AutoMatters & More: Early Z-car Print Advertising

Datsun 240Z poster
Datsun 240Z poster
(Jan Wagner)

Long before the internet became popular and only a few years after color television first was introduced in Canada, automobile manufacturers poured substantial resources into the creation of compelling, visually attractive new car sales brochures and magazine advertising. Exquisite studio and on-location photography situated the vehicles in idealized settings, eliciting thoughts of lifestyles and activities that one might imagine themselves enjoying with such a car. Carefully chosen words described the vehicle’s key attributes.

I still remember the brochure for my first car. That car was an arrest-me-red, 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 muscle car. In the brochure it was pictured in an idyllic meadow covered in wildflowers – not at all like the grey, forgettable city streets upon which it would spend most of its life.

1970 Datsun 240Z US magazine ad
1970 Datsun 240Z US magazine ad
(Jan Wagner)

The next vehicular object of my attention was Datsun’s new, exciting and reasonably priced 240Z sports car. I probably clipped every advertisement for that car that I found in the car magazines, along with the feature stories that were written about it.

One such ad in particular stands out. I discovered it in the June 1971 issue of Motor Trend magazine – on the flip side of the page that contained a dramatic review of the then-new Steve McQueen movie “Le Mans” – the very same movie that I would one day watch at a drive-in theater, while seated behind the wheel of my Mandarin Orange, 1971 Datsun 240Z. Exciting times indeed, but I am getting ahead of myself…

1972 Datsun 240-Z brochure cover
1972 Datsun 240-Z brochure cover
(Jan Wagner)

In bold white letters against a dark background, the ad copy read: “Join a Minority Group.” The single photograph was captured at dusk, with a clear sky overhead. Sitting stationary on a desolate, bone-dry lakebed that stretched as far as the eye could see, was a solitary, orange, 1970 Datsun 240Z, its headlights blazing like eyes looking into the approaching darkness. No people were in sight. It was as if the 240Z was waiting for me, luring me in with its seductive good looks, as if to say “come drive me into the night.”

The ad copy reinforced the visuals, stating: “The Datsun 240-Z is not exactly what you’d call a common sight,” referring to the first buyers as “a fortunate few.” “They report being the center of attention wherever they park.” We readers were reminded that the car magazines were raving about this car, subtly suggesting to us that we seek out and read those articles to learn more about the 240Z – so popular an automobile that you might not even find one to look at in a Datsun dealership. Key technical highlights mentioned were the car’s “150-horsepower overhead cam engine and four-wheel independent suspension.”

1973 Datsun 240Z brochure cover
1973 Datsun 240Z brochure cover
(Jan Wagner)

The clincher was the price: just $3,596 (in the U.S., $4,395 in Canada), followed by the tag line: “Drive a Datsun…then decide.” Did that work for you? It certainly worked for me! I was hopelessly smitten and bought my Mandarin Orange, 1971 Datsun 240Z.

Of course, that was only one of many ads, and there were similarly crafted sales brochures. Less restricted by the need to fit everything on a page or two, the brochures showed additional lifestyle photography, along with magnificently composed descriptions of the car’s noteworthy attributes and features.

1975 Datsun Z and 2+2 brochure cover
1975 Datsun Z and 2+2 brochure cover
(Jan Wagner)

“So pretty and so potent you don’t know whether to frame it or floor it. So meticulously made it’s equally at home on a twisty back road or in a concours d’elegance.”

“Stick your foot in it. From kitten purr to tiger roar it answers with six cylinders that rev to seven grand and propel you to 60 in under nine seconds.” How could an enthusiast not yearn to have this car for their very own?

Unfortunately, I sold mine. When I was young, I just assumed that new cars would get better and better over time. Little did I imagine that emissions and safety laws would make such lightweight, economical and relatively straightforward sports cars a thing of the past – examples of which some people would pay dearly for many years later.

In the years that followed I collected more brochures and ads for Datsun and then Nissan Z-cars, and bought more cars, but they would never, could never live up to my fond memories of my Mandarin Orange Datsun 240Z. Seeking to recapture some of that magic, a year ago I saw and bought a new, very orange Miata.

To see additional photos, visit www.drivetribe.com, click on the magnifying glass, select “POSTS” and enter “AutoMatters & More #654” in their search bar. Please send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #654r1


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