Lot 119: Datsun 240Z Sports Racing Coupe
Datsun 240Z 'Big Sam', is first and foremost and best known as a Modsports race car, but whose shell can lay claim to lineage back to the Works Rally cars. Driven by promising newcomer Win Percy in the days before he went on to Touring and Sports Car stardom, he and Big Sam won the three-litre class in the 1974 Blue Circle Modified Sports Car Championship, a category which sat slightly below saloons in the National hierarchy, but was nevertheless significant at the time. Mark Hales puts this nicely into context in his recent Octane Magazine feature on Big Sam "... unless you were in and around club racing in the 1970s, it's hard to imagine where it (Modsports) sat in the great scheme. It was certainly more significant than it is now. There were high profile companies headlining the various championships whose status was more "National" than "Club". A few drivers even made the transition from here to international races Win Percy being one of them..."
Big Sam was created by a pair of Bedfordshire garagistes, Bob Gathercole and former Broadspeed cylinder head guru Spike Anderson who already had a business producing tuning parts for Nissans in general and the 240Z in particular. The newly formed company was named Samuri (the spelling mistake in the handle was deliberate; someone else had already registered the name "Samurai...) and the 240Z which became Big Sam was intended to promote its products. Modified Sports was the highest profile category in which the model could compete at the time.
Nissan had already stunned the rallying world with first and second places in the 1971 Safari rally with its works 240Zs. In 1972 they claimed 5th, 6th and 10th then took victory again in 1973. The works cars were quite special and Samuri were fortunate to acquire an ex-Works rally bodyshell, numbered HLS30 94014, as the basis to rebuild their race project that Percy had severely damaged at Brands Hatch.
This replacement shell had originally been assembled at Nissan's Oppama factory complex in June 1972 as one of a series of left hand-drive works rally cars to be campaigned in National and International rallies and was sent to the 1973 Monte Carlo. Subsequently it was "commandeered" by Yvonne Mehta for the '73 Scottish Rally and was then crashed by Shekhar Mehta in the '73 Burmah rally. After being straightened, it was rallied again briefly on a 'borrowed' identity and with a UK registration number. By mid 1974, stripped of many of its works parts, it ended up at Nissan UK. A timely coincidence for Samuri.
The history of the shell however, is less significant than the reputation that was subsequently garnered by Big Sam. The road car which provided the homologation was still very new and exciting, and well on its way to status as the world's best selling sports car, but the race version with just 2.4-litres would always need to punch above its weight to defeat the more powerful Porsche turbos and Jaguar E-types that were dominating the over two-litre class. The fact that it managed to do this via a combination of fine handling and brakes, as well as more power than expected from a 2.4-litre engine are now the stuff of legend. The battles between Win Percy in the ex-works rally car, 'Big Sam' and Nick Faure in the new Porsche RS in the 1974 Modsports Championship are still fondly remembered today by Datsun aficionados.
Hugely experienced racer and writer Mark Hales who drove the car at Goodwood for a recent Octane Magazine feature, lends a rare and informed insight as to how Big Sam might have achieved its success. "All too soon, it's time to come in and I'm left with the feeling that I could still have gone quicker, and the car would still let me. It's not quite what we were there for, but I couldn't help it... I'm still amazed by the amount of grip, the stability through the fast corners and on the brakes, the sweet engine, wailing exhaust and swift shift, and the way it points into the slow corners. And 250bhp is quite a lot, but when you find yourself wanting more all the time, it means the chassis is working well."
When the existing owner found the car in 1989, it was his memories of 'Big Sam' the Modsports Champion that steered the comprehensive rebuild that you see today. Tim Riley Engineering was commissioned to rebuild the car; Francis Tuthill who was preparing the works Subarus, rebuilt the bodyshell with strict instructions to leave as many as the rallying dents as possible, a decision that has proved invaluable in tracing the car's rallying history.
Nissan Japan has since confirmed that bodyshell HLS30 94014, was the basis of one of their works rally cars; the Japanese characters and numbers stamped into the shell's offside front suspension turret are an indication of the strict import/export requirements that applied to that particular batch of '72 Works cars. This makes it a rare survivor, but Big Sam's reputation transcends the sum of its parts. The model was raced extensively in Japan at the time, but few race cars have ever appeared. It is also worth noting that the rear tailgate, gearbox and Perspex side windows are all early, lightweight, ex Works rally parts - with 'Nissan' heat moulded into the Perspex.
Offered for sale after 21 years of ownership, and meticulously prepared whilst exuding real period patina, Datsun 240Z Big Sam is a rare piece of history from a significant part of UK National racing. The comprehensive file and carefully documented record of the car's specification and the proof of continuous history should also ensure it is eligible for racing papers in the exact specification in which it is presented here, replete with big wings, splitter and spoiler. The car is already eligible and likely to be highly competitive in a variety of current historic championships, including the HSCC's Classic Saloons and the Masters Racing Series 1970s category and Mark Hales provides the last word on the car's potential here... "It's not often that I've found a car especially an old one which I didn't want to fiddle with, but not this. If they asked me to race it tomorrow, I would. In the words of the great Alain Prost. "Don't touch a thing. The car is perfect. Just polish it and put it in the truck..."
Collectors' Motor Cars and Related Automobilia|
Bonhams, Silverstone Classic, Northamptonshire
|Hammer Price (inc premium)||£78500|
|Chassis number||HLS 30 94014|
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|Engine - cylinders|
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