The Last Passenger Pigeon: 1991 Nissan 240 SX

When you speak of Nissan (formerly Datsun) in the company of learned folks, and the subject of sports cars comes up, the discussion inevitably turns to the 240 Z.  The original Z car, built from 1970 through 1973, was a pure sports car that became a legend among import owners.  The car’s torquey inline six, smooth four speed transmission, lively handling, and movie star looks all combined to make this gamble by Datsun into a legend.  It was one of those cars that became a surprise success, and Z cars spawned a legion of fans.  As the Z car evolved, it got heavier and more technology oriented, and thus strayed from the original formula.  In 1989, Nissan decided to go back to the original formula to appeal to a new generation of buyers by building the 240 SX.  This 1991 model, found in Ooltewah, Tennessee on craigslist, is one of the few unmolested survivors left of those original throwback cars.  At an asking price of $3,300, hopefully one of our Barn Finds readers will quickly grab up this excellent example of an increasingly rare breed.

Why are these cars rare?  The answer is drifting.  Drifting is a form of motorsports where the car is controlled, in part, by the application of the throttle in a turn.  In other words, drift cars are driven like dirt track cars, with the tail out and the rear wheels spinning.  The driver is basically going around a track doing his best to channel his or her best inner Curtis Turner (look him up).  Obviously, rear wheel drive cars are needed to compete, and that leaves a small list of available modern cars.  The list is even smaller when you consider that most drifting is done at the amateur level, and that competitors need an inexpensive car that is easy to replace when the drifting car meets a solid object at speed.  As you can imagine, cheap cars capable of drifting don’t last long in the classifieds, and they don’t last long at the track either.

Which brings us to the 240 SX, which has historically been a drifter favorite.  Nissan produced these cars from 1989-1994, with a second generation showing up in 1994 and lasting until 1998.  Initially offered as either a coupe or a hatchback, a convertible version was added in 1992.  All were powered by the venerable Nissan 2.4 liter inline four cylinder engine that also propelled many of Nissan’s small pickup trucks.  This engine was upgraded in 1991 with the addition of a double overhead cam cylinder head with four valves per cylinder.  Reviewers and customers thought these cars were underpowered, and the addition of the new cylinder head didn’t appease them.  At any rate, these engines were coupled with either a four speed automatic or five speed manual transmission, and a limited slip differential was optional.

The good news for this car is that it is a 1991 model.  1991 was, as stated previously, the first year for the DOHC engine, and it was also the year that a sports package was offered in the hatchback only.  This option package included anti lock brakes, four wheel steering, and a limited slip differential.  The ad doesn’t tell us much about the car, other than that it has been sitting for three years and that it is in stock condition.  Evidently the radiator has been pulled, and the fluids need to be flushed to get it back on the road.  It also was equipped with a sunroof, and still sports its original wheels.  While we don’t know about the sports package or even an optional limited slip differential, it does come equipped with a manual transmission.

When you look at the general shape of the car, and consider that it was fairly light weight, had rear wheel drive, and could be equipped with a manual transmission, you can see how Nissan engineers were hoping 240 Z lightning would strike twice.  Unfortunately, they didn’t catch on with the sports car crowd as well as Nissan would have liked, and the second generation began to stray a bit from the original concept.  Sadly, the cars didn’t sell as well as hoped either, and the model faded away in 1998.  Fans looking for a rear wheel driven Japanese sports coupe that was (fairly) affordable  and a serious performer were ecstatic when this concept showed up again with the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S.  While more of a sports car, these coupes are also slow sellers, and their future isn’t looking too good.

Even if the general public doesn’t go nuts over cars like this 240 SX, a well balanced Japanese coupe with rear wheel drive would be a fine car to have in your garage.  With their numbers becoming less and less each day from regular attrition and the ravages of drifting, this car might be one to jump on.  If for no other reason, it would be nice to see at least one of these cars saved for posterity.  I have no problem with drifting or drifters, but there are more ethical choices available.  Turning this one into a drift car, which I sadly believe will likely happen, is like shooting the last passenger pigeon or ivory billed woodpecker.  Even cars can be driven into extinction.

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Comments

  1. whmracer99

    These cars are getting rarer by the day and the drifting crowd is driving the prices up. We just got done building one for my son and the stock engine and drivetrain is surprisingly peppy although not up to drifting standards. There are cars that have been upgraded to every engine from late model Chevy small blocks to adding turbochargers to the base engines to getting Japan import 6 cylinder drivetrains to just about anything else you can think of. There are also full suspension and brake upgrades available as well. The base car emissions systems and electronics are not great and make for a problematic “restoration” if you wanted to go back to stock. That’s a fair price for what you’re getting and probably won’t last long at that price.

  2. David C

    These are great little cars. I had one almost identical to this one a few years ago(see picture) I drove the wheels off of it and sold it to a teenager when it had 187,000 miles on it. He gave me $1,600.00 cash and drove it away. His plan was to make it a drift car.

