At the recent Aussie launch of the new 2020 370Z 50th Anniversary version, Nissan Australia rolled out prime examples of all five previous generations of the iconic Zed nameplate to sample first-hand. Including one well-loved and unfettled Datsun 240Z, the much loved originator that set the Zed car ball rolling, furnishing the Japanese carmaker with a spirited sports car of global presence.
Having never driven 240Z, it was a personal bucket list moment I was compelled to tick.
Unlike the GT-R, which (originally) Datsun kept for its own Japanese domestic market, the 240Z was intended to prove in fields afar that Japan could build exciting drivers’ cars.
Power comes from high-revving 2.4-litre naturally aspirated straight-six good for 113kW and a little under 200Nm that was adequate in its day. These were respectable figures for an era well before forced induction made its prolific presence in sporting series production road-going machinery.
It’s no rocketship. It’d take eight seconds and some change to hit 100km/h from standstill, though sheer acceleration was hardly a primary focus of the 240Z’s DNA.
With its spirited chassis, basic two-seater format and a kerb weight barely more than a tonne, the original Zed quickly asserted itself as an iconic driving machine. The main virtues were driver intimacy and engagement, with playfulness and dynamic thrills as measures of the enjoyment on offer.
But it did more than pull the heartstrings on corner carving abilities alone: it is classically beautiful design with an organic elegance that, frankly, few other Japanese sports cars have come close to matching since.
Through successive generations, the Zed car changed. Indeed from the 260Z and 280ZX through to twin-turbocharged (155kW/319Nm) 300ZX, the linage increased its hunger for size, weight, luxury and performance. It was only more recently – first with 350Z and then with the rawer 370Z in 2008 – that Zed cars have sort of back-pedalled towards its roots, leveraging more heavily the core elements of the earliest forebears.
Five generations on, the 370Z maintains a lot of the 240Z’s raw and simple charisma. In fact, it arguably taps the spirit of the original Zed car better than many of the other generations in between.
When it arrived a decade ago, the 370Z threw back to its now-half-century ancestor hard: a cosy two-seater cabin, plenty of noise, a long bonnet with arresting lines.
For 2019, the 50th Anniversary Edition lays on the retro kitsch, persisting with key design features such as countersunk analogue gauges, dressed in a choice of two different commemorative appearance packages – a classic red and white that taps hard into classic American race car liveries, and a slightly less conspicuous silver and black combination.
Like the 240Z, there’s nothing terribly exotic under the bonnet. But the naturally-aspirated 3.7-litre V6 feels suitably old school and produces a not inconsiderable 247kW and 366Nm. Some things are sacred - a move to turbo four engine would’ve sucked the soul right out of the Zed ethos.
At 1467kg, it’s both markedly heavier than the original Zed yet lightweight by modern go-fast road car standards, though most importantly it offers a keenly balanced (53/47 per cent front/rear split) weight distribution and a handling package aimed to mimicking the 240Z’s playful friskiness.
Click here for our full launch review of the 2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition.