The 1977 Datsun 280Z Was The First Car To Appear In A Branded Arcade Game


Nissan built some of its finest cars during the 1970s. The Japanese automaker has produced no less than seven generations of the Z Series since 1969, and the lineup played an important role in making JDM sports cars as popular as they have become over the years. Nowadays, every sports car fanatic knows about the Japanese car manufacturer’s Z nameplate, and though the cars have suffered some modifications over their lifetime, their strong suit remained their unparalleled performance.

The Nissan Z cars were offered outside of Japan, including in the United States, under the Datsun brand, and they are now considered priceless classics by car collectors. One of the most coveted models among classic car enthusiasts is the Datsun 280Z ZAP Edition, which was produced in 1977 as a “special decor package.” The ZAP cars all boasted Sunburst Yellow livery with black stripes along the sides and hood and multi-colored graphics at the front. They also featured dual racing mirrors, rear window louvers, and special badging. The increased interest in this car model is obviously due to its scarcity. Only about 1,000 Datsun 280Z ZAP cars were offered in 1977, and an original unit has just come up for auction.

As the name suggests, the ZAP Edition cars were based on the Datsun 280Z, which had been released in 1975. Just like in the case of its predecessors, the Datsun 260Z and 240Z, the model number indicates the engine displacement, so the 280Z came equipped with a 2.8-liter engine. It also stood out thanks to its sleek profile, which is said to have taken design cues from the popular Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type.

The Z series, which started with the Datsun 240Z (also known as the Fairlady Z in Japan), would sell like hotcakes stateside in the ’70s, though the cars didn’t have the power of American muscle cars of the era. However, they offered equally fast experiences, better handling, and more up-to-date styling, so the public fell in love with them. Their gorgeous shape, long nose, and affordability also played a crucial role in their popularity.

The lineup became so iconic that it stayed in production for decades under various forms. The most recent iteration from the Japanese carmaker is the Nissan Z (RZ34), which was unveiled in 2020 and takes styling cues from the original Datsun Z cars.

The example in question here is an original Datsun 280Z ZAP Edition released in 1977 and is a veritable time capsule by all accounts. More often than not, special edition cars come with performance enhancements – and this is what makes them highly appealing to the public. But in this case, it was more of a decal special than anything else, as the drivetrain fitted on it was entirely stock. But even if the ZAPs only featured cosmetic add-ons that had no effect on drag or power, they were still seen as a dose of period cool.


Built on a steel unibody platform and boasting independent front and rear suspension, the ZAP edition models took power from a 2.8-liter inline-six. Moreover, it was fitted with the then-new Bosch L-Jetronic Fuel Injection system.

This particular unit that came up for auction is one of the finest Datsun 280 ZAPs still in existence. It has gone through a restoration process, but it is still finished in code 411 Sunburst Yellow paint, with all the original decals applied in the right spots throughout its body. The rear window louvers are also present, while the interior is finished in all-black vinyl upholstery and black carpeting.

Under the long hood of the three-door coupe lies a period-correct fuel-injected 2.8 liter inline 6-cylinder mill that is expected to still produce around 170 hp (172 ps) at 5,600 rpm and 177 lb-ft (241 Nm) of torque at 4,400 rpm. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. The car rides on Polished Ansen sprint wheels and boasts power disc brakes up front and drums in the rear.

There is something else about the Datsun 280Z ZAP that makes it a special car in automotive history. It is the first model that was part of a car/video game cross-promotion. Putting cars in video games is nowadays a billions-worth industry, but back then, it was something completely new.

The branded arcade game it was co-released with was fittingly called Datsun 280 ZZZAP (also known as Midnight Racer) and was designed by Jamie Fenton and released by Midway Manufacturing. As you might expect from a 1970’s game, Datsun 280 ZZZAP featured very simple graphics and gameplay. Obviously, it involves piloting a Datsun at night at up to 200 miles per hour (320 kph). The player had to drive their Z car as far as they could until the time limit expired.