The Datsun 240Z
Datsun’s 240Z was probably Japan’s first credible sports car. Manufactured between 1970 and 1973 it was aimed very specifically at the US market place and, such was its success there, sales of British sports cars such as the MGB, previously very successful in America, took a real drubbing. In the UK import taxes meant that the 240Z was a little expensive, indeed at its release the sale price of £2535 was some £700 more than a 3 litre Capri. However given its specification it was certain to have a following in the UK, no less a person than Robin Herd purchasing the Earls Court motor show car on its UK release.
A straight six, 2.4 litre engine giving out 150bhp in standard form was linked to a 5 speed box. Front disc brakes and independent suspension using McPherson struts all round, a 50:50 weight balance and rack and pinion steering completed the mechanical specification while internally the cockpit had excellent bucket seats as standard and easily room enough to accommodate a six footer.
Its potential as a rally car was underlined early on when Edgar Hermann took a factory entered 240Z into 1st place on the 1971 Safari, three minutes ahead of another 240Z driven by Shekhar Mehta. Mehta was to go one better in 1973 when he took the overall win. Meantime in the UK Tony Fall won the 1971 Welsh ahead of Sparrow and Malkin. This Datsun was factory owned, but on loan to the crew and supported by staff from the Old Woking Service Garage in Surrey who had rebuilt it from an early test car from the previous year. This garage, run by Ron Hicks, was a key player in Datsun’s approach to rallying in the UK. The relationship started in 1969 with the SSS model and, as an enthusiastic Datsun dealer positioned close to the Bagshot testing track, it was the basis of a fine set-up.
The Welsh turned out to be the best result for a 240Z in the British forests. Tony Fall had a 7th on the 1972 Scottish whilst Mehta/Holmes were a little less lucky the following year.
These cars could “bite back” as this ex-Tony Fall example shows!
Three years of factory entries in the RAC rally produced a 7th in 1970 with Aaltonen (Hermann retired), a 17th and 19th in ’71 with Hermann and Mehta, an 11th with Aaltonen in ’72 with Fall in 18th and then a 14th with Kalstrom in ’73 with Fall and Sclater (in the Kleber supported car) both retiring.
Chris did four rallies in “Zs” and “loved every minute”. He felt that maybe it was not the best balanced car for the forests but it did feel “as if you could knock down trees with it!” He found them surprisingly good on tarmac from his experience in the Withers car on two TAP rallies. After the Welsh in 1975 when he had retired with engine problems, he begged Wakabayashi (Datsun’s comp manager) to be able to buy the Z he had used, but he responded by stating that all the cars had to go back to Japan to be crushed! Cal Withers subsequently did manage to purchase one of the last cars from Datsun through their Worthing UK office and rallied it with various drivers including Chris Sclater and Roy Fidler (see chapter on Withers of Winsford).
Out of the forests, 1973 saw Kevin Videan forsaking his Mexico and taking an Old Woking supported 240Z into the lanes in the Motoring News Championship (from the seventh round onwards). Many thought that it would be an uncompetitive choice of car in an age of fast, proven and nimble RS1600s but he was not the only person to be thinking laterally at that time - both Harold Morley and Malcolm Patrick used Porsche 911 Carrera variants at some point that year. It was a period when power was beginning to be a real pre-requisite for success.
Videan, navigated by Peter Valentine, quickly came to terms with the somewhat unwieldy Datsun and finished their first MN event, the Nutcracker with a promising 6th place finish. The next rally was the Gremlin when the bodyshell was destroyed after a “straight on at T” moment; the Z’s Trelleborg tyres had melted under braking following a fast section on Epynt. Luckily there was a “Work’s” car sitting back in Old Woking so the registration plate was quickly swapped over and they were back out again two weeks later on the Stocktonian. Few people noticed that the steering wheel was now in a different position and they finished this time 5th in an unusual result where only four Fords made the top ten.
A steady run on the popular Cilwendeg rally followed producing a 4th place finish before the crew produced a flawless display and a deserved overall victory on the Rally of the Vales. A retirement was then posted on the Illuminations before a 3rd place was achieved on the final Championship event of the year, the Plains.
Writing in Memory Lanes …revisited on his experiences with the 240Z Peter Valentine recalled one rally, the 1973 Illuminations, which illustrated the performance of Videan’s car. To quote this in full from a part where he was writing about the average speeds required he wrote “..there was a section which was about six miles long. It was mostly very straight with a couple of sharp bends and two T-junctions. In the 240Z we were pulling really high numbers in 5th for almost the whole section without stopping at all. We were just under two minutes late at the end. I suspect the time allowed to “clean” that 6 mile section was 4 minutes. It couldn’t last really! We were on hand-cut Dunlop intermediate racing tyres, triple 50DCOE Webers, with about 240bhp at the flywheel and 0 – 100 mph in approximately 12 seconds – all on public roads”.
Almost by definition all MN were run to the highest standards with meticulous public relation processes both on and off the rally route and over the years few serious accidents ocurred. Again, to quote Peter “we accepted and welcomed the challenge of it all. It was a unique rally series in more ways than one. Nothing like it had come before and it can never be repeated again”. People who witnessed these rallies in period will all have fond memories of this Old Woking supported 240Z, a car that set itself apart from the more usual choice of road rally car and one that undoubtedly gave a very good account of itself.