Before about 1970, most people would point and laugh if you told them you were buying a Japanese car. A “Made in Japan” label served as a red flag for cheap and hastily made. Datsun’s 240Z helped change that perception, permanently. It brought Americans a sports car that was quick and attractive but, more importantly, both affordable and reliable. It was significantly quicker than the cars in the same price point ($3,500 in 1970, or about $23,300 in 2018 dollars), and way cheaper than the cars with similar performance. It turned the sports car market on its ear.
The Z’s mix of performance and practicality resonated with the buying public, who quickly tossed away their “Made in Japan” presumptions and bought thousands of Z-Cars–in many cases waiting several months to get their hands on one. The 240Z wasn’t just about affordable performance numbers, it was the whole package. Car and Driver said in 1970 that “The difference between the Datsun 240Z and your everyday three and a half thousand dollar car is that about twice as much thinking went into the Datsun. It shows.”
Yukata Katayama, who was heading up Nissan’s U.S. operations at the time, ensured that the Z-car was designed to suit American tastes, roads, and driving styles. He even made sure that it was roomy enough for a 6-foot-tall corn-fed American driver. If you’ve ever tried to contort yourself into a Toyota 2000GT or a Honda S600, you’ll realize what an important feature this was. On track, the 240Z dominated the SCCA’s C-Production category, and in the driveway the 240Z started every morning, which was something Triumph or Alfa Romeo owners were not used to.
The 240Z is the original mass-market Japanese performance car, and most car people know that. That it was such a significant car combined with the public’s affection for it means that these early Z-Cars will always be collectible, and prices have had an interesting past few years. First off, the early 240s are the ones to have. Later Zs and ZXs got bloated and softer while sprouting ungainly bumpers, and the difference is reflected in values. A good 240Z is worth about twice as much as even the similar 1974-only 260Z. The later cars, however, still offer a plenty of fun per dollar.
It’s not exactly breaking news that lots of Japanese cars have been gaining value lately, and if you’re looking to catch a Z-Car wave and flip a 240 for big profit, it looks like you’ve missed the boat. For a long time, 240Zs were relatively cheap vintage sports cars, but in early 2015 values for really good examples had a big jump, up 30 percent for condition #1 and condition #2 cars but still relatively flat for #3 and #4. Since early 2016, values for all 240Zs have increased between 13 and 18 percent, but for the last three Hagerty Price Guide updates the values have been dead flat and show no signs of picking up again. At over 38 grand, a 240Z in #2 (excellent) condition is still a heck of a lot more affordable than the equivalent 911, but it’s a serious amount money. Buyer interest has been essentially flat as well, as have the number of cars sold at auction and their sale prices. For the near future at least, early Zs look fully priced.
Between racers, tuners, and rust, a lot of these cars are no longer with us. But since Nissan sold nearly 150,000 of them in the U.S., there are still a lot left to choose from and values look to have hit their ceiling. With the market for Japanese performance cars generally looking to have a bright future, though, it’s reasonable to expect that the values for these cars that got that segment rolling back in the ‘70s will remain strong.