Retro Revival. Serial modifier rescues a Datsun 240Z from the scrap heap. Retro Serial modifier Steve Grove has been at it again, only this time he’s turned his hand to rescuing a seventies icon. Words & Pics: Dan Sherwood.
REVIVING A RETRO CLASSIC TURBOCHARGED DATSUN 240ZKnown to many as ‘the decade that taste forgot’, there are plenty of things that originated in the seventies that we are only too glad to leave in the past. Oddities such as platform shoes, perms and pebbledashing; flares, flock wallpaper and kung-fu fighting are all things probably best forgotten – well, with the possible exception of Carl Douglas’s best known party tune; after all, what wedding reception would be without a drunken rendition of the highkicking classic? But for all the horrors that were spawned in the era, there were some things that came out of the seventies that still remain the epitome of cool to this very day. Think Raleigh Grifter, Star Wars and geek chic. And the same is true when it comes to cars. The less said about the likes of the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina the better, but cruise around in a Datsun 240Z and you’re instantly the king of cool.
One man who knows the kudos associated with ’70s Datsuns is 40-year-old Steve Grove. As a serial car buyer, modifier and restorer, Steve’s back catalogue of cars reads like an encyclopaedia of the most radical Japanese rides. Over the years he’s slid behind the wheel of everything from RX-7s to Skylines, S2000s to Evos – even a Hakosuka Skyline – all of which have benefited in some way or another from the healing hand of Grove, and none more so than the stunning cream and black 1972 Datsun 240Z S30 spread across these pages.
‘Cars have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid,’ explains the Milton Keynes-based motorhead. ‘Ever since I could wield a spanner I’ve been tinkering with anything on four wheels.’
And he’s had plenty of success, too. In fact, this will be his sixth appearance in this fine publication. There would’ve been more, but the rate at which Steve turns his projects around, often selling them on swiftly after they are complete, means we struggle to keep up with his current stable!
‘Yeah, I definitely get through them,’ Steve chuckles, ‘But I reckon the 240Z, along with my Hakosuka, are both keepers. You just can’t get cooler than a seventies Nissan!’
And with the Z-car now registering its fourth anniversary in his possession, it’s looking like Steve is a man of his word.
But it hasn’t been his first adventure with a similarly vintage swoopy coupe. ‘My friend Rob first introduced me to the S30 body years ago,’ Steve recalls. ‘Back then I had no idea what they were, but I just fell in love with them. That iconic bodyline, which was penned by a team led by Yoshihiko Matsuo, the then head of Nissan's Sports Car Styling Studio, still looks just as good today, and it had me hooked. In fact, I went home from work and ended up buying a 260Z that very evening!’
The car he bought didn’t stay standard for long as Steve’s desire to be different soon had him doing what he does best. In no time at all the car had been fully restored and modified with a Nissan Stagea sourced RB25DET engine, a Skyline R33 gearbox, 17in Rota wheels and a full respray in MG X-Power grey.
‘I loved that car and had no intention of selling it…until the rare opportunity arose to acquire another model from my automotive bucket list, a Nissan Skyline Hakosuka,’ he smiles. ‘It may only be based on a 2000GT-X, and not a genuine KPGC10 GT-R – a car which these days changes hands for over £100k – but it’s as close as I’ll likely ever get to owning the real thing and was a chance not to be missed.
So Steve part-exhanged his original Z car for the Hako, which was yet another car to undergo the full Grove treatment. But, as happy as it made him to be greeted by the boxy Skyline’s four round headlights every time he opened his workshop door, there was still something missing from his life. Or more precisely, his garage…
‘As much as I love the Hakosuka and am proud to own such a revered JDM icon, it just doesn’t have the same lines as those ’70s sports two-seaters,’ he explains. ‘So I decided I’d build another Z car, but this time, rather than sling in a modern powerplant, I’d build it to be period correct. A car that gave a nod to the JDM racing and tuning scene of the time, and was built using parts from ’70s tuning companies.’ And so the hunt was on to find a suitable S30 to rekindle his previous love affair.
‘I spent hours scouring eBay to find a car that was within my budget,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want something that was mint, as I knew I wanted a project that I could put my own stamp on, and then I stumbled across something that caught my eye…’
The item that drew Steve’s attention like a magpie to Mr.T was the rear screen louvre on a crusty 240Z that had recently been imported from the USA. ‘The car looked pretty rough in the pictures I saw online, but I reasoned it was likely to be rust free considering it had spent the majority of its life in California,’ Steve remembers, ‘And most importantly, that rear screen louvre was complete and included in the sale.’
Steve negotiated a price and bought the car unseen from a seller up in Newcastle. He then just had to wait in eager anticipation for the then pastel blue Datsun to be delivered down to Buckinghamshire. But Steve’s nervous excitement soon turned to disappointment when the car finally arrived and he could inspect it in the metal.
‘The condition was much worse than I thought,’ he says. ‘The petrol had set in the fuel tank, the seats were torn, the dash split right open, the paint was peeling and it actually had quite a lot of rust. Add to that the fact that it didn’t run and both the brakes and suspension bushes were shot, and you begin to get a picture of what I had to work with.’ But rather than sit and sob, Steve sought solace in the fact that he had that rare screen louvre, and that in itself would spur him on to build the car he had in his head.
The build itself was spread over the best part of a year, with monthly bursts here and there as both funds and parts sourcing allowed.
