The 2023 Nissan Z or the 1970 Datsun 240Z.
Which is better? Or Can they even be compared?
Juxtaposition: the 2023 Nissan “Z” (RZ34) vs. the 1970 Datsun 240Z
Does the new Z fill the same gap that the original 240Z did – or is it just another 21st Century sporty car?
Let’s face it, times have changed. Those who glorify the “good old days” wouldn’t take their ’70 whatchmacallit on a 1,000-mile road trip with a family of five, especially when their 2021 beebop is sitting in the garage.
But sporty or sports cars aren’t about comfort and infotainment screens, they are supposed to be about enjoying the sensation of driving – steering response, “tossability”, true handling on a twisty road, and perhaps more so . . . a connection to that piece of steel and rubber that only one who “drives” that car can feel.
1970 – We Check Out the 240Z
With that said, let’s take the time machine back to 1970 and walk in the Datsun show room. There, under the gleaming lights sits a Pagoda Red 240Z. We hurry over to check it out. The lines are sweeping, the body is tight, the size seems just right – not tiny, huge. First, we gaze at the window sticker to see if we can afford it. Something north of $3,500, but less than $4,000. OK, we can do that, after all a Corvette is 2 grand more, and that’s for the low HP version.
We check the cockpit, and yes, there’s full instruments, no idiot lights, nice sporty steering wheel, cool little console with shifter and what look like comfy but sporty seats. We jump in and learn it fits us just right – we immediately feel connected to the car.
A salesperson saunters over. “Like it?” You say “yes”, and ask if can you drive one. There’s no question, a tester sits outside, just warmed up from some other aficionado’s jaunt.
Behind the wheel, you turn the key, and it kicks right over. A nice, six-cylinder burble comes from the exhaust. Doesn’t sound like a Camaro’s V-8, but it sounds confident, like it want to show its stuff. You put it in 1st, let out the smooth, light clutch and you’re off. Right away, you can tell it’s gonna be fun to drive, steering is light and positive, and it goes where it’s pointed. You give the gas pedal a goose when you get it into 2nd and it pulls good. No, it’s not a LT-1 Corvette, but it is not pokey either . . . and it wants to rev!
Fifteen minutes later, you’re back in the dealer sitting at a desk signing the paperwork. You can afford it, it’s fun, and it’s simple in execution but complex in what it delivers. Plus one look under the hood convinced you that you can keep it running with the tools in your garage. It’s gonna give you years of pleasure, you can tell . . .
Fifty years later.
You’ve been through a lot of cars in the last five decades, some good, some awful, some really enjoyable, but that lingering feeling of the day you walked into the Datsun showroom on February 12th, 1970, is there aching for you to regenerate it. Unfortunately, there are no more Datsun showrooms, but there are Nissan emporiums . . . after all, Datsuns were really Nissans back in the day, but for some reason they didn’t call them that. Well, whatever, you’re off to see what Nissan has to offer.
First impression. The new Z looks very similar to the previous versions and especially close to the 370 Z released a few years back. But on close inspection it appears lower. A good thing is that styling harks back t the original 240Z, especially in the grille area and in how the roof line closes on to the trunk.
Moving closer, the window sticker comes into view. Starting MSRP: $39,990. Whew! That’s a lot of coin! Checking my phone, I see that the old 240Z, based on inflation, would only add up to about $29,000. What this tells me is that the Z has moved away from its original “entry level” sports coupe role. Of course, my original comparison to the Corvette still holds true – it has a starting MSRP of $60,900 for the coupe and $68,400 for the convertible. Using that same calculator, the Corvette would have only risen to $38,200 so maybe the Z is still a deal.
Safety equipment and emissions – that require a lot of computer controls – obviously have added to the price tag, and let’s face it, the bare bones interior accommodations of the original 240Z would just not cut it in today’s market. For example, the new Z adds for the six speed manual transmission models a carbon-fiber driveshaft, an EXEDY performance clutch. The nine (yes nine) speed automatic transmission models get a rev-matching system on downshifts and aluminum paddle shifters. The engine is also turbocharged, and that tech adds a bundle to cost. And 400 HP compared to 150, ensures that the new Z is going to be a heck of a lot faster than the old 240Z.
And the interior is a whole different story from 1970. Inside is a customizable 12.3-inch instrument display, programmable shift indicator, and perched on top of the dash are three analog gauges that show turbocharger boost, turbo RPM, and battery voltage. They’re angled towards the driver. The standard sport bucket seats are cloth with synthetic suede inserts and they are manually adjustable eight-ways for the driver side and four-ways for the passenger. Of course, the car also includes the usual and required full cadre
of safety management.
