Datsun 240K Review: Budget classic

By: David Morley, Photography by: Wheels magazine archives

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It might have been a bit of an ugly duckling, but the Datsun 240K had plenty of sporting DNA.

Datsun 240K Review: Budget classic
Budget classic: Datsun 240K

 

Datsun 240K

There's an extremely good chance that, just a few years ago, you'd be held up as a dribbling lunatic for ever suggesting that the Datsun 240K would become a collectable car. But who's laughing now? (The people who own 240Ks, I'd imagine.)

And yet here we are, devoting a few rainforests (recycled ones, of course) to the notion that, yes indeed, a 240K is a worthy addition to a collector's garage. So what's changed? Certainly not the car itself.

Nope, we'd put it down to a population that's getting older and finding the old days a bit more rose-tinted, a long-overdue recognition that some elderly Japanese cars are not the throw-aways we once thought they were and, perhaps most crucially, an awareness that cars like the 240K are not only significant, but also good fun to drive and own. You'd probably also have to factor in the awareness that the mighty Nissan Godzilla is the grandchild of the 240K. See, while it might have borne the unremarkable 240K badge in this country, in its home market, the Datsun C110 (the official factory model-code) was called Skyline.

In other markets than ours, the car was available with everything from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder to a 2.0-litre twin-cam straight-six in GT-R form. Incidentally, thanks to the oil crisis of the time, the C110 was the last GT-R version of a Skyline until 1989 and the original 'Godzilla'.

Typically for the day, there was a variety of body styles on offer. As well as the two-door hardtop and the four-door sedan we saw here, there was also a domestic-market station-wagon model. That said, it was more or less a four-door panel-van, because there was no glass between the C- and D-pillars! Weird, but that was the Japanese car industry for you back then.

In Australia, of course, we got the export version which - thankfully - had the biggest engine available, a 2.4-litre SOHC straight six, good for a claimed 97kW - which was big news back in the day - and 196Nm of torque. The longer engine also meant the six-cylinder versions of the car had a longer snout to accommodate all those cylinders. If anything, the extra length suited the car, though the upswept crease line through the rear half managed to raise a few eyebrows.

The two-door 240K hardtop - released here in March 1973, a year after the Japanese launch - was initially offered only with a four-speed manual, but in April '74, a sedan version arrived offering either a four-speed manual or three-speed auto. In 1976, the hardtop became a five-speed. Overall length was 4460mm and the wheelbase 2610mm, making it a decent chunk of metal for the time (especially in Japan).

Like a good many Japanese cars of the period, the 240K was a bit of a parts-bin special. Notably, the engine was shared with the 240Z, which beat the 240K to collectable status by about 20 years thanks to its rather timeless styling. The upshot there, of course, is that the overhead-cam L24 engine is a tough customer.

With a massively oversquare 83mm of bore and 73.7mm of stroke, it doesn't mind a rev. It can become noisy when you do give it the berries, though, and timing-chain rattle means that this area will need attention sooner rather than later. Even so, it's a simple, robust design that holds no fears for the legion of tuners and rebuilders out there who've had decades of experience with the Datto straight-six.

Part of that strength is down to the steel crank which runs in seven main bearings, which sounds like overkill for a 2.4-litre six, but suggests that Datsun really knew what it was doing. Unlike the 240Z, the 240K's mill was detuned pretty significantly with a lower compression ratio (8.6:1), a less violent camshaft profile and a single Hitachi carburettor rather than the Zed's twin carbies.

Suspension was pretty conventional at the front with MacPherson struts, but the rear end was a bit more exotic, following the Datsun 1600 and 180B trend of an independent layout via semi-trailing arms and coil springs. As with those cars, there's a school of thought that says there was something not quite right in the geometry because the IRS can set up all sorts of weird negative camber when it loads up.

Plenty of 240Ks were sold here in automatic form, but a lot have been converted to five-speed manuals which makes loads of sense, because with the three-speed slusher on board, contemporary road tests recorded 0-100km/h times of more than 12 seconds. The manual, meanwhile, allows you to make more of what the Datsun has, and that's always good news.

Perhaps the real let-down when the 240K was brand new was its steering - or lack of it. With a recirculating-ball set-up, the Datto was a bit vague, with an inch of slop built into the system. The neat little three-spoke tiller tried hard to look like wood and feel sporty, but it's a fair bet that the years and kilometres won't have tightened the steering up any, so an overhaul might improve things. Might not, either. Oh, and power-steering? Afraid not, so the Datto can be heavy to deflect at parking-lot speeds.

Rust can be a problem in any car this old, and the Datsun seems a bit prone to rotting in the usual spots. So check closely the areas around the windows, each sill and around the wheelarches. But we've also seen 240s with rust in the bonnet's leading edge and even the roof panel. Beware the freshly-painted 240K.

More obvious, but almost as crucial to the car's viability as a restoration prospect is the condition of the interior. Like every other Japanese car from this era, the Datsun is a fair chance to be a complete basket-case inside. Simply, the Japanese engineers and chemists had absolutely no concept of Australia's climate and UV-light levels which means all that shiny vinyl trim that was new 40 years ago is now very likely to be toasted. Split dashboards are also common and the seats that were too thin and soft when new might have completely collapsed by now.

The better news is that the success and enduring popularity of the 240Z means there are plenty of workshops out there that can lend a hand with a 240K. Mechanical bits and pieces seem to be no problem and the 240K is a car that should suffer no major embarrassment at the next club meeting should it turn up wearing seats or wheels or whatever from another model. Just make sure you get all the lights, chrome and other jewellery with the car as it's this 240K-specific stuff that is becoming harder and harder to find.

Speaking of hard to find, so is any sort of 240K these days. Styling that was seen as a bit awkward in the day, along with a pretty hefty price-tag (the hardtop cost more than an HQ Premier 308 in 1973) meant that the Datsun wasn't a huge seller in Australia. So you'll need to keep your eyes peeled and maybe talk to local Datsun owners' clubs who can keep you in the loop when a car comes up for sale.

And despite that relative rarity, prices haven't made the huge leaps that those of 240Zs have, so you're still well and truly in the game with a $10,000 budget.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Datsun 240K

 

Years of production: 1973-78 (Australia)

Body: 2-door hardtop, 4-door sedan

Engine: 2393cc 6cyl, OHC, 12v, single carburettor

Power: 97kW @ 5600rpm

Torque: 196Nm @ 3600rpm

Gearbox: 4- or 5-speed manual, 3-speed auto

Suspension: Macpherson struts, anti-roll bar (f); semi-trailing arms, coil springs (r)Brakes power disc/drum

Price new: $3947 ('73 Hardtop manual), $4318 ('74 Sedan auto)

Price now: $2000 - $10,000

 

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