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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Majorette BMW Z3 M Coupe and Matchbox Datsun 260Z 2+2

Here's a look at two cars that tried their best to make sporty coupes practical, yet the idea quickly fizzled down to low sales and short lives.  For BMW it was a may to make the sporty Z3 roadster a coupe and not any coupe a more practical one to boot, while at Datsun it was time to make the Fairlady Z car more family friendly.

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Majorette BMW Z3 M Coupe

The Z3 was BMW's answer to the very popular Miata in the 1990's and warranted it's assembly in the first U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  The roadster was an immediate success and the only way to increase its popularity is with more power (an I-6 finally introduced), a M-badged version, and a coupe.  However, in the latter BMW devised far from the idea of just slipping a top onto the roadster and went for the hatchback coupe profile inspired by the classic Volvo and MG coupes of the 1960's.  The rear hatch offered more room vertically than the roadster but not much elsewhere, nor did it offer two more seats in the rear.  Other than that the Coupe looks very similar to the roadster from its long hood, short rear look to the twin-pod interior, and the powertrains that range from the I-4 to the I-6, the M coupe bearing the 3.2L DOHC that produced 320 horsepower through a six-speed manual transmission.  The coupe was revived in the new Z4 model but with a more sloping rear roofline, yet alas it wasn't as popular and went away with the second-generation Z4 that now be a coupe or a convertible in one model.

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Yes, I referenced this Majorette casting as the Z3 M coupe even though it is called a Z3 coupe and looks like any standard Z3 coupe.  The giveaway is the dual quad exhaust tips at the rear and the round front fender vents.  The front has clear headlights that are flanked by a rounded-off hood dip with the twin kidney grilles.  The lower bumper has larger scoops of the M-version.  The side profile has the classic Z3 coupe profile despite lacking exterior mirrors, while the 5-spoke wheels on my red example look good, if not great, here.  In the rear you'll find the dogleg taillights alongside the opening rear hatch that gains access to the cargo area.  After years of being stuck to the paint the hatch on my example refused to open, so after a bit of force the hatch now opens, and also note the shape of the hatch is rather crude and interrupts the nice lines of the car.  Inside there is seating for two with the nicely done twin cockpit layout, 3-spoke steering wheel, and center controls with added auxiliary gauges mounted below them.  For a M coupe the stance does sit a bit high, but on the track the handling is still very good and fun-to-drive for such a small coupe.

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Matchbox Datsun 260Z 2+2

With the hype over Japanese sports cars, especially the Z, some might miss out on the briefly-offered 2+2 version of the 260Z.  The idea behind this was that as the Z car popularity continued for Datsun they feared some might trade them in for more room especially if they started a family.  The 2+2 solves this problem with a stretched wheelbase, a revised roofline that notches in the back, and rear quarter windows that have the ability to pop out for more ventilation in the rear.  Otherwise the rest of the car is the familiar Z-car.  Thanks to emissions regulations this version was offered for only one year as the 280Z was better complied to the regulations.  The 260Z gained a more powerful motor with a 2.6L SOHC I-6 producing 175 horsepower through a 5-speed manual transmission.  The 2+2 arrangement would continue in future Z models with better integration this time around.

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This is one of a handful of Matchbox Z cars offered between 1970 and 1990 (more on that in the next article), yet this 260Z is still part of the classy Lesney-era with simple and clean metallic pinkish-red hue, basic wheels, and a black metal base.  The front has the long hood with round headlights, center grille, and Euro plate just below.  The sides have nicely detailed 260Z badges casted on the front fenders and still has a lovely beltline even with the extended roof and wheelbase.  The rear has rectangular taillights and signal lights, center plate, rear spoiler, and oddly a rear trailer hitch for towing.  The base does not show much but it is interesting to note that the copyright year (which is one year before the initial release year) starts rather late into the 1980s and very close to the 280ZX casting.  Open the doors to reveal the tan interior that now has seating for two, though the rear seats are not suitable for adults.  The rear cargo area is roomy and the steering wheel is right-drive.  Disappointly the dashboard lacks any detail and that's a shame for such a nicely-done casting.

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They may not be popular but these two notchback coupes are unique on their own and offer plenty of practicality while not forsaken their sportiness.

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