Datsun 240Z Rally Cars

by Michael Satterfield

In the early 70s, Nissan wanted to make a splash in the international sports car world with its new 240Z, while famous road racing teams like BRE were becoming a force in SCCA racing, much of the world saw Rally as the ultimate test of a car's endurance, so from 1970-1973 Nissan backed factory rally teams in some of the most grueling and prestigious races in the world.

Rally had been dominated by European cars like the Volkswagen Beetle, Peugeot 404, Mini Cooper, and Ford Escort for over 20 years, but Nissan would be the first Japanese manufacturer to challenge the old guard on the rally course and win.

Nissan's first overall win would be at the Safari Rally in 1970 with the Datsun 1600 SSS Rally car driven by Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schüller, they repeated their success in 1971 in the Datsun 240Z. Nissan would go on to be the first manufacturer to win back to back victories in Over-All Victory, Class Victory, Team Victory, and Manufactures Championship at the Safari Rally. In 1972 Mitsubishi would take the win with their new Lancer 1600 GSR, but Shekhar Mehta and Lofty Drews would bring home the win again for Nissan in 1973.

While East Africa is hot, dusty, and wild, Monte Carlo is a completely different kind of rally, teams start from nine different European cities for the first stage headed to Monte Carlo, from there the stages take the teams from the coast of the Mediterranean into the hills of the French countryside. The final stage is a 12-hour over-night race through the icy roads of the Alps. The ice and darkness make it one of the most difficult stages in the world of rally racing.

The first year Nissan finished 2nd in class and fifth overall, in 1972 Nissan saw a podium with a third overall finish, and in 1973 the team finished ninth overall. It wouldn't be until 1990 that a Toyota Celica GT-Four ST165 would bring an overall win at the Monte Carlo Rally home to a Japanse manufacturer.

The Southern Cross Rally ran from 1966-1980 and was held in New South Wales. Australia was an important export market for Nissan and the factory had been supporting motorsports in the country since the mid-50s, so it was no surprise that the 240Z campaigned Down Under. The rally started in Hyde Park, Sydney and followed the coastline towards Port Macquarie. The bulk of the stages were at night with just two daylight stages, the total distance of the race in 1972 was just under 2,000 miles. Dan White has an amazing album of period photos including lots of great shots of the Datsun 240Z you have to check out HERE.

While Nissan 240Z never won the Southern Cross overall, in 1971 Datsuns took fifth and sixth overall, and in 1972 the team took a first in class and second overall. 1973 the best a 240 could muster was an eighth place overall. Nissan later dominated the Southern Cross from 1977-1980 winning overall victories with the Datsun 710 and Stanza rally cars.

Today many of the original rally cars are kept in the Nissan Heritage Collection at the Zama Operation Center in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The collection can be visited most days between 10AM-12PM and 2PM-4PM and is limited to just 40 visitors at a time, you must make an appointment to tour the collection.

Enjoy more photos from our visit to the Nissan Heritage Collection to see the Datsun Rally Cars below: