Monday, January 11, 2010

on the road with donny datsun

Nostalgia can be as deadly as a Shell No-Pest strip.

If you immediately had a brand name flashback reading that sentence, you know what I mean.

Nostalgia is the mind's narcotic to avoid living in the moment.  And I have been OD-ing on the drug during this visit to Oregon.

For some reason, most of my conversations with friends up here have centered around how good things once were.  Relationships.  Food. Jobs.  Completely ignoring Solomon's advise that such questions are foolish.

I have been reading P.J. O' Rourke's latest book (Driving Like Crazy) this past week. It is a compilation of re-written articles on driving in America.  (One day I need to think through this notion of getting paid to publish old articles.)  More specifically, it is about guys and their cars -- the true American romance.

The read is slow.  Not because the writing is dense.  P.J. writes sentences as fluffy as a souffle -- an analogy he would undoubtedly detest as being effete.

The read is slow because I keep flashing back to the automotive loves of my life -- some fervent, some as cold as a Hitchcock blond. 

For instance: my first car: a 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible -- a gift from my parents, christened by a friend as looking like "a whorehouse on wheels."  (One of those tales I never told my mother, but I guess I just did.)

And then there was a series of nice, but practical, cars suited for a young attorney: Datsun 200SX, Pontiac, Ford Taurus, Oldsmobile Aurora.

Of course, there was the inevitable yup-mobile: a 1988 red BMW convertible.  An olio of mid-life crisis and automotive resurrectiuon -- the Cutlass reborn as samurai.

But that is not the car that glides through my memory evoking the types of sighs every guy hopes to produce from the statuesque blond in her cheerleader sweater, a class ahead of you in high school and light years ahead of you in class, who ruffled your hair and called you cute when you wanted her to treat you as if you were vaguely James dean dangerous.

That car was a 1973 blue Datsun 240Z.  Spartan as an MG.  As reliable as a mother's love.

I flew to Oregon from California, where I was stationed at the time, with an acquaintance I had met recently.  Robin had never been to Oregon, and I wanted company for the drive back.

My father knew the Datsun dealer and had struck a good bargain for me before I arrived.  The paperwork was waiting when we walked in.  All I had to do was hand over the cash and drive my new beauty away.

And it was a beauty.  Sports cars in the 1970s fell into two categories.  Continental lovelies that only an Italian count could afford.  Or English runabouts that would seldom run.

The 240Z was something different.  Long.  Low.  Inexpensive.  Looking like the love child of a Jaguar XKE and a Corvette.  With the understated sex appeal of a geisha.

Rather than zooming down I-5, I decided to show Robin a bit of Oregon.  To me that meant, a Rube Goldberg drive up the Columbia Gorge, over Mt Hood, down to Crater Lake, and up the windy mountain roads to Powers.

What could have been a one-day trip back to California turned into a week road trip.  By the end of the week I knew the car had a tendency to slip on turns over 50 MPH (a lesson I would re-learn while skidding sideways across an English roundabout a few years later), it could easily hit 120 MPH even with a passenger, and its gas gauge was not entirely accurate.

I also learned that you cannot share that type of adventure with an acquaintance without the relationship growing into friendship.

When I left California for Greece, I drove the car across America in just over two days -- with Robin as my co-pilot.  That is a tale worthy of recounting -- but not today.

I remember that 240Z fondly.  I smile at the memory of the trips.  But they are now both gone.  One, I suspect, to a junk yard.  The other to the back recesses of my mind.

What remains is the friendship.  We see one another infrequently: he lives in South Dakota.

But we enjoy recounting that trip.  Whenever the narcotic of nostalgia has its way with us.


Charles said...

Steve - I had a Datsun Fairlady - the precursor to the Z - loved everything about it but the name!

Glenn said...

Anticipating a move to Mexico I purchased a Datsun 260Z in 1989. Before leaving I sold the Datsun, and bought a Karmann Ghia. I drove the Ghia for five years...covering much of the area between Oaxaca and Michoacan...up to Washington state, and many places in between. I was so attached to the car that I stored it for ten more years. Finally, I sold it for what I considered a good price; the buyer sold it at an even better price at a auction. Still, I consider the memories worth much more than the dollars.

ColimaSteve said...

Great article. Thats exacly how I feel about my first car. It was a clunker but it was mine. I worked weekends during high school to be able to buy it on my own. She will forever be in my thoughts. And its always a "she" am I not correct...

1st Mate said...

I remember back in the day, I had Datsun 240Z envy. Whenever I saw one, while bumbling past in my old white VW bug, I got wistful. They were just so nifty looking. Great design! Why doesn't Nissan bring it back?

