Editor’s note: David Krumboltz’s regular column is on hiatus until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, we’re running some of Dave’s favorite past columns. This column originally ran Aug. of 2017.
This 1981 Datsun 280 ZX is still a great looking and stylish two-seater car. The car and the company have an interesting history. The Datsun name is owned by Nissan but there actually was a company called Dat Motorcar Company who built a car called the Dat. When they decided to make a smaller car, it was called Datson (son of Dat). When Nissan took over Dat Motorcar Company, the name was changed to Datsun because “son” means “loss” in Japanese plus it also showed some nationalism by including “sun” in the name which is featured in Japan’s flag.
In 1958 when Nissan wanted to export their cars to the U.S., they didn’t use the Nissan name.
History tells us the during World War II, Nissan was a very big manufacturer of military trucks which could have brought about some negative feelings about that company. Additionally, Nissan was using the Datsun name for small cars they were successfully promoting in Japan. It was believed it would be more acceptable to use that successful name than the Nissan name which had been associated with large, rugged trucks. There was also concern that if the venture in the U.S. failed, they didn’t want the Nissan name damaged.
Obviously, Datsun was successful in the U.S. and in the fall of 1981, it was announced that the Datsun brand would be phased out in favor of the Nissan name. The process took three years, 1982 to 1984 with the various vehicles identified from Datsun, to Datsun by Nissan, then finally just Nissan, but the name change didn’t come cheap. It is estimated the change including dealer signs and advertising cost about $730 million or getting close to $2 billion in today’s dollars.
The first cars exported to America in 1958 were the Datsun 310, a small economical sedan, and the Nissan Patrol, a Jeep like utility vehicle. And not surprisingly, they started in California. By 1959 the U.S. Datsun dealer network was coast to coast. Nissan built some sporty roadsters called the Fairlady 1500. They were attractive and looked very much like the MG, but were only marginally successful. Top management wanted better.
A team of engineers, stylists and designers worked together for about five years. The result was the Datsun 240 Z. The “Z” cars were very successful selling approximately 50,000 cars each of the first three years, 1969-1971. As the model years passed the first models changed from the 240 Z, to the 260 Z and finally to 280 Z and the 280 ZX. But in Japan, it was labeled the Nissan Fairlady Z.
Bill Munkacsy and his wife, Karla, have owned this 1981 Datsun 280 ZX about six months. I have known Munkacsy for at least as long as I have been writing this column, about ten years. Bill is a retired medical doctor and has transformed his hobby of growing exotic cactus plants into a booming business. During these last ten years, he always drove a base Chevrolet pick-up truck that literally has never been washed. I had never even heard him make any automotive comments so I was very surprised when he told me he had purchased this car.
“This car was a compromise,” Munkacsy stated. “I like convertibles but Karla doesn’t. We wanted something sharp, sporty and not real expensive. I also wanted a car that was original and in good shape. I found this car on Craig’s list. I had seen this car listed for about two weeks and I told Karla I wanted to go and look at this car.” The couple agreed that they wouldn’t buy the car that day, just look.
“We go to Livermore and looked at the car. He was the second owner and had had it for 10-12 years. He only put 2,000 miles on it, but he liked it. He was moving to Italy so he had to part with the car.”
Karla drove the car and told Bill she loves the car. “We asked how much, and he said $10,000 and Karla says, ‘We’ll take it.’” (Bill thinks he could have bought it for $8,000.)
It is a beautiful car with only 61,000 original miles. When new, this car had a list price of $16,999 or about $44,000 in today’s dollars. It is powered by a single-overhead-cam turbo charged inline six-cylinder engine rated at 180 HP. The Munkacsy car has a three-speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual was also available. The two-seater car is painted a rich, medium metallic brown and has a tan leather interior. The rear wheel drive car has power steering, brakes and windows, but no air conditioning. This is a convertible compromise (neither Bill or Karla were completely satisfied) as this 280 ZX is equipped with a “T-Top,” two easily removable glass panels in the roof.
Could I now call Bill a “car nut?” No, but promises he will wash it.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected]. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.
Dan Carter was a reporter for nomad Labs, before becoming the lead editor. Dan has over forty bylines and has reported on countless stories concerning all things related to tech and science. Dan studied at CSUF.