The Nissan 240Z vs 280Z Comparison. The original Datsun Fairlady Z, often known as the 240Z, is still one of Nissan’s most adored vehicles over five decades after it was discontinued. The 240Z, along with its younger siblings the 260Z and 280Z, grabbed the US market by storm when it was introduced in 1970. By 1990, Nissan had sold over 1 million Z-cars in the United States.
While the Z line produced several iconic vehicles, such as the 280ZX and 300ZX, we’ll concentrate on the initial S30 generation. That means we’re going to compare the 240Z and 280Z today. We’ll also discuss the 260Z, which was smack in the middle. Yesterday, we looked at the Nissan Silvia 240SX S13 vs S14 from the 1990s, but now we’re heading back to the 1970s with the Datsuns. It was the era of the iconic 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z S30 coupes, as well as Led Zeppelin and the oil crisis.
History of the Nissan and Datsun S30
With the 2023 Nissan Z (RZ34) launching the seventh generation of the Nissan Z-car, it seems like an eternity since the first version S30 appeared in 1970. Nissan began production on the first 240Z in October 1969, after showing it at the Pierre Hotel in New York City in late 1969. At the time, Nissan was still selling automobiles under the Datsun label. Nissan branded the car as the Datsun Fairlady Z in Japan. Nonetheless, it was known as the 240Z in the United States and the rest of the world.
The name was inspired by Nissan’s 2.4 L inline-six L24 engine, which produced 151 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. The engine had a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) design with a pair of Hitachi-licensed round-top SU carburetors. In 1973, the final year of the 240Z, Nissan replaced the round-top carbs with flat-top carbohydrates.
Even though the engine was small and underpowered, the 240z could nonetheless accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 8 seconds. There were three transmission options: a three-speed automatic, a four-speed manual, and a five-speed manual.
The 240Z Series I-IV
Nissan manufactured the “Series I” 240Z from October 1969 to February 1971, and the “Series II” 240Z from February to August 1971. Nissan built the “Series III” from August 1971 to September 1972, and the “Series IV” from September 1972 to September 1973.
The most noticeable outward variations between the Series I and II are the presence of a 240Z badge beneath the quarter window on the Series I and the relocation of exhaust vents from under the hatch on the Series II. Though aesthetically pleasing, the exhaust vents were highly criticised for allowing exhaust fumes into the cabin. This was before catalytic converters were required, thus the vents were essentially poison inductors for the cabin. The Series III and Series IV primarily changed the dashboard and console, as well as the outside bumpers.
By the time the 260Z arrived, Nissan was selling approximately 50,000 240Z vehicles per year in the United States.
From the 240Z to the 260Z, Datsun has a car for everyone.
Following 1973, Nissan discontinued the 240Z and replaced it with the 260Z for the 1974 model year. The new moniker matched the engine’s displacement increase, as Nissan stroked the L24 from 2.4L to 2.6L. The new engine was called the L26, however it initially produced less power than the L24 in the United States. This was due to increased US pollution regulations stifling Nissan’s 260Z production throughout the first half of 1974.
Nissan originally tuned the L26 to produce 165 horsepower, but this was reduced to 140 horsepower in the United States due to emissions regulations. But, by the middle of the 1974 model year, Nissan had found out how to make the 165 horsepower version emissions compliant and began selling it to US customers as well.
Surprisingly, the 260Z was only available in the United States for one year, 1974, but Nissan continued to sell it in Japan and Europe until 1978. The gearbox options remained the same, but the curb weight of the 2-seater coupe increased by more than 100 pounds over the 240Z. A 2+2 (two front, two rear seats) coupe type was introduced for 1974, with a wheelbase nearly a foot longer than the 2-seater.
With the exception of redesigned taillights and larger bumpers, the appearance remained nearly unchanged. The interior, on the other hand, received many changes to the climate control system and dashboard. A strengthened chassis and rear sway bar also considerably enhanced stability and handling.
The Datsun 280Z has arrived.
Nissan released the 280Z in the United States beginning with the 1975 model year and lasted through 1978. The 2.8L L28 was a bored version of the L26 found inside the 280Z. For the first time in the Z, the L28 had fuel injection and produced 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The 280Z also received a redesigned N42 cylinder head with square exhaust ports, and the fuel injection system was a Bosch L-Jetronic system. Nissan introduced the Bosch system to help improve fuel economy and lower pollution. Nissan installed a redesigned head with inferior flowing circular exhaust holes in 1977.
Both the conventional coupe and 2+2 layouts, as well as the same three transmission options, were offered. To cope with increased safety regulations, the 280Z received redesigned bumpers. The 280Z was much heavier than the 260Z, weighing approximately 600 pounds more than the original 240Z.
The last 280Z left the assembly line in 1978, to be replaced by the now-legendary 280ZX for the 1979 model year. Nissan used the same L28 engine from the Z and turbocharged it for the new ZX. Nissan sold over 500,000 Datsun 240Z-260Z-280Zs between 1970 and 1978, demonstrating their enormous popularity. It’s uncommon to see one on the street nowadays, and perfect examples can get up to $70,000 – $90,000 at auction. They can still be found in the wild on occasion, and it is a real treat when they are.
Specs for the Nissan 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z
Differentiating between a 240Z and a 280Z
Because the body styles for the 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z were all the same, it can be difficult for untrained eyes to tell them apart. We’ll go through some of the primary indicators you can use to discern 1) the difference between models and 2) the state they’re in.