Paty said...

Steve--I had a 1975 280Z 2+2 that I absolutely LOVED!! I was the cute chick in the cool card. BUT when my step-kids couldn't completely stretch out in the back with the seats down on the way back from seeing King Tut in Seattle, we decided to buy something different--a Dodge station wagon!

I went from cool chick to soccer Mom in an instant--yuck.

- Mexican Trailrunner said...


"a class ahead of you in high school and light years ahead of you in class" - great line.

Darrel said...

Now you’ve gone and done it. I was sitting here attempting to get some work finished and you send me off to nostalgia land. Z memories. Of all the cars I’ve owned, (from muscle cars, practical cars, impractical cars, station wagons to Porsches) the 240Z was the best car for the money I’ve ever owned. There was no other car in its price range that could compete in performance, handling and sex appeal. Maybe you’re correct (doesn’t happen often). It was a combination of the car, the times and the friends that made the whole experience so great. Oh, Z memories. Thanks for the flashback.

Alan said...

Mine was a 1973 240Z but it was the bland brown, invisible in the dark, which explains why I was rearended at 2:00 AM in the morning on Sandy Blvd. After fixing it up, I drove it another two years until I married a lady with three kids, and although they loved the back seat (lol!) it had to go along with my new wife's apple green Pacer. Replaced with a Ford Thunderbird, but never had the fun my Z provided. Great memories, Steve, and had not thought of them for years! Thanks for recalling the good Ole days.

Anonymous said...

Mine was a 1969 XKE sable in color. I sold a 1973 MGB to get it. My coworkers thought I was nuts..(we worked at a major vehicle manufacturer). It ran well, nothing major to repair and I sold it for a little more than I paid for it.
Thanks for the memories!

Calypso said...

OK I had a Nissan 300ZX - a brand new 1992 red race car - however it bugged me that such an expensive car did not switch the interior lights on when the right door was opened (no consideration for their women - those designers). So I went back to German cars - Porsche - just seemed more like a real race car - but the Nissan was a pretty car.

Now that I am old I have a Jetta, a Ford and a Dodge 4X4 trucks, a Dodge car (left to me by the parents) and a 1989 Suzki tow car (for the camper setup). But my current favorite ride is my $1000.00 Chinese scooter - 80 miles to the gallon and easy to park ;-)

My first car was a 1955 Chevy station wagon - It was my apartment for three months - everyone knew where I was parked to come and visit - growing up isn't all it is touted to be sometimes.

Got off the road with Johnny Rivers and bought myself a new 1967 Carroll Shelby Cobra from Galpin Ford in the San Fernando Valley - now THERE was a muscle car....

I 'll stop now - I guess you got my juices going (ha!)

Anonymous said...

I guess a heavily chromed, multi-colored 1958 Buick the size of the Queen Mary doesn't really compete with all the other flash cars being discussed. But it was my first car, given to me by my Marine Corps brother who won it in a crap game at some mountain training camp in California.

It was all engine and no brake.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I enjoyed reading "on the road with donny datsun". I'm curious, what do you know about the car in your photo? The folding sunroof is very distinctive - much more European than what was typically put into the Z's of this vintage. P.S. I have a 1971 240-Z. And the color - Mexican Orange!

Anonymous said...

I recall riding in the "back seat" of Donny Dotsun when dad and I visited you in Greece. We traveled over some rugged roads and Donny Dotsun lost a couple of hubcaps.


Hollito said...

Great article, Steve!
Yes, the 240Z is a true classic beauty - to my regret there seems to be almost none of them left over here in Krautland. :-(
Did you know that a German designer, Albrecht Graf von Goertz, developed the 240Z? He designed BMWs before...

Another highlight ist the sentence "my first car: a 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible -- a gift from my parents, christened by a friend as looking like "a whorehouse on wheels."
Seems it looked like this? Mighty cool for a first car in my opinion.
My first car was a - VW beetle. :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember the bright blue truck in your driveway, several motorcycles, a couple of vans, but unfortunately, I never met Donny. My brother, Steve's Austin Healey was the coolest car I ever saw, until he got his 240 Z. Mary

hta said...

Steve, mine was a 1963 Triumph TR4, a blue convertible which gradually fell apart. This only added to its charm.

Long time reader, first time commenter. Former co-worker at the public corporation and reference point for my chart of the British kings and queens.

BTW, I have been swimming at the KROC and enjoying it, except for the community locker rooms.

I enjoy your musings.