The Datsun 260Z
A worthwhile improvement of the World's best-selling sports car. More flexibility and performance from 2.6 litres, excellent roadholding and handling —an exciting and practical 2-seater
At the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show Nissan-Datsun revealed the hatchback, fixed-head 240Z and brought to an end BMC/British Leyland's halcyon days as supremos in the world of mass-production sports car manufacture. Aggressive, attractive looks, 125 m.p.h. from a single overhead camshaft, straight-six engine, five-speed gearbox and all independent suspension, excellent handling and what has since proved to be superb reliability contrived to make this newcomer into the World's best-selling sports car, which is distressing but not surprising when all its opposition from Britain had been designed in the 1950s. Now, five years later, the 240Z has been replaced by the 260Z, an even more exciting package in the same shell. And its competition from British Leyland? Still the same 1950s designs, with only the option of soft tops as an advantage. No wonder the 240Z sold 130,000 examples in the United States, the sports car market's barometer.
This latest sporting Datsun is an immensely satisfying car to drive; at £2,895 it represents to me the most covetable sporting car produced by a major manufacturer below the Porsche or Ferrari Dino class and it should be an object lesson to British Leyland, who could surely do even better if they so wished. It is fairly sophisticated and is not even mid-engined which many people tell us is the only way to build sports cars these days. Maybe so for ultimate cornering, but the 260Z reminds one just how much fun and, equally important, practical a conventional layout sports car can be. Unlike the MG-B V8 it makes no pretence at being anything more than a two-seater and as a result has a comparatively large luggage area accessible through the top-hinged, hydraulicstrut supported, rear door. Unfortunately the rear wheel arches and McPherson struts intrude to restrict what might otherwise have been an even more commodious area. The rear door window is heated, naturally, though in the period of my ownership all the win dows remained permanently free of condensation, and suitcases can be prevented from sliding around loose by straps attached to the luggage bay floor. A handle moulded into the tail spoiler affixed to the boot lid would make it easier to open the lid against the force of the hydraulic struts.
Externally the 260Z is identifiable from the 240Z only by the badges attached to the front wings and a rearrangement of the rear light clusters, now flanked by separate reversing lights in the matt-black rear panel. Those familiar with the 240Z will spot that the 5½J x 14 in. wheels on this new model carry wider, low-profile Bridgestone tyres 195/70 instead of the old 175—a great help with the road behaviour and presenting a squatter appearance. Internally the facia and other details have been revised.
Mechanical modifications are the most important improvements made to the 240Z to create the 260Z and of these the most obvious is the increase in engine capacity from 2,393 c.c. to 2,565 c.c. by lengthening the stroke of the seven-bearing crankshaft from 73.7 mm. to 79 mm. The straight six thus remains slightly oversquare, the bore continuing at 83 mm.
I find it hard to believe that less than 200 extra c.c. can be the sole reason for the engine's improved performance. Claimed figures show an increase of 11 b.h.p. SAE to 162 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. and 152 lb. ft. torque instead of 146 lb. ft. torque at the same 4,400 r.p.m. and that while running on a lower compression ratio of 8.3 to 1 instead of 9.0 to 1 to suit low-lead three-star fuel. No emission equipment as such is fitted, but the two SU-type Hitachi carburetters and ignition have been recalibrated to meet more stringent anti-pollution requirements. Yet the 260Z feels much more flexible and much quicker than the old 240, suggesting that beneficial modifications to the cylinder head and/or camshaft may have been made also. Additional weight to that belief comes from the fact that the engine seems more willing to pull the higher final drive ratio (3.70 to 1) than the 240 engine did its 3.90 to 1 ratio. Overall gearing in 5th gives 22.3 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. as against 21.6 m.p.h. for the 240Z.
The whole of the drive train is said to have been beefed up and at the same time the gearbox ratios have been revised to make more efficient use of the torque and eliminate the 2405 gap between 1st and 2nd gears. Or so the Press release tells us. It also says that 1st gear ratio is now 2.91 to 1 instead of 3.32 and 2nd gear is 1.90 to 1 instead of 2.08. Curious . . . our two-year-old specification for the 240 gives 1st as 2.957 to 1, 2nd as 1.858 to 1, 3rd 1.311 to 1, 4th direct, 5th 0.852 to 1 and reverse 2.992 to 1. Equivalents for the 260 given in the Press release to more approximate figures are: 2.91, 1.90, 1.31, 1.00, 0.86 and 3.38 which would suggest a major revision to the reverse gear ratio but otherwise very little difference. It might also suggest that somebody has his wires crossed . . . Whatever, I do seem to recall a fair-sized gap between 1st and 2nd, not evident on the 260. Indeed this is now one of the most delightful five-speed gearboxes on a production car and it is almost ironic that now the engine has been made so flexible as to need less gearchanging the gearbox has been made so good as to encourage cog-swapping for the fun of it. A comfortable leather knob surmounts the hefty gearlever in place of the earlier nasty plastic-wood device and this selects the lower four gears in conventional H pattern with 5th up to the right opposite reverse. There is very little spring-loading to overcome across the gate, the gearlever nonetheless being self-centring in the 3rd/4th plane, and the change is thus rapid, light and accurate although with fairly long movements. First gear synchromesh occasionally baulks when selecting this gear from rest. The 8.87 in. diameter clutch is positive and its hydraulic operation not unduly heavy.
