BOOK CLUB: Datsun 280ZX, by Nissan Motor Corp

Datsun 280ZX book cover

I purchase books fairly infrequently thanks to libraries. Automotive books are the exception. Information in high-quality books on cars tend to be less immortal than, say, the words of Shakespeare. Sales and circulation tend to be limited, and photos and schematics make digitizing more difficult. Thus, automotive enthusiasts who are so inclined may feel the need to collect such books. In these occasional book reviews, my hope is to share interesting and valuable books that you might enjoy reading and perhaps owning.

A category of automotive literature that I particularly love is the development story. Many car books have sections on or at least elements of this, but there are certain Japanese models that have had entire titles dedicated to chronicling their behind-the-scene creation stories to painstaking detail. The subject of this post, Datsun 280ZX, focuses on the iconic S130. 

Published by Nissan in 1978, the book was reportedly sent out as gifts to those who pre-ordered the S130 Z-Car. Curiously, it does not have an ISBN nor a listed author, and as such may be considered more of an ultra-glorified brochure. I assure you, however, that this is a substantial volume on how the S130 came to be (albeit one that toes the company line). Printed in Japan on high-quality stock, it features numerous and often giant color photos. Its design and look feel quite late-70s, thankfully not in a nauseating way.

Datsun 280ZX book 3

Hairdressing aside, the text in this book is quite informative. The chapters encompass the S130’s design and various aspects of vehicle engineering, from powertrain and driving dynamics to comfort and durability. The logic and philosophy behind the decision to develop the Z-car into a GT — a criticism many level at the 280ZX — are discussed along with the engineering measures required to accomplish this.

This provides a glimpse into what Nissan perceived the sports car to be evolving into at the time. The details are vast, often accompanied by specification tables, schematics, and diagrams. Some of the details may even be too minute for all but the most ardent S130 geeks, an example being three pages of diagrams illustrating how the molding and other body designs ward off liquid accumulation and corrosion. Even interior equipment such as the sound system is discussed.

If all this above sound a bit dry to you, the book also chronicles a brief history of the Fairlady line and, perhaps most excitingly, the Z-Car’s racing history. This latter section contains some cool photos of the Z participating in various forms of competition, from the Safari Rally to Daytona to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Last but not least, road tests by Road & Track and Motor Trend are also reprinted, along with driving impressions of the S130 by former racing driver Masahiro Hasemi, whose company fielded a team in JGTC/Super GT until recently.

The 70s has its quirks, automotive or otherwise, and the 280ZX is often overshadowed by its 240Z predecessor. As a kid, I adored the 280ZX (let’s not forget that the turbo model could be rigged to quite the high speed cruiser). Yet despite my fond memories of it, I do feel these days that the 280ZX has not aged as well as, say, the first generation RX-7. Reading this book, however, has given me a better understanding and appreciation of the S130.

If you love the Z-Car, especially if you gravitate towards the 280ZX, this book is a must-read. There is perhaps no single volume that examines the S130 quite as comprehensively. Even if you are critical of the model, there are enough cool photos to make this a fun coffee table book. As of writing, Datsun 280ZX can be found for reasonable prices at certain major online retailers where used goods can be purchased.

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20 Responses to BOOK CLUB: Datsun 280ZX, by Nissan Motor Corp

  1. JoeyZ says:

    I have this book! I love the book and my 280ZX!

  2. Nigel says:

    Wow, I will seach for this book.

  3. Ben says:

    Awesome, Dave! Makes me want a 280ZX, lol

    • Dave says:

      Ha! Thanks! Since I read this book, I’ve sort of re-found my love for the S130 as well. I’ve seen a few on the road since (including a black/gold anniversary edition), and they look pretty good.

  4. Bob says:

    I have this book and have stumbled into 2 more copies at a book sale and a swap meet recently, haha. I found a similar one about the FC RX-7, but passed it on to an FC obsessed friend who gave me a Soarer kit in return.

  5. vincenzol says:

    These books make for great archives, especially as our beloved Japanese sports cars continue to age. I have a similar book by Jack Yamaguchi on the development of the FD RX7. Bought that book for my dad (as a teenager) when he bought his FD bran new in ’93. That book made me lust after all things rotary from that point on. Still have the book and still have dad’s FD.

    • Dave says:

      I totally agree. And I love the books by Yamaguchi, I have all of them =P These books pack so much technical, historical, and sometimes even personal accounts, I think they’re so valuable to enthusiasts. I have a “grab ’em while still can” attitude about them. They can still be had cheaply, but in 10~20 years, who knows?

