Prior to 1969, the impression most Americans had of Japanese cars mirrored those currently held of Chinese-made toys — mainly cheap junk. In the fall of 1969, the Datsun 240Z changed those opinions instantly and forever. Beautiful (albeit not terribly original) styling combined with a smooth 2.4 liter overhead-cam straight six and independent rear suspension made the Z go and handle as well as it looked. 0-60 in 7.8 seconds and a 125 mph top speed was better than a Porsche 911T and Jaguar E-Type of the day for around half the price. Needless to say, the Z clobbered competition from the likes of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Opel, Triumph and MG.
Datsun’s U.S. manager Yutaka Katayama also made sure that 6-foot-tall Americans could fit in the car as well as 5-foot 4-inch Japanese. Emissions regulations resulted in a slow degradation of performance and drivability after 1972, but this was addressed in 1975 with the introduction of the fuel-injected 280Z. Parts are readily available for classic Z cars, but it’s best to look for one in drier parts of the U.S. as rust has claimed a large number of 240Zs.