23 years?!?”
My second thought/concern tho was whether there’d be enough diversity in the cars to make an interesting episode especially since they all share such similar lines. I decided to give it a go anyway and was pleasantly surprised that there was plenty to pick from.
The Datsun 240Z came to the US in 1970, and it was the beginning of putting Japanese performance on the map. They were slick, sleek, affordable, and lots of fun to drive. For most folks, this was the first Japanese sports car they’d ever seen. If you lived on the west coast, you may have been familiar with their predecessors the Datsun 1600 and 2000 roadsters, but not many of these made it very far east. The 240Z however was marketed coast-to-coast.
The Nissan headquarters made a great backdrop for the show and since Franklin is just outside Nashville, the club had also engaged one of the many great local bands to provide the music for the day rather than going the typical DJ route. The band was The Dirty Curties, an all-female group which struck me as appropriate since the Z-cars and the roadsters before them went by the model name, Fairlady, in Japan. The band was great and Datsun was wise to rename the cars for the US market.
I recently had a chance to shoot a couple really cool muscle Mercs and didn’t even have to leave my home base of Evansville, IN to do it. I had met their owner about five years ago at a small local cruise-in. I don’t actually get to go to those very often since I’m usually on the road, and when I am home I’m too busy trying to catch up on things before I leave again. But this particular one was a fund raiser, I happened to be in town, and a friend of mine had really put the arm on me to attend.
I recall driving my ’56 Lincoln and was just hanging out and chatting with people when this black ’64 Merc Park Lane Marauder pulled in. I think I stopped whatever conversation I was in mid-sentence and made a beeline to that car. I don’t actually recall ever seeing one before, and I just thought it looked incredibly sharp.
It was completely stock; jet black hardtop with a white interior and a factory 4-speed. Being a Park Lane, it was Mercs highest trim level so it was pretty decked out. 1964 was also Merc’s 25th year of existence so it had a few additional 25th Anniversary touches too.
There were very few 4-speed Marauders produced and most of them came with 427’s, but this one had an ultra-rare 390 Super Marauder engine with special large-valve heads and unique cast exhaust manifolds. There were probably fewer than five cars like this one made.
The owner, Tom Lantz, had found the car in Montana and although it needed paint and interior, it was a solid car. He took care of the cosmetics but hadn’t touched the engine which was still running strong at about 78k miles.
I fell in love with the car and enjoyed talking to Tom. I could tell he was a pretty serious performance Ford guy, and his attendance at this cruise-in had definitely made my day.
I pretty much lost track of Tom and that car till I got an email from him earlier this year alerting me to the fact that he had just completed another monster Merc that he thought I might get a kick out of. He was right.