48th Anniversary Story Contest – Honorable Mention, Z Car of My Dreams by Dave Siemienski
Z Car of My Dreams
By Dave Siemienski
A tall, skinny 24-yr old man stands in front of magazine rack. He gazes at the sports titles, and then shifts his attention slightly to the automobile magazines. Like a bolt from the heavens,– there it was! Motor Trend Magazine’s, 1971 “Car of the Year.” The Datsun 240Z.
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That was my first introduction to this sleek sports car. I was driving a 1967 Mustang at the time, so I wasn’t exactly on driver’s life-support. However, this vision I had just seen was the classic design of my dreams. I read the article, and the raves of Motor Trend just heightened my passion for this vehicle.
During this very life-altering juncture in a young man’s life, his “wheels” are of paramount importance. It was very much a part of their identity. The hotter the car,– the more chicks seemed to find their way into the passenger seat and other intimate spaces.
At this time I was living in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan Beach. This brand new bachelor pad was a block and half from the beach; just a few paces up from Live Oak Park. This clearly was a dream location for a young, single man in the ‘70s. I was working two jobs and making very good money.
My next move was to seek out a place to buy my Dream Z. Unfortunately, my timing was poor. There was a “dock strike” in early 1971, and no Datsuns were coming in from Japan. I went to many local dealers to submit my name on their waiting lists. And I waited. And waited.
Finally in June the dock strike was lifted. The first callback I received was from Downey Datsun. They said “my car” was in their showroom. I told them I would be right there. I had enough money, and was prepared to pay cash for my sports car. They were base-priced at $3,600 at that time. This price tag was well publicized in multiple places, and closely matched the numbers I originally saw in the Motor Trend article. This was easily within my budget.
When I reached the dealership in Downey, they showed me the car. It was the exact color I wanted (a yellow-ochre color that was the same as my graphic design card). They said it was “loaded” with all the latest features. After much time spent looking it over and test-driving the car, I finally got down to asking about the price. I was shocked when they declared $5,800! What? “You gotta be kidding me.”
Their explanation was that so many people had lined up and were waiting for this car to come in from Japan, that they loaded the vehicle with every option and accessory (minus an AM/FM stereo, which was a big thing to me) because they knew they had something in great demand. I quibbled with the salesman for a few minutes, and then asked for the manager. Another higher-up sales person came to me with roughly the same story. I requested to see the General Manager. After much ritual and needless waiting, this stuffed suit appeared filling me with more automobile jargon and doubletalk. I told him rather forcefully that I knew what the base price was supposed to be, and they were jacking everything up beyond what even their stated justifiable options and features would normally be priced at.
Right during my heavy negotiations with the Downey diehards, I received a phone call from my parents (no cell phones in those days, but I had told my Mom why and where I was going that day). She told me that Gardena Datsun had called, and they told her my car was in. I used the Downey phone to call the dealership in Gardena. They told me that they also “loaded” the Z with every upgrade accessory, which actually included the AM/FM stereo that the Downey car did not. Their price was $5,400.
When I got off the phone, I told the Downey managers that I was ready to drive straight to Gardena to buy the same car for $400 less. Would they match that price? To my surprise, they steadfastly clung to their stubborn $5,800 expensive price tag. I said, “Fine. I will just take my cash elsewhere.” They all looked rather smug as I walked defiantly away.
I gleefully raced down to Gardena to see this new Z car. The only downside when I arrived was that the color was canary-yellow, and not the yellow-ochre of my desires. They told me the same basic story that I had heard already about having to load the vehicle with all the factory options and accessories. They also told me the dock strike really made the cars from Japan and overseas highly in demand. However, the price was a fixed $5,400. I was fine with that, and gave them a hundred dollar bill to save the car, and I would be back tomorrow after they got it ready for me to pay off the rest in CASH.
I was a thrilled young man. This was the top of the world in my little hemisphere of friends. Living in Manhattan Beach, I would be driving this new iconic sports car while most of my friends cruised around in VWs. Working two jobs that were paying me well to have fun was just about as good as life could get in my wildest dreams. I was a supervisor in Recreation & Parks working with young people and sports, and I was a graphic designer being creative by day. Adding that all up, it was hard to envision much better scenarios for this period of my career. I was still looking for the love of my life, so I did have a few more stages of development to achieve.
I was scheduled to pick my Z up the following evening. I went to work in the Valley that day at my commercial art job. I called the park where I worked in the evenings to tell them that I would be taking off work that night for the first time since they hired me to run the facility at night. They said no problem.
My friend John Kirby would be taking my place.
Fatefully the next day I received a phone call at my drawing board just about midday from Downey Datsun. They were calling to apologize about the day before. Supposedly there was some “mix up,” and they could actually give me the car for $5,400. I stared at the phone for a few seconds before I could comprehend what they were saying and to compose a cogent reply. I knew in my heart how badly I really wanted the color they had, and Gardena did not.
“I appreciate the offer, but I am indignant about my treatment yesterday. Why wasn’t this resolved when I was at your lot? You all went through a dog-and-pony show of histrionics about not being able to lower the price even a hundred bucks.” The caller was the General Manager. He said, “I am very sorry, but like I told you, it was just some big misunderstanding.”
“Well, I got the car I wanted from Gardena, even though is wasn’t my favorite color. By the way, I also got the AM/FM stereo you guys did not include.” He quickly replied, “I’ll throw that in also for nothing extra. You can have the car you want for $5,400, tax, license, out the door.”
I paused only slightly. “You shoulda said that yesterday. I wouldn’t take it if it was 4,400. I don’t like the way you do business.”
This lesson of karma and ethics has lasted a lifetime for me. The circumstances of those two days had long-lasting effects. That night at Rogers Park, my friend Kirby was involved in trying to break up a serious fight at our park. A kid I knew and had spoken to the night before came to the aid of his brother in a fist fight. Only he brought a tire-iron! The brutal injuries and legal repercussions of that incident lingered for years thereafter. Kirby had to attend numerous court appearances. Since I knew the guy named Corky who caused most of the mayhem and something about his mindset,– I just may have been able to diffuse the situation before it got so brutally violent. We will never know. That was an impactful night for many of us.
The car, the jobs, and the lessons learned over those two days in 1971 were profound elements to the guiding forces of the paths I ultimately took to where I am today. I used some of the negotiating and ethical experiences to further my entrepreneurial successes throughout the ensuing years. They served me well in the business world. Some of my income and pensions to this day still derives from the jobs I had during that period of my life. The car now represents the heritage that will live on when I am gone. You see, the car is still in the family.
My son was born almost 13 years to the day after the day I bought my 1971 Datsun 240Z. He now lives in Hermosa Beach. He is echoing my young life in many ways. He knows the various intriguing stories that have surrounded the iconic Z through generations. He likes its still-timeless design and legendary status among foreign sports cars.
The dream car I saw in Motor Trend magazine 47 years ago now rests majestically in my garage. My son and I plan to restore it together as a father-son project, and thus it will be his to carry on its storied life. The cliché of life comes “full circle” is manifesting itself in our family. “Z Car dreams” do come true.