In 1964, Nissan Motor Company introduced a two-door sports coupe named the Silivia 1600 Sports Coupe. One year later, at the New York Motor Show, the Silvia made its one and only appearance in the U.S. The car was not well received by the U.S. motoring press, perhaps because it closely resembled the wildly successful V8-powered Ford Mustang.
From 1965 to 1968, Nissan continued working on new designs for a Sport/GT model no doubt motivated by the Mustang’s success and Toyota’s introduction of the 2000GT into the U.S. market. During this period, the Sports/GT project was designated as “Nissan Design – Project Z” with youthful buyers of performance cars in the U.S. as the prime target. Influenced by the flowing bodylines of the Jaguar XKE, by 1967, the design had evolved into the body style, which became the 240Z.
In late 1969, the 240Z production line slowly began to produce some cars with a few going to the U.S. to make the rounds of the major car shows, in order to whip up demand from the public. So, was the stylish body, 150-hp six-cylinder engine, independent suspension, five-speed manual transmission all for $3,500, considered a success? Judging by the 156,000 produced between 1969-’75, which exceeded Nissan’s expectations, it definitely was a major success. More importantly, it helped establish the Datsun name in a very important market. In the 1971, issue of Automobile Quarterly (vol. 9 no. 4) they concluded, “The Datsun 240Z hit its particular import market bulls-eye with such a wallop that its competitors will probably never recover. Indeed, the arrival of the 240Z hastened the demise of several competitors in the U.S. including MG and Triumph.
Let The Racing Begin
With the U.S. automobile press giving high marks to the 240Z as it made the rounds of the car show circuit in late 1969, many race drivers and teams took notice of the car’s potential. One such team was Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) founded by noted car designer Pete Brock (Cobra Daytona Coupe, Split-Window Corvette). Having already established a good working relationship with Nissan, BRE received one car from the first shipment into the U.S. BRE wasted no time in preparing the car for SCCA Class C Production car competition and, at the end of the 1970 season, they won the class National Championship beating Porsche, Triumph, Alfa and Lotus cars to win.
For the decade of the 1970s, the 240Z and its successors (260Z, 280Z, 280ZX) dominated the SCCA C Production Class, winning consecutive National Championships by drivers John Morton, Bob Sharp, Walt Maas, Elliot Forbes Robinson, Logan Blackburn, Frank Leary and Paul Newman (yes, THAT Paul Newman).
1969 was a key year, not only for the 240Z, but was also the same year a new racing organization was founded— the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). A former SCCA employee, John Bishop, with assistance from NASCAR President Bill France Sr., decided to take a different path for professional sports car racing than the SCCA. Their inaugural season was in 1971, with a series of six races for small production GT, rally and production cars.
In 1972, IMSA attracted a major sponsor, R.J. Reynolds and the series was named the “Camel GT” with Corvettes, Porsches, 240Z, Mustangs, Camaros and other similar models continuing the production based car theme. The 1973 season brought a change in the form of a two class structure, GTO for over 2.5 Liter GT cars and GTU for under 2.5 Liter GT cars. As IMSA continued to grow in popularity, it attracted new fans and drivers alike, with ever increasing prize money and racecars that looked like what could be driven on the street.
Sports car racing was in full bloom across the U.S. during the 1960s so its no wonder that a University of Colorado college student, Brad Frisselle, caught the bug and decided to give it a try.He purchased a Datsun 2000 sports car,in 1970,which he raced in regional SCCA events for the next few years.He qualified for the SCCA Runoffs twice and in 1973, won the Kimberly Cup at the Runoffs,which representedthe driver who hadimproved the most in the past year.
In 1973, Frisselle decided to move up to professional racing with the IMSA Series, in the GT class. Since he had built a relationship with Datsun, he decided to look for a 240Z to buy and rebuild. He found a very early car owned by another Datsun racer and Datsun dealer, Jack Scoville, then hired several of the ex-Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) team to begin the conversion into an IMSA GT class car.
