Tenth anniversaries are a big deal. As birthday, it marks the permanent venture into double digits. As a wedding, it's the sign of a solid marriage. As a high school reunion, it signifies that you better be skinny with a full head of hair and be making something of your life or there's no way in hell you're going to that reunion. The Z had nothing to be worried about when it celebrated its "tin" anniversary, reports Ed Driscoll in this article about Datsun's memorable 10th Anniversary 280ZX.
Here is precious metal many will desire, but few will possess. It's the limited edition Datsun 280ZX-created to celebrate the first decade of the legendary Datsun Z car. Come. Stroke its rich leathers. Genuine, fine-grained skins cover thick, cushioned bucket seats. Ignite its restless soul. Fuel injection fires a six-cylinder overhead cam power source that's the envy of the track. Control its seething passion." This was the initial paragraph of the advertising copy that made up the first of several expensive two-page, full-color magazine spreads that introduced the 1980 Datsun 10th Anniversary 280ZX to a previously unsuspecting public. (And it's awfully hard to read that copy even now, look at the gleaming black and gold car above it, and not want to hop in and at least take a test drive!) Besides "a restless soul" and "seething passion," what was it that made this particular model so desirable, and maintains much of its original value, even to this day?
(If Somewhat Randomly)
To begin with, each of the 3000 Anniversary ZXs (dubbed the 280ZX10 in early Datsun press releases) was individually numbered. Datsun's advertising campaign promised that the car was "so rare, each Black Gold edition is numbered on an engraved plaque."
Keith Thurston says that Datsun's numbering system was rather random. "They built them, then stuck a series number on them. In fact, number 0001 of 3000 is not the first 10th Anniversary built."
Thurston should know. Since 1998, he has maintained several pages
devoted to the Anniversary ZX at http://www.zhome.com/History/10thAnniv.htm.
These pages include extensive background material on the car, including
several of Datsun's advertising and promotional pieces. There's also
a registry where Anniversary Edition owners can e-mail in the particulars
of their cars, including if they're for sale and whether or not they're
owned by the original owners (not surprisingly, several of the over 100
listed are indeed original owners).
From Black Pearl to Black Gold
Carl Beck, the current president of the 11,000-member Internet Z Car Club (www.zhome.com) points out that besides the numbering itself, the paint schemes were unique. "They built 3,000 of the anniversary model, and 2,500 of them were gold and black and 500 of them were red and black."
At first glance, the black-and-gold Anniversary Edition paint scheme might be vaguely reminiscent of Pontiac's black-and-gold eagle paint scheme on their Firebird Trans-Ams (which were then at the height of their popularity, as Burt Reynolds was driving them through his Smokey and the Bandit movies).
However, Beck could find no evidence that Datsun was influenced by Pontiac.
He believes the
Anniversary ZXs paint scheme was simply a successor to Datsun's first attempts at introducing
black as a test-marketed option on its 1978 Zs. "It was called the 'Black Pearl.' They had never
produced a black Z up until then, because they didn't think it would sell. But customers had
requested it, so they thought, 'Well, we'll make a limited number and see if they sell."'
They did. And when the Black Pearl '78s sold out, the '79 280ZXs
had black as one of their
color choices. Datsun simply built on that and the original Black Pearl moniker was upgraded
to Black Gold for the headline of the 1980 Anniversary Edition advertising campaign.
The custom paint schemes were the first of many unique features built
into the Anniversary
Edition Z. Datsun took their 1980 280ZX GL (for Grand Luxury) package and added a host of
special features to it (see sidebar for the complete list).
Of course, the switchover from the Z to the larger ZX body had just
occurred in the previous year, so this was certainly still a novel in and
of itself. Beck says, "The first generation Z from 1970 ' to 1978
was eight years old, so they felt it was time for a change. And secondly,
the car was kind of evolving towards a little bit more luxurious a car.
