1970 Datsun 240Z – Retro Rocket Ship


Perhaps the worst kept secret in your scene today is the growing popularity of classic Japanese car tuning. The S30 Z-cars are leading the charge just like they did 40 odd in the past when they showed the American sports car market there was more to life than ponycars and Corvettes. Even when you’re not into jetting carbs, rust repair, or scouring the Internet for out-of- production parts, you need to admit there’s something irresistible about the classic lines of your car just like the Datsun 240Z.

For Gordon MacSwain, his journey into classic J-tin began when his two eldest sons got their own personal cars (a Nissan 240SX and a Honda Civic hatch) and started modifying them. His oldest son planned to do an SR swap into his ’95 240SX, and as Gordon explained, “That’s when I started searching the net and picked up some understanding of engine swaps. There is plenty of great info out there; all you want do is search and read. I was actually looking around to get a Datsun 510 and kept seeing 240Zs for sale. I was thinking it would be perfect for an RB26 engine swap and was approximately the most badass-looking sports car out thereAs he told us, “The car had been placed in Tucson, Arizona, and had not moved for a lot of, many years. The engine did not run, and everything made out of plastic or rubber was destroyed in the sun. The only real shade it had seen was thanks to a surfboard mounted on the rear hatch. My dad drove over from Yuma to discover the car out and stated it was a keeper. From there, we had it transported to Ohio [where Gordon lives] in the middle of winter.”

As opposed to just dropping off the car at Rad Rides By Troy, Gordon took on his Z as a true DIY project, putting his aircraft mechanic skills to the test on something other than Learjets. By October 2010, he’d completed the Godzilla-spec heart transplant, yanking the seized L-series engine and dropping in a 2.6L twin-turbo inline-six from an R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R using McKinney Motorsports engine mounts. By June 2011, he had it on the road, but in a condition far away from what you see here. As Gordon’s build thread on nicoclub.com shows (username: gmac708), there was a lot of custom work involved before turning the ignition key, including fabricating the intercooler piping as well as sorting out the cooling system, gas tank, plumbing, and the “Frankenstein to 240Z wiring harness.”

“The first time I showed up with it on the road was for a car detailing clinic that the local Z car club, ZROC, was putting on,” Gordon said. “The car still was not painted, just old Bondo and primer, no side windows or door panels. The dash was out and all sorts of the new gauges were stuck in a cardboard box lid mounted on the heater core. A sight for sore eyes. I found myself so proud to finally take her out on your waya long time after this that he had the auto out because of its first of many track days, where he dialed from the suspension. “My first goal was to find the car running as a good track car, as Gordon explained. I believe I achieved that. I went overkill on the drivetrain to support major upgrades towards the engine at a later time. My next version from the engine will hopefully be around 500 to 600 horsepower. Everything I have installed should support that without having changes for the drivetrain, and then there is plenty of room for more.”

Not that 360 whp from the stock RB26DETT is anything to sneeze at, especially when you mount it in a lightweight 240Z (by using a factory curb weight around 2,350 pounds). By using a better power-to-weight ratio when compared to a Corvette Z06, Gordon’s S30 is already a significant rocket ship, so to ensure chassis handling and stiffness to support its newfound thrust, upgrades including Bad Dog framerail reinforcement, a custom rollbar from Defined Autoworks, custom coilovers with Ground Control camber plates, and a bunch of other suspension goodies from Arizona Z and Techno Toy Tuning were installed. And, needless to say, the brakes have also been upgraded, using Toyota 4Runner 4- piston front calipers and Z32 vented front rotors as well asAs soon as the time finally came to give the exterior of his Z a refresh, Gordon drew most of his inspiration from builds found on the Hybrid Z forum. “I do not think I have done anything that is not done before; it’s only the combination of parts that I liked best containing made the automobile perfect if you ask me, as he explained. Everybody is different. What I like may not be attractive to you. Some big decisions for me were the fender mirrors and headlight lens covers. I used to keep it simple.”

That’s what exactly Gordon did when fitting the ZG fender flares, a necessary step to clear the aggressively offset Watanabe wheels covered with Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus rubber, though tubbing the fenders isn’t exactly simple. After that, he spent some time fitting and customizing the fiberglass front air Beta and dam Motorsports carbon-fiber hood before dropping off Betzy (Gordon’s pet term for the car) at his friend Jim McCray’s place, who painted it in his home garage.

As Gordon input it, “Forty years of door dings and bumps and scrapes had taken their toll on the old girl. Jim worked his magic and got everything looking perfect. That took seven months. I put everything back together again August of last year. Thus far, I have put over 10,000 miles on the car. I drive it everywhere.” And also everywhere, he means not just to the food store or local car meet, but also around his favorite racetracks and down the Tail of the Dragon, experiences that no doubt make your four-year DIY transformation even more rewarding for Gordon and his car-crazy kids.stub and hub axles, custom modified front and rear struts with spring perches, Eibach springs, Tokico Illumina adjustable shocks, Ground Control camber plates (f/r), Suspension Techniques sway bars (f/r), Arizona Z billet moustache bar with rear sway bar mount, solid front diff pinion mount, and bumpsteer spacers with shorter control arms; Techno Toy Tuning adjustable control arms (f/r)

Interior Kameari GT seats with custom seat rails, Takata 4-point harnesses, Speedhut Revolution gauges

Exterior Bad Dog framerail reinforcement, custom Defined Autoworks rollbar, Beta Motorsports carbon-fiber hood with inner frame, custom fiberglass front air dam, tubbed front and rear fenders with ZG fender flares, BRE-style rear spoiler

Special Thanks Defined Autoworks for rollbar and exhaust fabrication and my pal Jim McCray for the body- and paintwork.