There were a lot of notable events in the year 1969. The United States landed astronauts on the moon. In August, the Woodstock music festival was held and became a legendary event.
And on the automotive scene that year, a new sports car took the New York Auto Show by storm. The sleek, affordable Datsun Z.
"The Japanese manufacturers were starting to make inroads, but they were still very minor players. Until the Z came out. When the Z came out, the whole Japanese market exploded," said Greg Smith, owner of Motorsports Industries in Orange, California. His company has been providing restoration and customization parts for Datsun and Nissan Zs for over 40 years.
To prove the Z was worth its mettle in those early years, Datsun, as the brand was known at the time, took it racing. Its scrappy competitiveness gave it cred among car enthusiasts, scoring many wins in SCCA racing.
And now, 50 years after that first Datsun 240Z debuted, Nissan is paying tribute with an Anniversary Edition of the 2020 370Z, the descendant of the original. The special paint scheme mimics the one Pete Brock applied to the racing Datsuns campaigned under his team name, BRE. There are also special logos on the outside, on the inside, and even embossed on the seat fabric. The bad news is that they're only making 50 in the iconic BRE red and white color combo. The alternate color combination of silver and black will be much more plentiful.
The overall sports car market has been shrinking for some time, mainly due to changing demographics and changing tastes. Nonetheless, Nissan says that at least for now, it's sticking with the Z. The car is too much of an indelible part of the brand's heritage to let it go. (Though it should be noted, there was a gap in Z production between 1996 and 2002, when the two-seater was resurrected as the 350Z.
Oh, and those earlier Zs, particularly the 240Zs from 1970 through 1973, have become bona fide collectible cars. They've skyrocketed in value in recent years.
"Five years ago, you could buy what we'd call a 'rust bucket' for under $1,000. And now, those $1,000 cars are gone. And there have been vehicles that changed hands in the $40,000 to $50,000 range," said Greg Smith of Motorsport Industries, which also goes by the name "The Z Store."
Nissan is trying to capture some of the magic of those first Datsun Z models with the current one, even the ones without the optional 50th anniversary package (it adds $2,600 to the price of the 370Z Sport, which starts at $33,820 with the standard 6-speed manual transmission). Yes, the new Z is a much more modern car in every way. But it is still a lot of fun to drive, just like a sports car is supposed to be.
And just like that "new kid on the block" was, nearly five decades ago.
Nissan honoring 50 years of the iconic Z sports car
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