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.
Although it was a Z-car gathering with several hundred of them in attendance, there was actually one 2000 roadster there which really stood out. This car was gorgeous tho and would have even stood out in a sea of other Datsun roadsters.
At first glance, this ’67 2000 was stock appearing except for the paint which was an eye-popping orange metallic. But upon closer examination, it was slightly lowered and under the hood it sported a really unique all-aluminum SR20 DTE engine out of an ’01 Nissan Sylvia; a model we don’t even have in the US. 16-valve with variable valve timing and turbo charged from the factory, this baby develops about 250 hp. I suspect it’s a rocketship to drive.
These roadsters are often dinged for being a bit of a knockoff of the MGB from a styling standpoint, but Datsun owners are quick to point out that the ’63 1600 actually came out three or four months before the launch of the MGB. So have that with your tea and crumpets!
But after all, it was a Z-car gathering so let’s get to some Z’s. The most extreme would have to be a Bob Sharp Racing wide body 280ZX powered by a twin-turbo 700 hp V8 Nissan engine. Paul Newman had raced this car back in the day and although it wasn’t all that competitive, it sounded downright angry when it fired up.
There were also a couple other interesting variations on a theme. One was a ’72 Scarab. These were V8-conversion cars created by a company called Scarab Engineering in Campbell, California which sold a few factory converted cars and a far greater number of conversion kits thru the 70’s and 80’s. In addition to the small block Chevy V8, this particular Scarab had flared fenders and a whale tale giving it a particularly aggressive look.
Another Z-mod car also started life as a ’72 240 but was transformed in the mid 80’s for the showcar circuit and sported a number of BSR body mods including a wide body kit and G nose, and then was finished in a very cool paint scheme. It had been restored to its showcar state by its current owner, who also happens to be a Nissan master tech.
Just so you know, there was also tons of bone stock Z’s at the show too, ranging from the earliest 240’s all the way up to the latest greatest 370’s. One that caught my eye was a really clean 1980 10th Anniversary 280Z. Altho these cars had packed on a few pounds since their 240 youth and now had clunkier US-regulation bumpers, they were still decidedly Z’s and still very cool. Only a couple thousand were made in the gold & black anniversary paint scheme and another 500 in an even-more-rare red & black combo. The t-top and gold leather interior combined with everything else to make this a very sharp car.
Our next stop will be West Yellowstone, MT for the Yellowstone Rod Run, and I’m counting on some cooler weather after these last couple shoots in the heat and humidity of the Midwest. And to all my Nissan friends at this year’s Z-Con; Arigato!