Respect Your Elders: 1971 Datsun 240Z Vs 2013 Scion FR-S

Jonathan David

Car photography requires hours of parking, idling, and positioning to present various details in the proper light. The Datsun hates this. It registers a lumpy low idle that sounds sinister and forces us to constantly adjust the choke. The Scion, apparently envious of all the attention being showered on its older associate, throws a fit of its own around noon, when it abruptly stalls and then restarts in limp mode. After several tense minutes, it returns to full operation but still presents a check-engine light. Nelson volunteers to crawl back to the suburbs for an emergency appointment at Toyota of Cool Springs, where he'll give the technician a first-ever chance to diagnose a Subaru boxer engine. I look to preserve our remaining car by setting off with photographer Jonathan David for a brisk cruise down the gently undulating parkway. I let my fingers nestle into the grooves of the Z's thin-rimmed wheel and luxuriate in the feedback coming from the suspension as it loads up through gentle curves. It's so ferociously hot in the cabin that David soon scrambles out gasping for air, and my iPhone eventually slips into a self-preserving coma. And yet, I'm beginning to bond with the car to the point that I'm somewhat reluctant to trade keys when the FR-S returns. The Scion's issue -- tentatively diagnosed because the car is so new and unfamiliar to dealers -- is a cam gear that occasionally slips out of alignment, tripping the check-engine light. Rather than sitting around and waiting for it to happen again, we set off through the park. Climbing into the Scion after several hours in the Z is like moving from a rowdy and dingy city apartment to a new house in the suburbs. The shift linkage is tighter, the four-cylinder engine smoother and more powerful. And the cabin is much, much cooler. Still, part of me misses the sounds, the smells, the heat. The car nearly stalls the first time I lift the clutch because I can barely hear the engine, and the electrically assisted steering rack feels like a prosthetic limb with no nerve endings.

After a few more hours of photography, we stop to review our plans. We have beautiful photos, we have driven plenty of miles in both cars, and we have mechanical issues. This is when mature people hang it up and call it a story. But we're not mature, and our atlas promises better roads farther east. With the sun setting, we bid our photographer adieu and climb onto I-40. An electronic road sign overhead morbidly informs us that 473 people have died on Tennessee roads this past year, causing me to glance nervously at the Z's spaghetti-thin A-pillars and air-bag-less steering wheel. The front end begins to wander at speeds higher than 75 mph, so I soon back off to 70 mph, although it's difficult to read the exact speed on the weakly glowing speedometer. Whereas the Scion feels like it could, at your command, go into a drift at speed, the Datsun feels as if it might do so of its own accord. (In later model years, Nissan added a front air dam for improved high-speed stability.) I'm certainly not bored, and I'm definitely not searching my phone for Carly Rae Jepsen songs. I settle instead for the snippets of country and sports talk that come through the AM/FM radio. By the time we reach our destination, a $35-a-night roadside motel in Cookeville, I'm too weary to walk to the nearby Waffle House for dinner. I settle for some frozen microwaveable mac 'n' cheese but fall asleep before I can finish unwrapping it. Driver involvement can be exhausting.

It can also be exhilarating. I take a turn in the FR-S the next day as we drive into a maze of wooded two-lanes. For all the well-deserved tourism of the Tail of the Dragon, which is located about three hours southeast, it's often overlooked that pretty much any road in this region can serve up stretches of paradise. These more challenging roads perfectly suit the FR-S's capabilities. It brakes harder, leans less in turns, and, with its more powerful engine, pulls out of corners better. I put the stability control system in sport mode -- I'm happy to have a safety net when I'm not in the Z -- and luxuriate in the Scion's balance as the rear end rotates just enough to tuck around a corner at a faster speed than the Z could manage. Only, there it is, right in my rearview mirror. "That Z's pretty quick, given the right driver," a sweating, beaming Nelson says at the next switch point with a wink that I find absolutely infuriating. Actually, though, he's right. What the Datsun lacks in structural rigidity and refinement, it mostly makes up for with balance as good as that of the Scion and steering that communicates the moment its fourteen-inch radials begin to give way. In other words, the forty-one-year-old Datsun Z approaches the capabilities of a new Scion FR-S, at least as measured by seat-of-the-pants, real-world driving. What's even more surprising and splendid, though, is that the Scion FR-S feels a lot like a forty-one-year-old Datsun Z. Its normally aspirated boxer engine, which can be better heard with the A/C turned off, responds instantly to throttle inputs even though it's not physically connected to your right foot via a cable. The brakes are firm and progressive, never letting on that computer-controlled sensors are constantly watching for signs of wheel slip. Unlike so many modern cars, it feels like a machine engineered to work through you rather than for you.