    • whmracer99

      There is also a group building killer street machines out of these. That group would kill for a car in this condition. Just depends who gets there first — the drifters or the street guys. As someone else mentioned, the price of entry on this one will dissuade most of the drift guys except for the really serious ones looking for a clean body.

  3. John D

    Jeff, you made me do a Wikki search when you listed the years of production wrong. I think you transposed the first year of production and it extended out from there. In a later paragraph, you were back to the correct years. Everybody remember, Spellcheck does not replace Proof reading.

    • Jeff Bennett Staff

      Thank you for spotting that. It has been corrected. I do proofread my work, but sometimes tired eyes miss the obvious.

      • BOP Guy Member

        I sure appreciate all the articles you write. Keep up the great work !

      • BMW4RunninTundra

        As do I!!! I fully understand “helping” someone out when they make a mistake. What I don’t understand is calling someone out and “laying it on a lot thicker than neccasary” over a simple MISTAKE! ” But being just a humble human being, prone to mistakes, I will never understand those that are perfect in every way and everything they do!!! Hail to the “Perfect ones” among us!
        (I hope the drips of sarcasm don’t make too large a mess for those reading this, I’m sure the “perfect ones” will only feel the wind over their head)

  4. Steve R

    It’s too expensive for most drifters. They are going to beat them to death and probably increase the power through a turbo or LS swap. I work at a local track that runs a drifting program in conjunction with the Wednesday night drag races and deal with the drifters every week, they are looking for $500 beaters that are on their last leg. Since the 240sx’s are getting hard to find, BMW 3 series are becoming the go to choice.

    Steve R

  5. Dan

    So drifting has become the new demolition derby. Cars go in, but they don’t come out.

    • whmracer99

      From what I’ve seen there are a few really talented folks doing it and a whole lot more wanna-bes that THINK they are talented. I would guess it’s like the 70 Novas were to stock car racing — cheap, sturdy, and disposable.

  6. DJ McMackie

    I always loved the coupes with a trunk. I’m tired of the hatchback look.

  7. Bruce Jackson

    @Steve R, how are BMW 3 Series a “cheap” drift alternative?…I do not see many $500 “beater” Series 3 Beamers around my neck of the woods (Oregon), because they have value even as a parts car…just saying…and I look through CraigsList all the time…

    • Steve R

      Most are pretty beat and have previous body damage. I assume many have issues passing smog. Those cars aren’t uncommon around here, San Francisco Bay Area, the older models don’t have a strong resale value regardless of condition. These guys aren’t looking for some cream puff survivor, they are looking for something that is disposable and can be thrown away when they are finished with it. I don’t ask what they are paying, but I can guarantee it’s not much, all I know is there are almost as many of them as there are 240sx’s.

      Steve R

  8. ROTAG999

    I had a 89 Notchback same color as this one with auto not a race horse but enough power for the most part good MPG hated the freeway if road was rough not sure how much travel there is in front suspension but not enough for smooth ride. I owned a 71 240Z at the same time have had a few Datsuns-Nissan over the years they been good to me miss my 69 FiveDime the most very fun car !

  9. Karguy James

    I have this one for sale on Tampa Craiglist asking $4,400. These are great riding overall cars that will not go down in value if kept in decent shape.

    • BOP Guy Member

      Just checked yours out and she’s very clean. If I were in the market I’d be seriously considering it.

    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      I forgot that they made these in convertible form. Very nice, couldn’t have made many of them.

    • VadGTI

      James, I think you were the one I discussed a 1969 911E RSR replica with a while back. If so, I tried to PM you on Pelican Parts.

  10. JimmyJ

    I like the notchbacks better but sure looks like a nice and clean body.should sell fast.

  11. Beatnik Bedouin

    These S-body Nissans have a cult following around the world, especially the ‘Sylvia’ models. Over here (NZ), the S14/15 coupes are the choice for drifting, and most seem to have moved into running LS V8s.

    I see quite a few of these, including the earlier S-13, at the Friday night bracket meets at the local dragstrip (I’m the announcer, btw), most with SR20DET turbos under the hood, either stock or with a few tweaks.

    Damned nice cars…

  12. scottymac

    Thanks from an old guy for the Curtis Turner reference. Ever read his biography TIMBER ON THE MOON? He was the original partyer, he and his buddy Joe Weatherly are legends to old NASCAR folks.

  13. Rjf

    A buddy of mine had one these when I was younger.damn nice car and it performed and handled very well It impressed me his was a five speed very fun to drive we pounded the hell out of that car and u couldn’t make that thing break

  14. Mitch Ross Member

    I had one that was the same color and raced it in the Street touring autocross class against Civics, Integras and the like back in the mid 2000s. Super balanced and got me a regional championship or 2.

  15. Daved N.

    Maybe, just maybe, someone will preserve it…

  16. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Price reduced to $2900.00.

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