And over the years, they evolved the Z more towards the grand touring,
and less and less the sports car side, as the generation of people buying
them started to age. So as people got older, the Z kind of got softer,
and people wanted more luxury items. The 'X' in the ZX is extra luxury."
And extra luxury is just what the advertising campaign was built around.
This was most readily apparent in the cockpit, where the Anniversary model ZX sports leather seats and above them a T-top. (Keith Thurston says that the Anniversary Edition was the first Z so equipped).
There was also an embryonic 40-watt AM/FM cassette surround sound system. According to Thurston, "Regular '80 280ZXs didn't have the surround sound in it. But they had the same type of radio, and the same type of cassette deck, because they were separate at the time."
Beyond the interior, and besides the Anniversary Edition's fuel-injected six-cylinder overhead-cam engine, there were all-around disc brakes and independent four-wheel suspension. Additionally, according to Datsun's advertising copy, you could experience the "road-feeling power steering respond to your every urge." While a manual transmission was standard, several of the cars listed on Thurston's registry have automatics. The Anniversary Edition also featured a rear-window washer, and was the first to feature headlight washers.
The Sticker Price
So what did all of this Black Gold Anniversary Edition fuel-injected Extra Luxury surround sound headlight-washing seething passion retail for in 1980? "Anywhere from about $13,800 to $14,300," according to Thurston. This was about $4000 more than the price of the then-current basic 280ZX.
What are they going for today? Thurston says, "It depends on who you talk to and what kind of condition they think the car is in. The NADA just came out with a price on them. If it's in really good condition, you're looking at anywhere between $8,000 and $13,000, depending upon just how good a condition it's in." Of course, several of the people Thurston's registry have kept their Anniversary ZXs in decidedly above average condition, and want a correspondingly above average price for them.
Which will probably only go up. "With the new Z coming out from Nissan," Thurston says, "I believe that's going to cause more interest in the existing Z cars themselves and cause the value of most Z cars to also go UP."
Life in a Classic
Besides all of his work in researching the 3000 classic Anniversary Edition 280ZXs, Keith Thurston has owned number #1378 since 1992, when an assignment in the U.S. Air Force took him to Utah. "I was looking through one of the local sports car 'for sale' magazines. And on the hack cover, they had a tenth anniversary model. I tried calling the guy, but he wasn't there. And I ended up having to go back home to New York for a couple of weeks. I told my wife that 'if the car's for sale, I am going to get it. "And when I got back, it was, and I did."
Thurston says that when he bought the car, it was in pretty good shape, but he's since done a fair amount of restoration work to bring it back to what he describes as "totally original." He says, "The biggest problem was with the radio itself. The guy who owned it before me had upgraded the stereo system, and it took me almost two years to find the original radio for it."
Thurston was so happy with his new ZX that it was his primary car for the first two months that he owned it. "I couldn't resist driving it. Once I came to my senses and the snow started, I went back to my four-wheel-drive Jimmy and the family van."
Still, his Black Gold ZX does get a fair amount of driving. Thurston, 39, has been in the Air Force for 18 years, and takes his Anniversary ZX "wherever I go," which means that, "including the last owner, my 10th Anniversary Edition has been registered in five states. I would love to see someone follow the title trail on this one!"
A N N I V E R S A R Y M O D E L F E A T U R E S
1. Numbered, commemorative dash plaque (Canadian model has Maple
Leaf emblem on Dash Plaque)
2. Two-tone paint (gold/black or re/black)
3. Gold hood emblem & gold stripe on black hood
4. Gold or black tone alloy wheels
5. Headlight washers
6. Commemorative wreath decals on lower front fenders, hatch and owner’s manual
7. Goodyear Wingfoot tires
8. Five speed (with new style shift knob) or automatic transmission
9. Tan or burgundy leather seats
10. Surround sound stereo system (AM/FM radio, cassette tape player with special tape & booster)
11. Automatic temperature control
12. Black out exterior trim package
13. Tinted windshield
14. Tinted T-bar roof
Auto temperature control air conditioner