The first place to examine is on the side of the vehicle, directly behind the front wheels. Many of them have badging that indicates 240Z vs 280Z or 260Z. But, people will swap these out depending on the market, so it’s crucial to be able to compare the 240Z and 280Z as well.
The Series I 240Z is perhaps the easiest to identify. The most noticeable indication is the 240Z emblem behind the quarter-window. Furthermore, the two rectangular exhaust vents positioned beneath the hatch window are dead giveaways. The speedometer on the Series I begins at 20 mph, and the glass visors are slightly smaller than on the Series II.
Nissan repositioned the Series II exhaust vents to the side c-pillars and made them round. The Series III design has the speedometer start at 0 mph, a dash-mounted cigarette lighter, a different console arrangement, and a seat-belt chime. Nissan offered the 240Z’s final edition, the Series IV, steel headlight buckets, a revised dash, and wider bumpers.
Detecting a 260Z
The 260Z is one of the rarest S30 Nissans accessible, especially in the United States, making it quite easy to spot. Nissan only marketed it in the United States for 1974, before switching to the 280Z a year later. The 260Z coupe has the same body as the 240Z coupe, but as previously stated, there is now a 2+2 260Z coupe as well.
To accommodate the second row of seating, 2+2s have a longer roof and a longer quarter-window. The rear seats aren’t normal, however they are significantly undersized. Parts for the 2+2 models are substantially more difficult to find than for the basic coupes. The 260Z also includes rubber bumper guards, which add a full six inches to the car’s length.
The Black Pearl Z and the ZZZap 280Z
A 1975-1976 280Z will resemble a 260Z, although Nissan added crimped rubber bumper extenders and louvred hoods in 1977. Nissan preserved the 280Z’s regular coupe and 2+2 layout.
Nissan also launched the ultra-rare ZZZap 280Z Edition in 1977 as part of the Special Decor Package. Surprisingly, Nissan built a 280 ZZZap” racing arcade video game in order to sell more ZZZap automobiles. The game includes a 280Z travelling across a twilight landscape.
Nissan manufactured another limited edition 280Z, the Black Pearl Z, in 1978. Nissan, like the ZZZap, limited manufacture to just over 1,000 units, making them extremely rare. This 1978 Black Pearl 280Z commercial shows what the Black Pearl Z looked like.
Rust on a Nissan S30
Rust is by far the most serious and prevalent problem with the S30 Nissan 240Z vs 280Z vs 260Z. More than 40 years after the last 280Z was produced, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that more than 90% of the existing Zs are rusted. Many buyers must search for years before finding a robust, rust-free example that they can utilise.
The major source of the problem is a lack of primer and paint on any of the spot welds. With little protection, these places became breeding grounds for rust. According to Hagerty, common rusting places include the doglegs in the wheels, wheel arches, deck lid, shock absorber mounts, rocker panels, frame rails, floorboards, and battery tray. Sadly, Nissan saved costs by using mostly sheet metal on the Z, and as a result, they weren’t building for longevity.
240Z vs. 280Z Performance
In terms of performance, the 240Z and 280Z are nearly identical. On paper, the 240Z produces 151 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, the 260Z produces 165 horsepower and 157 pound-feet of torque, and the 280Z produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. While you might expect the more powerful and greater displacement 280Z to be faster, this isn’t the case. The additional 600 pounds of the latter models exceeds the minor increase in horsepower. As a result, the car not only accelerates slightly slower, but it also handles significantly worse.
The 260Z sits between in the middle of the two, with a little heavier body but a more advantageous horsepower gain over the 240Z. It won’t handle as well as the 240Z, but it is still an improvement over the 280Z.
Nissan purposely designed tall gearing for the various transmissions for all versions in order to attain the 122 MPH peak speed. They also offered the automobile an almost 50/50 weight distribution balance, which helped handling.
Reliability of the Nissan 240Z contrasted. the Nissan 280Z
The Nissan S30 series was a relatively reliable car for the 1970s. The Nissan L-series engines that powered the different 240Z vs 280Z automobiles are also known for their dependability. It’s astonishing that the majority of S30 Zs on the road today haven’t been swapped and are still powered by L-series engines.
There would be a lot more S30s on the road today if it weren’t for the severe rust concerns that beset these Datsun-era Nissans. They were incredibly popular at the time, with Nissan selling over 500,000 Z vehicles in less than a decade. Consumers in the 1970s admired how well-built the 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z were, unaware of the potential rust difficulties.
Most people consider the S30 series to be typically reliable vehicles. Aside from rust, the clunky and loud suspension has been the source of the majority of complaints over the years. Many S30 suspensions, especially by this point, are fully worn out and corroded. Some of this is due to their age, but they have been known to cause difficulties even before that became an issue.
We’ll give the S30 series the reliability stamp, corrosion troubles and all. Admittedly, if you bought one today, don’t expect a problem-free car with 2022 build quality, but it is remarkably solid for its day.
Datsun 240Z vs. Legacy 280Z
Despite having only an eight-year production life, the S30 Datsun 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z automobiles left some of Nissan’s most notable legacies. Because they are the original generation of the Z, they are highly sought after and collectible, with some instances fetching nearly $90,000 at auction. Of course, there are less expensive variants in the $20,000 range, but those are likely to require some Maintenance.
The S30 Z was a powerful performer at the time, delivering between 150 and 170 horsepower. The 240Z could go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds and was known for its excellent handling. Consider yourself quite fortunate if you own an S30 Datsun nowadays, as even seeing one is a rare thing for most people.