The former BRE crew chief, Joe Cavaglieri, was chosen to lead the team comprised of John Knepp, Don Reynolds, Trevor Harris, Mac Tilton, Dave Kent and Yoshi Suzuka. The car was stripped to bare metal and totally rebuilt from the ground up with all new components to meet the IMSA GT class specifications.New molds for the body were created and new panels made and fitted to the car, while the engine was completely rebuilt.The car was painted in a very striking yellow and orange color scheme to complete the essentially new racecar. It took the team 10 months to completely rebuild, modify and update the 240Z and when ready, in 1974, Frisselle raced in two IMSA events at Charlotte and Lime Rock.Finishing 30th and 11th against Porches, Corvettes, Mustangs and Camaros, he decided to move to the smaller engine GTU class for the following season.
The 1975 season provided a better opportunity to show Frisselle’s ability and the 240Z’s capability, as this combination won three of the five races entered and placed second twice earning him the “Most Improved Driver”of the year award. The driver, car and team really came together in 1976 winning eight races in 12starts, to claim the class title as a privateer and beat the factory team in the process.
The 1976 success was due to a combination of factors including, Frisselle’s driving, the excellent engineering and car preparation, plus the overall professional approach of the team. The Frisselle 240Z was considered one of the most advanced entries in the GTU class, and one of the most organized and detail-oriented in the paddock.In the day, this car was the most advanced and fastest GTU car racing in IMSA.
Then 28-years old, Frisselle decided to sell the Z and move to a new, faster class of car.The Z found a new home andFrisselle moved on,but it wouldn’t be the last time he would see the car.
Z Car Reborn
In the late 1980s, Frisselle received an unexpected telephone call with the caller telling him he had come across Frisselle’s old 240Z. Getting the information, Frisselle investigated and despite the car having been extensively modified in the ensuing years, it was indeed his old 240Z. The car was purchased and then underwent a year-long restoration to bring it back to the same configuration as when Frisselle raced it. He entered one vintage race event at Palm Springs but found the racing was too sedate so he “retired” once again. For the next couple of years, Frisselle loaned the Z to the Briggs Cunningham Museum and then the Petersen Museum to be put on display.
The car changed hands and was eventually acquired by Bruce Canepa in the late 1990s. According to Canepa, “the car was in excellent condition when I received it and only required maintenance to all the systems and race preparation.” In August 2007, Northern California vintage racer and longtime friend of Canepa, Mark Mountanos, bought the 240Z describing the car as, “in beautiful condition, it needed nothing.” Over the next 18 months, Mountanos raced the car with the Classic Sports Race Group (CSRG) and at the Monterey Historics. However, even though the car was fun to drive and handled well, it lacked the power of his other racecars so he made a deal with Canepa and returned it.
Canepa had the 240Z in his inventory for about two years until another long-time customer, David Martin, acquired the car in 2010. Martin had a background with cars influenced by his father who worked at a Ford Dealership, in their native Alabama. As a teenager, Martin and his friends would drag race at an old abandoned Air Force base and run laps around homemade dirt ovals, racing a variety of cars.
After high school he entered college, where he saw the Datsun 240Z for the first time and also noticed girls liked the car versus the muscle cars he was normally attracted to. With that in mind, he bought a new 240Z, enjoyed the experience and the other attributes that came with it. The 240Z was eventually sold and Martin relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to begin a career in real estate development.
While attending the Monterey Historic Vintage Car Races, in 2010 with a friend, he enjoyed reviewing the cars and watching the racing which looked like a lot of fun. He remarked to his friend that he would like to give vintage racing a try and his friend asked what type of car did he like. Martin remembered the 240Z and told his friend about his experience to which his friend replied that he knew of a nice, race-prepared 240Z and recommended he should go see it at Canepa’s. Having known Bruce for a long time and buying a number of street cars from him, he drove to Canepa’s shop and ended up buying the 240z which just happened to be the ex-Brad Frisselle IMSA Championship car form 1976. Not a bad car to begin you vintage racing career with!
He earned his license by attending a drivers school at Sonoma Raceway and has raced with CSRG, the Sonoma Historics, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (RMMR), HMSA, the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Texas, several track days, and The Mitty at Road Atlanta. In addition, the ex-Frisselle 240Z was featured at the 2018 Danville Concours d’Elegance. Martin says the car is a joy to drive with great handling, excellent horsepower and enjoys close racing with cars of similar performance.
For the upcoming 2019 season, Martin plans another full year of racing his Z. One event of particular interest is the 2019 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, honoring the 50th Anniversary of IMSA. Chances are good that Martin will enter his IMSA Series-winning racecar to drive and show to all who attend during that great weekend of vintage racing.