Everyone knows how good it feels to fix something. Be it your favorite pair of jeans in dire need of a few patches, a cool vintage guitar long forgotten in the back of a pawn shop that needs a rebuild or an old car on the verge of disaster that you scooped up as a project, there's a certain raw appeal behind finding a diamond in the rough. All you can see is potential waiting to be tapped, where others simply see a lost cause. As a collector or enthusiast, there are few better feelings than stumbling across the exact thing you've been waiting for. Ares Mathevossian knows this feeling - patience and persistence paid off when he happened upon his ideal Z project.
Back in 2008, a friend had told him about a '71 Datsun 240Z he saw for sale, and after taking a look for himself, Ares knew he had to have it. After making a good offer, considering the condition of the car, the owner refused.
"The car was pretty beat up as far as the interior and exterior were concerned," Ares says, "but the chassis was rust-free and that's really important with a 40-year-old car." Several weeks later, the call came back after the Z's owner had reconsidered Ares' offer and the car found its new home in the RS Speed (Ares' shop) garage. "I owned an S14 at the time, a car I had been working on for the better part of five years. When I got the Z car, I decided to sell the S14 to fund the rebuild." The car you see in front of you came into Ares' possession in a much different state than how it sits now.
Ares wanted a fully rebuilt car, because as you might imagine, years of use and abuse can take its toll. Although mechanically sound, the Z had seen better days, aesthetically speaking. "The interior was probably the ugliest part of the car," Ares says. "I don't think it had ever been washed. The interior carpet was trashed, the seats were awful and the center console was worse yet - did I mention the funny smell?" Fresh carpet and a new set of seats were the first order of business, and a new dash with custom-fit 300ZX gauges were up next, the factory '71 gauges wouldn't work very well with the more modern motor swap that was on its way.
We started the teardown at the end of December 2008 and the process took until March of the following year to complete," Ares says. "We stripped the car down to the chassis and started from the ground up. The subframe and arms were all powdercoated along with the engine parts, 33 powdercoated pieces in total. Every bushing from the steering rack to the differential mounts was replaced and we had to make our own custom coilovers, since nobody makes a bolt-on coilover for the classic Z car, and the factory struts are part of the spindle. Welcome to cars from the early '70s."
Once Ares was satisfied with the suspension setup, the attention turned to getting the new motor in and running. Right from the start, he knew he wanted to drop a RB25DET Skyline GT-S swap into the Z. "I had owned both a turbo KA and a SR20 and wanted to stay within the Nissan family, so the RB seemed like a logical choice," he says. Ares and his crew got to work yanking out the factory L-series motor and wiring to get the ball rolling with the new heart transplant. RS Speed fabricated motor mounts and a custom one-piece driveshaft in-house, with Ares personally tackling the complex wiring job.
The Z's engine bay is a startling contrast from the sleek and monotone exterior. Bright-blue parts meet your eyes right away and make you do a double take; this isn't what we expected to see under the hood of an otherwise subtle car. Our favorite part of the engine bay (aside from the rugged turbocharged inline-6 Skyline motor, obviously) is an exceptional work of art, courtesy of Daniel Militonian from Dunkees.com. He has created a jaw-dropping "mad scientist" themed spark plug cover, all hand-drawn and printed on metal to withstand high temperatures. This truly is a one-of-a-kind creation by an incredibly skilled artist.
A rebuild like this is no easy task, and Ares isn't done with the car just yet. The car's exterior is simple, consisting of JDM fender-mounted mirrors, a MSA air dam with custom brake ducts, a carbon-fiber hood, fender flares and taillight panel housing, all topped off with a DIY "House of Krylon flat-black, rattle-can paint job," Ares says with a laugh. The next phase of the build will be the body work, but when asked about the condition of the exterior Ares isn't completely sold on making it perfect by show standards. As rough around the edges as the car may look, we like it.
You can tell this car is driven hard and put away wet, as it ought to be. Despite the dings and dents (as well as the aftermath of a careless driver who backed into the front end), the Z gets attention wherever it goes. The fact that it's not a perfectly restored car but has had proper upgrades and customization is what makes it so cool and gives it character. The 400 whp hiding under the unassuming hood is nothing to write off either. We look forward to seeing Ares out at Buttonwillow for track days this season and can't wait to see what he comes up with for the next phase of work on this fine piece of retro Datsun machinery.
Worth Knowing In this day and age, it's difficult to come by a clean, original 240Z. Most have been raced, wrecked or have simply succumbed to the elements. However, just over a decade ago in 1998, Nissan had a bright idea. The company bought back a number of '70-73 240Zs from their owners and had the cars fully restored by museum-grade restoration shops in Southern California. The price tag, however, was much higher than that of a Z in the early '70s, a hefty $28,000 was needed to get your seat in a new-old 240Z.
Specs & Details '71 Datsun 240Z
Engine Nissan RB25DET inline-6
Engine Modifications Garrett t3/60-1; Denso 525cc injectors; GReddy intake manifold & timing belt; AEM boost controller; PRC radiator w/ oil cooler & custom oil catch can w/ AN lines; GM coil packs; RS Speed motor mounts, piping, intercooler, intake & brackets; dual Mercedes pusher fans, 120-amp alternator, 300-lph external fuel pump, 5/15 aluminum feed and return lines, custom 3" turbo-back exhaust, clear cam gear cover, powdercoated valve cover & engine details; Dunkees.com spark plug cover
Engine Management NIStune programmable ECU
Drivetrain RB25DET transmission, ACT HDG6 clutch set, custom 1-piece driveshaft, 300ZX turbo clutch pack LSD, CV axles
Suspension RS Speed coilovers w/ sectioned struts, bumpsteer spacers; Energy suspension master bushing kit, sway bar endlinks
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Rota RB-R 17x8.5" -24 (f), 17x8.5" -19 (r), Nankang Sport NS-1 tires 225/45R17 (f), 255/40R17 (r), 4-piston front brake conversion, vented, cross-drilled & slotted rotors, Axxis ULT ceramic pads, rear disc brake conversion, full stainless brake lines, custom 15/16 master cylinder
Interior Momo steering wheel, 300ZX retrofitted dash gauges, AEM Wideband, TruBoost; Auto Meter oil, water & volt gauges, carbon-fiber center console w/ ECU power, fuel pump, ignition & fan switches, carbon-fiber shifter, custom RS Speed roll bar, OMP harnesses, Jegs bucket seats, Clarion MP3 player, new carpet & restored dashboard
Exterior MSA air dam w/ custom brake ducts, carbon-fiber hood, fender flares, taillight panel; JDM fender mirrors, shaved corner lights
Numbers 400 whp at 17 psi
Thanks to Daniel Militonian of Dunkees.com, the RS speed crew (Rmen and Hovo), RSSpeed.com, Need 4 Speed Motorsports.