In the summer of 1991 I was a newly licensed driver without a car and could recite the specifications of all the road test cars listed in the back of Road and Track. Of particular interest at the time to me were the Porsche RS America, the Lotus Opel Omega (Lotus Carlton) and the Nissan 300zx TT. I spent the summer working for my dad and has some money to burn to buy a car. I knew I wanted a sporty coupe being not that fond of “hot rods” or trucks. Found in the classified ads of the local paper was a red 1973 Datsun 240Z with chrome American Racing wheels. The car was located in Stevensville MT, we made the trip and I gave a guy $900 for a money pit.
It was a rusty piece of crap but it was my piece of crap. Within the first few months I installed a new clutch, repaired the shifting forks, new tires, and new rear struts. The following year I replaced the cylinder head, did the front struts and a few other minor items. I drove and repaired that car hard for two years. Some of the highlights of driving that car were:
- First cylinder head replacement.
- Got changing out a starter down to a 5 minute task.
- First broken transmission.
- 17 minutes Arlee to Missoula (31 miles)
- First time going 120 mph.
- Sliding through a row of 6 mail boxes on a glare ice at 40 miles per hour.
- Hiding beer in the glove boxes behind the seats.
- Scared a few girls, and thrilled a few friends.
I was young and dumb but by a miracle I survived that car. It was rusted, roasted, and put to bed the fall of 1993. The rust had eaten away the front frame so bad it would change alignment when I went over a bump. It was even more unsafe to drive than ever.
In 1995 my dad found another Datsun 240Z this one was blue, had some minor body damage and an automatic transmission. I drove it at college for one year and then tried to resurrect and restore it a few years latter but the rust worm had taken hold and I didn’t have the money, time, or experience to replace about 20% of the sheet metal. The automatic transmission was terrible on that car too, I might have pushed it a bit farther into restoration or possible race car if not for that terrible automatic transmission.
A new hope...
Fast forward to 2005. My dad came to Sacramento to help us replace our kitchen floor and hang out for a week. He had a lead on a 1970 original Datsun 240Z in Napa California. Within 2 days he’s gotten my wife and infant daughter jammed into the Isuzu pickup, driven to Napa, bought the car for $2,000 and two Wassily Kandinsky chairs for $40 (we still have them). I helped him arrange for trailer shipping back to Missoula Montana. At this point I had yet to set eyes on the white 1970 240Z car. He was raving how amazing the condition was and that it was all original down to the AM radio and floor mats.
My dad proceeded to spend the next year getting the 1970 running while racing his highly modified 1971 Datsun 240Z called Zerminator. The white car needed new brakes, some hoses, and a head gasket. Otherwise it was fine and a good daily driver. It was so good he drove it over 2,000 miles to California and back to Montana to visit us in 2010. He did not have one single issue with the car during that trip.
The history of the white Datsun: It was bought in November of 1970, driven from Bozeman to Napa and then served as the owners commuter from Napa to Novato. We have all of the original owners documentation for service at Nissan of Vacaville. The original owner did nothing to the car other than to drive it and get it serviced every 2,000 miles. Folks this is how you keep a car going for 50 years. Just do the regular service and fix things when they break.
The original owner passed away around 2000 and his wife left the car in the garage with boxes stacked on top of it and actually stepped on the roof to access things, hence some of the body imperfections in the roof and fenders. Amazingly after 15 years of back in service much of the dents have managed to work themselves out. The roof is nearly perfect now and we have pushed back many of the indentations in the fenders.
I have had the car in my possession since May of 2019. I’m actually spending money on it and fixing up the mechanics and interior to make it a very reliable driver. I did the brake booster vacuum hoses, door jamb kick plates, and I have both heater hoses yet to replace. I have also replaced both stub axle U-joints and a rear wheel brake cylinder. Fast forward 6 months and I have driven it 1,000 miles over the summer into the fall. It now sits snuggly in my garage under cover for the winter.
I haven’t felt this way about a car in a very long time. Maybe I just needed more vitamin Z in my life. The car is not perfect, it never will be. What it does for me is perfect.