      • vincenzol says:

        Couldn’t agree more about grabbing these books while you still can. I just went on ebay and just purchased Mr. Yamaguchi’s book on the FC RX7 for $20. Such a steal! Thanks for the motivation.

  6. Maxwell Sheiner says:

    I adore the looks and performance of my 280 ZX turbo! Even in the fashion conscious South Beach where I work and live, it turns heads and gets compliments all the time. It is awesome!

  7. pete240z says:

    This is the first Datsun book I bought back in the 1980’s. I spent hours reviewing the material in the book although I was not a huge ZX fan but a fan of Datsun.

    I have liked a lot of the books that Brian Long has written. He has written a lot of JNC stuff.

    • Andre says:

      Anything Honda?

      • pete240z says:

        No. I have the Toyota Celica, Datsun Z car (2 books), Subaru WRX, and the Evo book he has written. I guess in reality he highlights a lot of JNC history in his books rather than cover one marque.

      • Dave says:

        He’s done one on the NSX. His books are great, I have plans to do one or a couple posts on them =)

        • pete240z says:

          This past Sunday Half Price books had a 50% off coupon and I passed on the Brian Long early Z book for $5 since I already had it and talked myself out of overstocking my shelves with too many books.

  8. tennhogfan says:

    A dimwit s30 owner chiming in to say how they’ve “never really cared for the s130” in 3…..2….1….

  9. DesignerD says:

    If you can find CarStyling #24 (1978 Autumn edition), there’s a full design story by Akira Fujimoto and he states interestingly that the design phase of the S130 started as early as 73! There are also colour images of the sketches and more images of the development scale models including designs for a full-width glass tail with glass rear panel and a shooting-brake!!!

    The interior sketchwork is very revealing as it shows 3 main directions; a very 70’s flat panel with circular holes cut through (all driver focused), a very future (read late 70’s early 80’s) angular IP which stretches to the centre console, and most interestingly, a very simple but sloped binnacle that would not be out of place in any modern car now – it was this theme that was chosen.

    The briefing for the concept was quite simple and came from research trips by senior staff to the US and other key locations:

    1- The “personality” of the Z should be reflected in the style image;

    2- Improved Aerodynamics characteristics – mainly, a refined front end;

    3- Securing of a comfortable and spacious interior – enlarged interior;

    4- Improved rear quarter view – enlargement of rear quarter windows;

    5- Improved interior – easier reading of meters.
    (quoted, CarStyling #24, page 6)

    If you can find this edition, I highly recommend getting it!

    • Dave says:

      CarStyling was pretty great, although pricey. It’s not in print anymore, right? Was the circulation just too low?

      I love clay models and design sketches, especially the period *futuristic* ones. And then there’re the weird instances when proposed designs not followed look similar to other cars that came out later. For example, there was this FC RX-7 design model that looks remarkably similar to the later 2nd-gen Supra. There was also a sketch from the 280ZX book that looks similar to the original Supra (or Celica XX). I guess maybe designers move between companies? Or designers from different companies talk to and influence each other?

      Full-width glass tail, that’d be a sight. I wonder if we’ll ever get to a point when that can be realistically produced.

      • DesignerD says:

        Hi Dave, you’re right, they went out of print.. I think the last number was 196, a massive shame! When I lived in Tokyo, I happened to find a little bookstore that specialised in old motoring books… they had the entire collection ranging from 500 yen up to 4000 yen for the specials. I didn’t need all of them, but I definitely bought issue 0 (pre-release…it was even a different shape), issues 1 to 12, all the specials (Bertone, Pinin, Giugiaro, Porsche, Colani, Mead, Aerodynamics, Clay Modelling) and a few interesting issues with some cool cars.

        If you really want some, try searching Japan Yahoo Auctions, you can find them!

        As for the designs and their likeness; in my experience, it can be that some designers jump ship and take an idea in their head that wasn’t evolved enough or appropriate a that time/company or simply that fate means something logical and similar is drawn up. It also has a lot to do with the peroid and what can be seen or inspired from concepts of the time…in this case the early 70’s were crazy because of the Italian wedge/angualr style, so naturally those were the studio pin-ups in other countries and designer’s desks.

        Full width glass would be damn cool….

        • Dave says:

          You’re right! There’s lots on Yahoo Japan Auctions, including #24! I remember even as a kid, seeing CarStyling in Japanese bookstores and being mesmerized by the drawings and photos.

  10. I have that book. I also have the Z31 book Nissan published.

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