A couple of months ago Nissan threw a key party at an old ivy-covered mansion in the woods crammed full of taxidermied animals. But even better than some Eyes Wide Shut-type masquerade, they let attendees grab the keys to anything in their product lineup, including several items from the Heritage Collection.
The mansion, as it turns out, features prominently in the TV show Nashville. It’s located in Belle Meade, a supremely wealthy area named after a 5,300 acre plantation that once stood just outside the country music capital.
Everything was fair game, from Sentras to Armadas, and Nissan even imported a Qashqai and Micra for the festivities. While most lined up to drive one of the R35 GT-Rs, we headed straight for the classics. All four of these cars are from Nissan USA’s heritage collection.
We were drawn inexplicably, right off the bat, to the 1983 Nissan 720 pickup. It was, quite simply, the cleanest and newest 720 we had ever seen. Resplendent in off-white with a very 80s blue interior, it still smelled of new vinyl as we climbed inside.
It hailed from the era when Nissan was still undergoing its name change in the US, so a large red “NISSAN” was stamped across the bed, but underneath it still sported a “DATSUN” decal to remind those who had grown accustomed to the name in the preceding 23 years.
As the other classics — a 320 pickup, 240Z and 1600 roadster — paired off with partners, we asked for the keys to the 720. “That’s the only one you’re not allowed to drive,” a Nissan spokesperson said.
Turns out, this humble truck was oldest Nissan built in North America, Job One at the nearby Smyrna, Tennessee plant. The odometer, resting behind plastic clearer than the ding of a crystal bell, read just 361 miles.
The massive Smyrna plant was established June 16, 1983 and has produced over 10 million Nissans over the years. Everything from the Altima to the Infiniti QX 60 is built there, at a rate of about 640,000 cars a year.
This was quite the contrast to Mazda USA’s attitude about the oldest Miatas in North America. The original Chicago Auto Show cars — the fourteenth and fifteenth Miatas ever built — were recently hammered on by journalists, on the Miata’s birthday no less.
Nissan had no qualms about letting people loose on the 240Z, however. The silver ‘Lady was in fact one of the cars from the 1996 Vintage Z program, when Nissan restored a bunch of 1970-71 240Zs and sold them as out of dealerships. This particular example, the only 240Z in Nissan USA’s collection, is number 12 of 37.
While the slot mag wheels aren’t strictly stock, they were a popular dealer option in the 70s, so it makes sense to see them on a car you could have walked into a Nissan dealer to buy 18 years ago.
It’s actually a little alarming that this is the sole 240Z in Nissan’s stable. Apparently, they had more but those were sold off when the company high-tailed it out of SoCal in 2006. If we were Nissan, we’d find a primo New Sight Orange or 112 Yellow example with stock wheels to go along with the silver one. That one would sit right next to the Job One 720, off limits to dummies like us.
Similarly, we were a bit surprised that the only Datsun roadster in the collection was a high-windshield 1970 1600. Again, if we were emperors of Nissan we’d find a 1967½ low-windshield 2000 for the collection.
It felt appropriate to pair it with a 370Z droptop for a mini photo shoot. The wine leather of the Z34 matched nicely with the roadster’s red vinyl — a couple of Fair ‘Ladies.
Hidden behind the mansion we found a Z31 300ZX in fantastic shape, and it wasn’t even part of the Heritage Collection. Instead, it belongs to Calen Cussimanio, a product planner at Nissan USA. It has just under 140,000 miles and is absolutely gorgeous. It’s reassuring whenever we learn that individuals making the decisions about what’s coming down the pike are enthusiasts themselves.
We’ll have a more in-depth session with the 320 in an upcoming article. We’re not terribly worried about the preservation of 240Zs and roadsters, as there are plenty of enthusiasts who can do a better job than Nissan of looking after clean examples. Trucks, on the other hand, are typically well-used workhorses, but now we can sleep easy knowing that there’s at least one 720 being preserved with dignity.