As afternoon approaches, we begrudgingly leave the rural two-lanes for the highway and return the Datsun, which is running more smoothly than when we picked it up 350 miles ago. Later, with the Scion safely tucked away for the night, we reflect upon our findings over some of Nashville's finest sushi and warm sake. We have, over the course of two days, driven the stink out of two sports cars born forty years apart and found them pretty much equals. "I can't even remember which corners I took in which car," marvels Nelson.

There's now no denying that the Scion FR-S stands on the shoulders of giants. But because its engineers and designers clearly understood and respected that tradition, it also stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

1971 Datsun 240Z


ENGINE 12-valve SOHC carbureted I-6
DISPLACEMENT 2.4 liters (146 cu in)
POWER 151 hp @ 5600 rpm (SAE gross)
TORQUE 146 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual
DRIVE Rear-wheel

SUSPENSION, FRONT Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Strut-type, coil springs
BRAKES F/R Unassisted discs/drums
TIRES Bridgestone Potenza RE92
TIRE SIZE 195/70HR-14

L x W x H
162.8 x 64.1 x 50.5 in
TRACK F/R 53.3/53.0 in
WEIGHT 2350 lb
0-60 mph 9.4 sec

2013 Scion FR-S

BASE PRICE $24,930

ENGINE 16-valve DOHC direct-injected flat-4
DISPLACEMENT 2.0 liters (122 cu in)
POWER 200 hp @ 7000 rpm (SAE net)
TORQUE 151 lb-ft @ 6400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
DRIVE Rear-wheel

Electrically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES Hydraulically assisted vented discs, ABS
TIRES Michelin Primacy HP
TIRE SIZE 215/45WR-17

L x W x H
166.7 x 69.9 x 50.6 in
WHEELBASE 101.2 in
TRACK F/R 59.8/60.6 in
WEIGHT 2758 lb
EPA MILEAGE 22/30 mpg
0-60 mph 6.2 sec

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I'm sorry to hear the 240Z Nissan provided wasn't properly tuned.  The SU style carburetors are a incredibly smooth when properly cared for and tuned.

I wanted to clear up a few minor issues.  First is that Nissan/Datsun never offered an OEM front or rear spoiler on the 1970-1978 model year Z cars.  The aerodynamics got much better with the release of the 280ZX but remained unchained through the 1978 model.  Any add-ons were aftermarket or dealer added.

Also, there is great controversy over Goertz's attribution to the Z car design.  Carl Beck, widely respected Z car historian has made this statement: for what it's worth, I'd much rather own this:  than the FRS/BRZ... at least until they release a model with a factory turbo option! ;)
I owned a 73 240Z for 8 years back in the 80's, and I loved that bright "red" car.  It was actually Chinese red or orange to most.  Once I swapped those crappy 73' SU knock off carb's for a couple of 72' models nothing could compare.  I've owned 3 series BMW's, A4 Audi's Mazda RX 7's, and SC Lexus's, but that little Z has always been the standard bearer.  The 2003 BMW 325 was a hellava car for a sedan, however.I'm now considering a Scion FR-S.  If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm in my late 50's.  At my age, you certainly don't want to appear to be chasing youth, but I've always loved sports cars.  With that being said I'm considering, heaven forbid, an auto tranny.  I'd love nothing more than to get a 6-speed, but there will be time that I'll need to drive my wife's 328.  She doesn't drive a manual, and she is not going to learn.  After 30+ years of marriage, you learn how far to push it.  Thankfully, the guys who developed the FR-S are real gear heads, and the auto trans is supposed to be a pretty tricked out unit.  If anyone is out there who has gotten one of these little beauties, and is living with it day to day, could post how the FR-S is to live with in the real world, that would be a great help. Dave
Chris Hebert
Nice article, I wish that there were more such then-and-now comparisons.  One correction to the 240Z specs, however.  The brakes are vacuum assisted, not manual.  Mr. Lopez's suggestions may be a bit much for a stock-to-stock comparison, but given that the factory tires had worn out before the Scion nameplate was even a twinkle in Toyota's eye, replacing the stock size with a good set in the 205 -- 215 / 60 range would be appropriate and, I think, eye-opening.

Carlos Lopez
Love this article. Both these cars represent the same market in their own times and do the same thing. The thing is you compared the 240z in complete stock form to an obviously stock FR-S. That is fine, but the early 240z has some much needed upgrades that improve the driving experience tremendously. The 4-speed to be swapped with a 5-speed. The Differential to be swapped for an R200. With those "subtle" upgrades the car accelerates much better in today's world. More of its 130ish HP will be accessible. Then again who cares? If you can drive any of these cars life is great.

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