Younger readers would associate Nissan sporting heritage with circuit racing and of course, the ubiquitous Skyline GT-R. But on the international stage, Nissan’s earliest motorsport successes were in the rallying arena. In the late 60s, Datsun had very successfully campaigned the 510 sedan in the European rally championship. And while the 510 never actually won any championships, it won enough events to make a name for itself and the (then) fledgling Datsun brand.
So when the 240Z was introduced, Datsun immediately pressed it into action in European rallies with full factory support. Its first event would be the 1970 RAC Rally in Britain, and so keen were Datsun to show off their new car, that its rally appearance was before sales of the roadcar actually began, so as it rolled onto stage, nobody knew exactly what it was…Datsun was nothing if not determined.
But let’s start at the beginning. The 1970 RAC Rally wasn’t the first motorsport appearance of the 240Z outside of Japan: Pete Brock’s BRE racing team had been campaigning the 240Z in C Production SCCA racing in the USA since earlier in 1970. But the RAC Rally would mark the first 240Z entry into an international championship event.
Four 240Zs were prepared in Japan to rally regs of the day, which meant some lightened panels, lower gearing, rollcage and uprated suspension. Compared to current rallycars, in those days they were a lot closer to stock and were far less modified. In terms of overall spec, the works 240Zs were more representative of a “clubman” or amateur level rally car today. Nevertheless, the Japanese factory skunkworks managed to massage the 2.4L six from 150hp to 200hp, courtesy of triple Mikuni carbs and a bigger cam, amongst other things. To cap off the preparation, the factory cars were equipped with the usual rally car jewellery like additional driving lights, extra interior maplights, Halda Tripmaster, etc.
Driving duties would be entrusted to Datsun Rally Team veterans Rauno Aaltonen and Edgar Hermann, plus Tony Fall and John Bloxham.
But initial impressions were not good. In testing, the 240Zs were reported as feeling bulky and suffering from a very harsh ride and too much understeer. In the event, all cars suffered mechanical mishaps that either put them out of contention or lost time as the works cars limped through stages with wounded mechanicals. The only works car to finish was that of Aaltonen’s, although he was not immune to the mechanical gremlins that sidelined his team mates.
First, he broke a driveshaft. He and navigator Easter removed the errant driveshaft and managed to limp to the next service point with only one powered rear wheel (obviously had a very tight LSD!) where the mechanics cannibalised a Datsun sedan for its driveshaft, but the broken stub of the old driveshaft had damaged the rear brake hoses and handbrake cable (which was very important for getting the big 240Z turned in). Not having enough time to repair the brakes, Aaltonen was sent back onto stage with half-working brakes. Eventually over the next few service stages, the brakes were repaired to full working order, but now the diff shattered…luckily this happened on a non-timed transport stage, and it was repaired in time for the next competitive stage.
In the end, Rauno Aaltonen did well, scoring some fastest stage times when his Zed was working properly and finishing seventh. The 240Z had shone enough on the 1970 RAC to be noticed.
Notwithstanding this promising start, the 240Z never really found its feet on the fast, twisty forest stages of the European rally circuit, although it was usually good enough for a top ten finish. The pic below is Rauno Aaltonen coming 3rd in the 1972 Monte Carlo Rally, and if the floopy haired guy next to him looks familiar, that’s Jean Todt, who used to be a rally car navigator, but of course today he runs the Ferrai F1 team.
Instead the most notable rally successes were in long events where durability were more important than agility and speed, and 240Zs won the East Africa Safari Rallies in 1971 and 1973. The EAS was a rally with very long competitive stages, pounding at high speed over rock-strewn dirt roads, and so the event suited the 240Z , with its combination of brute strength and reliability. The car below is the 1971 winning car, driven by Edgar Hermann, and to this day is maintained by the Nissan Museum in “as rallied” condition, complete with (historic!) rally damage. Very cool.
After only a few years, the 240Z was replaced by the smaller, nimbler Violet sedan as Datsun’s rally weapon of choice. The 240Zs would have more luck in circuit racing, but it was at least, a pretty decent rally car.