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Wall Street Journal / Life - Entertain

A Classic Datsun Z Gets a Hollywood Ending

How a Sony Pictures executive discovered the car of his dreams, a 1972 Datsun 240Z, and fine-tuned it for modern driving.

John Naveira, executive vice president of postproduction at Sony Pictures, with his 1972 Datsun 240Z, in his work parking spot, in front of a 94-foot tall rainbow sculpture near the Sony Pictures lot.

John Naveira of Burbank, Calif., an executive vice president at Sony Pictures, on his 1972 Datsun 240Z, as told to A.J. Baime.

At work, my parking spot is at the bottom of a 94-foot tall rainbow sculpture in Culver City. The rainbow is a nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” which was filmed on what is now the Sony Pictures lot in the late 1930s. When I park my 240Z there everyone can see it, and the symbolism is obvious. It is like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It was 2012 when my son came home and told me he saw a Datsun 240Z for sale three blocks away. The Z has always been an important car for me, but I had never owned one. When I was in junior high, a neighbor parked her red Z next to my mother’s Chevy Impala, and I fell in love with that car. My wife once owned a 280Z, and both of her brothers have owned 240Zs.

Photos: Z Is for Zenith

Hollywood executive John Naveira tells the story of his 1972 Datsun 240Z sports car

Mr. Naveira, with his 1972 Datsun 240Z, first fell in love with the Z when he was in junior high.

David Walter Banks for The Wall Street Journal

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I took a look at this car in my neighborhood, snapped photos and got the serial number. I sent the photos and serial number to my brother-in-law, Doug Harrison, who still has his 1972 240Z. He did some research and called me.

“That car came into the country just a month after mine,” he said. “You have to buy that car.” So I did—for $2,200.

What is the Z? Datsun [then a division of Nissan in the U.S.] created the 240Z in 1969. Nothing like it had ever existed. This was an affordable and reliable mass-produced Japanese sports car to compete against more expensive British sports cars. It was a poor man’s Jaguar, with a 2.4-liter engine.

The car was so successful that Nissan still builds Zs. Today’s is called the 370Z. But to me, nothing rivals the first generation, model years 1970 to 1973. I often hear Z fans say that 1972 is the best year.

A friend tipped me off about a local restoration shop called Pierre Z that Nissan has commissioned to restore old Zs, so I had my car restored by the same people Nissan has used. Pierre Z put a bigger 280ZX engine in, and a five-speed manual transmission instead of the four-speed. This really helps in highway driving.

Now the car drives like a dream. All I have to do is change the oil, and it will run forever. I always keep my passenger window open when driving, because I always get a reaction from someone. It keeps people smiling.

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