12 July 2006

1973 Datsun 240Z Race Car

When Spike Anderson went trawling for a bottom-feeder race car in England, he started at a fish-and-chip shop. Anderson bought “LAL,” a four-year-old Datsun 240Z from a Greek fish-and-chip shop owner, a Mr. Michael. Stripped, prepared, and repainted in Spike’s “Samurai” colors, the car was entered for the Silverstone 6-hour relay race in May 1977, successfully completing 158 laps.

Fired by their success, the team entered the 6-hour relay at Brands Hatch in August. Clive Richardson started at the back of the grid and managed to work his way up through the field to eleventh place before handing off to Win Percy. With rain pouring down, Win had the crowd on its feet, passing a car on every lap, to reach sixth place overall before the race was stopped due to the appalling conditions.

On the restart, Win spun into the barriers and the car was out. Bradburn Brothers, who had been helping Spike, bought the car, stripped and re-jigged the shell and rebuilt it as a rally car. The car was sold, unused, to the vendor in 1984.

As a part of the rebuilding works parts transferred to “LAL” include reconditioned front and rear suspension struts, new works-pattern lightweight doors, hood, trunk lid, rear windows and tailgate, works roll bar with two spare wheels, Group 4 brakes, a set of works magnesium wheels and works seats.

Although not an ex-works Datsun 240Z, examples of which have never come onto the market, “LAL909K” (its English license plate) has an interesting history both as a circuit car and a rally replica.

Race Car Profile

Years produced:1970–73
Number produced:156,076
Original list price:$3,800
SCM Valuation: $5,000–$8,500
Cost per hour to race: $400
Distributor cap: $15
Chassis #: VIN tag in windshield
Engine #: Boss on side of block
Club: Classic Zcar Club
More: www.classiczcars.com
Alternatives: 1963-73 MGB;
1969-76 Triumph TR 6;
1968-72 BMW 2002
SCM Investment grade: D

1967 MGA
Lot #131, S/N CT749
Condition: 3
Sold at $39,600
RM, Monterey, CA, 8/19/2005
SCM ID# 39171
1982 BMW 635CSi Group A Comp.
Lot #102, S/N E24RA2
Condition: 3-
Sold at $20,525
Bonhams, Nurburgring, Germany,
SCM ID# 29312

The SCM analysis: This car sold at Bonhams’ Chichester, U.K., auction June 24, 2005, for $25,564. One of the great things about vintage racing is that there are arguably real racing cars available at all price levels. If you are by taste or necessity a bottom-feeder, you’ll often need to deal with murky water in deciding what to snap at. One of the problems is that for low-value cars, the auction companies often won’t spend very much time writing a coherent description for the catalog.

In this situation, at this auction, there were two basically identical 240Zs several lots apart, obviously from the same vendor, with the second car having only minor rally history. The photos and descriptions were so commingled that it was difficult to figure out which car was which. The other car didn’t sell, and may not have even crossed the block. So which car sold? Does it matter?

Well, yes, it may matter. Even at the bottom of the food chain, history and provenance count. If you’re interested in a road-racing car, your 25 grand will seem better spent if the car has some real race history, and “LAL” claims two rounds of the 1977 World Manufacturer’s Championship. I checked the records and Spike Anderson did enter a 240Z at Silverstone and Brands Hatch that year. It was a low-budget, “betcha-won’t-doit,” amateur, fill-out-the-field, backmarker entry in a world of Porsche 935s and RSRs going twice as fast, but it did enter and it did run. It was then wadded into a ball and eventually rebuilt as a wannabe rally car. Somewhere inside it, though, is history. And if only for bragging rights, that’s cool.

What we’re really talking about here are entry-level, production vintage race cars, a group in which the 240Z is a late, not very desirable example. This is where virtually all vintage race drivers get their feet wet. Such cars are generally cheap to buy and run, durable and easy to fix, predictable to drive quickly, and (relatively) safe to be in when you mess up. It’s the best place to start racing, and for many it’s the best place to stay. The social pecking order in production vintage racing is remarkably flat because it’s really all about how well you can drive and play with others in traffic, not how much you chose to spend, but there are clear hierarchies of race car values. It starts with Sprites, Minis and Spitfires in the high teens to about $20 grand (which is less than you spend to build one, but that’s true of all of them). MGs, Triumphs, Datsuns and Elva Couriers tend to fill the mid-$20 thousand range with Alfas and 356 Porsches in the $30s. Porsche 911s run into the $40k range and finish out the panoply of “normal” production racers. As you can see, Datsuns fit the lower-middle of this hierarchy.

There are a number of factors that force Datsuns into the low-dollar category. The biggest of these is that small- and mid-bore vintage racers are terribly Eurocentric, and Datsuns are just so, so...Japanese. Somehow the image of a cheese-cutter cap, a meerschaum pipe and a scarf flapping in the wind just doesn’t work with a Datsun, particularly not a 240Z. The other problem is that they’re a bit new for the golden era of vintage racing and some clubs won’t accept them (however, most will). In Europe the FIA will make you run against Porsche 935s and RSRs, so you’re stuck with being a moving chicane in the big leagues, but the local clubs will make room for you to play.
I’m told that they’re good fun to drive on the track, though a bit noseheavy (a Chevy small block weighs the same as the Datsun engine). This means they’re a little pushy on the limit. The problem with this comes when you put sticky race tires on the car, because there are a lot of rubber bushings in the rear suspension, so toe-in and camber change under serious loading. “Trailing throttle oversteer” is a masterly understatement describing what happens if you commit to a corner in a Z-car, then lift. Far more of them left the track backwards than ever drove off straight.

All in all, though, Z-cars are not a bad place to start. Such 240Zs are cheap, dependable and relatively safe. If the subject car was complete and anywhere close to being race-ready, I’d say it was well bought. If for no other reason, at least some bits of this car did in fact make some real-racer laps in period, something that can rarely be said for most of the other race cars in this category, which have often been built up from worn-out street cars.

Perhaps the new owner should learn to enjoy sushi, and save the pipe and tweed cap for the pub.

– Thor Thorson has been hooked on race cars since the late ’50s and actively involved with vintage racing since the late ’70s. Historical and descriptive information in this profile courtesy of the auction company.
Sports Car Market magazine
Photos: Bonhams

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