Also included are the now typical driver-assistance features such as lane departure warning, automatic braking with pedestrian detection, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also sports Intelligent Cruise Control. This is all set around the 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and NissanConnect Services. The old 240 Z’s push button radio is replaced by a six-speaker Bose audio system with active noise cancellation and active sound enhancement. My mental calculator decides that an extra ten grand for all that is a bargain by today’s standards.
So, we can’t compare the new car versus the old 240 based upon technology and creature comforts, what’s left? Well, that would be how it “feels” on the road. With the old 240Z, the car was noisy, the I-6 buzzed at certain speeds, and with your hand on the shifter, you felt all that was going on in the drive train – engine vibration, clutch engagement, rear gears whirring, and even the tires scrabbling along the pavement.
The 240Z communicated to you about everything that was going on with “the seat of your pants”. And the glory of the old car was that it was nimble, it went where you pointed it, and it was predictable at its limits. In short, you were connected to the car by its foibles and its simplicity.
Let’s Drive It
Just like back in 1970, I ask for a test drive. Unfortunately, the only available Z tester is automatic, so I’m prepared to be disappointed. The first surprise is that climbing into the new car is a bit more difficult than the old car, but maybe that’s 60 year-old bones. Once I’m inside, the airiness of the 240 does not exist. It’s not cramped, but the car encloses you, you are not going to bounce around in this one. Even though the car is way technologically advanced beyond the 240, the feeling that it’s a driver’s car is there. Trust me, you can’t really see any relationship to the original 240Z, but it is “right”.
A little fiddling with the seat and the wheel, and I’m comfortable. I notice that the doors are higher in relation to the window glass, and I feel that I’m more “closeted” than back in 1970, but it doesn’t feel bad. I will say that you see less in the new Z than in the old 240, but that’s pretty true of most new cars. The one thing that did bother me was that you cannot swivel your body like I could in the 240; head turning is all you can do, so mirrors, side windows, and driver assistance are necessary to judge your location to other vehicles.
I start the engine and aside from a soft purring rumble, there’s no indication that anything is working. I select the Drive mode and off we go. The transmission does its thing with no fuss, and I will say that it decides better than you what gear the car should be in at any appropriate moment. It’s no manual transmission, but after a few minutes, I decide that perhaps a bunch of shifting may me extraneous in this new Z. But the real decider will be handling. I’m no test driver on a road course wringing out the total capabilities of this car, but I did do a few off and on ramp excursions, and the car stuck like glue. With the old 240, you could feel when it was going to lose the rear and a simple throttle decrease would pull it back in line. The problem with the new Z is that the speed at which it might break away is going to be so high that unless you are an idiot, you’ll never reach it.
I did a bunch of swerves and darts – the kind of things you may have to do to avoid “road idiots” and the car responded immediately. The new Z tells you what it’s doing and what it can do, but in a totally different way than the old 240. In the old car, you got used to what it could do and stayed within those parameters. What I’d say about the new car is that there’s no way, unless you’re on a road course or a bad accident-avoidance situation rears its head, you’re not going to know what the car can do until it happens. This is not a bad thing; this is just that the capabilities are far beyond what you will likely encounter.
Comfort? Well, if you like the ensconced and enclosed feeling of the new car, you can’t beat it. The old 240Z was the kind of car that after about 150 miles you’d like to stop and have a beer. While it cruised just fine, it offered a lot of sensations that would wear on you. The new car is they type that you can drive all day and get out refreshed. This is a car with huge performance potential, but one that will take to the Interstate and carry your for miles without breathing hard.
I thanked the salesperson and walked away, not because I didn’t like the car, but because I had to decide if what the car offered was what I was looking for. It occurred to me that if I was looking for a Deja Vue experience with the new Z, I would be disappointed. However, if I was looking for a modern sports car experience, the new Z was an excellent choice.
You really can’t go home again, as they say. I had enough sense to realize that if I wanted the feelings the original 240Z provided, then I’d best go find one. Of course, in that case, it was going to be an occasional weekend warrior, certainly not something you were going to drive every day. But if the only car in my garage was the new Z, well then I could drive it anywhere at any time.
What Did We Do?
At the end, the 2023 automatic transmission Z sits in my garage next to my family SUV. My wife and I drive it a ton – we enjoy what it can do as a transportation piece, and that performance potential gives you a feeling of security you are just not going to find in a typical people hauler. And the 240Z? Well, I think it’s best if it stays a happy memory.
- Download the new Z brochure? Click HERE. Or visit the Nissan website and go interactive!
- Download the original 240Z brochure for kicks? Click HERE.
In the next few magazine issues we’re going to trace the history of all of the “Z” cars – from 1970 to 2020. And we’ll be creating a year-by-year Fact Sheet for each version too! Stay tuned!