Uprated coil springs have been incorporated in the 260Z's otherwise unchanged fourcorner McPherson strut independent suspension, allegedly to compensate for the extra weight of the new engine and improved interior, but as this would appear to be fairly negligible the more logical reason seems to be that the Nips simply wished to improve the handling, which indeed the combination of these stiffer springs and wider tyres has achieved. Stability in fast bends is very impressive, there is less roll, less pitch and virtually none of the wallow which the 240Z's outside front corner would engage in when confronted by a bump in the middle of a fast corner. Near the limit on fast corners there is a predictable and gentle transition to oversteer, but the Bridgestone radials show no sign of letting go completely; even in the wet their roadholding is excellent, suggesting that at last this Japanese rubber manufacturer has discovered the purpose of tyres. Traction too is excellent, the McPherson strut rear suspension with lower wishbones using the greater acreage of rubber to advantage. In spite of the long bonnet it is a comparatively easy car to place through the lanes, though I would shudder at having to drive it flat out down a special stage. Steering is fairly heavy at low speeds but requires perfectly reasonable effort as speed increases and, after all, it would be out of character with this big brute of a car to have featherlight steering. It is controlled via a new 14 in. (at a guess) wheel with a comfortable, leather-like padded rim and heavily padded boss working a disgracefully feeble "peep-peep" horn.
Precise and responsive though that front suspension/steering is, it inherits the same annoying bump steer which we have all complained about since the 240Z's introduction. A great shame. Likewise Nissan-Datsun have failed to improve the Girling-Sumitomo servo-assisted, twin-circuit braking system (10.67 in. front discs and 9 in. finned drums at the rear). I can well believe that the majority of Z owners never find cause to criticise the brakes, for if moderate demands are made of them they are perfectly adequate. However, to drive a Z very fast is to experience almost certain brake fade, first announced by a heavy pedal and then by an embarrassing unwillingness to stop.
Adding competition friction material is not a cure, as found by Spike Anderson, who transforms the Z into that excellent Super Samuri tested in Motor Sport last year: he has since had to fit ventilated discs and four-pot calipers.
Datsun claim a 127 m.p.h. maximum for the 2602, which will reach 60 m.p.h. in less than 8 sec., average 22 m.p.g. driven extremely hard, and driven less arduously would offer over a 350-mile range from its 13.2 gallon tank. While the 240Z engine was unwilling below 4,000 r.p.m., the 260 engine offers progressive power most of the way up the range and excellent flexibility, 5th being usable down to about 20 m.p.h. The 8,000 r.p.m. rev, counter is yellow-lined at 6,500 r.p.m. and red-lined at 7,000, but very fast progress can be made without exceeding 6,000 r.p.m. Speeds available in the lower three gears are 46, 71 and 102 m.p.h., 70 m.p.h. is achieved at a quiet, effortless 3,150 r.p.m. in 5th and the 127 m.p.h maximum speed requires a mere 5,700 r.p.m., all the while the beautifully smooth, mechanically silent engine emitting an exciting, but reasonably muted, deepthroated roar.
Interior facilities are excellent, if you can stand the abundance of nasty plastic. An excellent three-speed heater and four-outlet ventilation system is controlled by a triplelever illuminated panel, instrumentation is clear and comprehensive, two-speed plus intermittent wipers, electric screenwashers, lights and flashers are controlled by two well-contrived steering column stalks, the high-back seats unforgivably lack a reclining mechanism and the big throttle pedal, wellplaced for heel-and-toeing in side-of-foot fashion is too light and sensitive for lowspeed town driving.
This distinctive beast from the other side of the world is a true sports car in that it is fast, handles well, requires skill to drive it very quickly but is tremendous fun while doing so. On the other hand it is also a true GT car, for two, for it is capacious, comfortable, has a lazy, 120 m.p.h. cruising gait yet has a sensible fuel range. No wonder it sells so well.—C.R.
Front and rear spoilers enhance the hatchback lines, but wheel trims remain singularly out of character.