‘I started by getting the car running, refreshing the braking system and getting all the electrics working again,’ Steve says. ‘This meant that when it was assembled after the cosmetic work was complete, I knew it would run and drive spot on without having to worry about it.’
The extensive exterior renovation was up next and began with the removal of the red rot by way of cutting out any affected areas and welding in new steel panelling. The old peeling paintwork was then taken back and the corner marker lights deleted until he was confident that the shell was once again structurally sound. The car was then fully stripped and prepped before having all dents and imperfections corrected so the four-stage paint process could begin.
‘I had a very clear vision of how I wanted the car to look and the paint job was all important,’ Steve smiles. ‘The look is inspired by the Super Samuri 240Z racecars built by British motorsport and tuning legend Spike Anderson in the ’70s. They often had the two-tone paint job top and bottom with a pinstripe separating the two. It was such a cool look that really suited and defined the lines of the 240Z perfectly.’
Steve carried out the intricate paintwork himself in his small unit. Featuring Ford Panther Black atop a base of Fiat 500 cream, with a gold pinstripe and period racing roundel to finish things off, it’s a fitting tribute to the Samuri hotrod racers of the ’70s, and looks all the more stylish when combined with the deleted rear bumper and that all-important angular screen louvre.
‘The suspension was a tricky one,’ explains Steve. ‘I didn’t want to ruin the original handling feel of the car with a set of modern coilovers, so I fitted 30mm lowering springs and gave the visual appearance of a lower drop by mounting the arch flares much lower on the body so that the Watanabeapeing Rota wheels could sit further into the arches. This way the car looks a lot lower than it really is and also retains the full OEM suspension stroke to maintain correct handling and that pliant ’70s ride quality.’
When it came to addressing the tatty interior the split dashboard underwent some serious surgery to make it whole again before being covered in flock by Banbury Flocking. The centre console was also flocked to match, while the front seats had their frames restored before being recovered in black vinyl.
‘The period faux-wood steering wheel was also given a clean up and is retained along with a matching gearknob to ensure driver contact points remain as authentic as possible,’ Steve informs us. ‘It just wouldn’t feel right to drive it with a modern steering wheel.’ At this point in the build, the car was up and running and many would’ve left it at that, but Steve’s not one to leave an engine in a standard state of tune, and besides, no Samuri- inspired ride would be complete without some serious engine modifications, so he got stuck in. ‘I managed to source the uprated engine by coincidence,’ laughs Steve. ‘I was messaging a guy regarding a Hakosuka steering wheel and got chatting about old Datsuns. It turned out he had a 2.8-litre fuel injected engine with a Janspeed turbo conversion for sale, so I purchased it and made a new friend at the same time!’
Comprising an original L28 six-cylinder block, but with a P90 turbo head, Steve spent the next week restoring the old engine and kitting it out with a host of uprated internals so that it would be reliable from day one. The Rotor Master turbocharger that came with the rare Janspeed conversion was past its best, too, so a new replacement was sourced from the USA and modified by relocating the pressure switches to behind the front bumper, again to improve reliability.
‘The exhaust system is a genuine Janspeed item, too,’ Steve highlights proudly. ‘It’s new old stock, and was a really lucky find, and the sound it makes is just incredible.’ Making a cool 220bhp, the old girl is producing roughly double the power it had when it rolled off the production line 46 years ago and, with its relative light weight compared to modern machinery, it’s definitely no slouch.
‘Going fast is not really what it’s about, though,’ Steve explains with a wry smile. ‘It’s about the joy you get from it every time you look at it or get behind the wheel and take it for a drive. Like a fine wine I feel the 240Z is just getting better with age. In fact, every time I take it out, I fall in love with it just a little bit more.’
And if that’s not reason enough to explain the blood, sweat and tears that go hand-in-hand with restoring – and often just running – a genuine Japanese icon like Steve’s sultry Datsun 240Z, then we don’t know what is.
IN THE ’70S, SPIKE ANDERSON WAS A RACER AND PERFORMANCE GUYWHOSE SPECIALITYWAS MAKING CYLINDER HEADS BREATHE BETTER. BUT ITWAS WHEN HE BOUGHT A 240Z AS HIS PERSONAL STREET RIDE THAT HE WAS QUICKLY SEDUCED BY THE 240Z’S ATTRIBUTES. ANDERSON PROCEEDED TO FORMA COMPANY, SAMURI CONVERSIONS (THE NAME WAS DELIBERATELYMISSPELT DUE TO THE SAMURAI TRADE NAME BEING OWNED BY ANOTHER COMPANY) TO PROVIDE HOT-ROD MODIFICATIONS OF THE CAR IN THE U.K. IN TOTAL 77 CARSWERE PRODUCED BY SAMURI AND ARE SOME OF THEMOST SOUGHT AFTER JAPANESE CLASSICS IN THE COUNTRYWITH ONE PARTICULARLY FAMOUS EXAMPLE SELLING AT AUCTION FOR OVER £80K!
THEY SAY THAT IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORMOF FLATTERY, AND THEWATANABE LOOK-A-LIKE ROTA RKR WHEELS ON STEVE’S DATSUN NOT ONLY GIVE A NOD TO THE JDMICONS, BUT THEY SUIT THE DATSUN TO A TEE! ‘I’D PROBABLY RUN GENUINE WATANABES ON THE CAR IF I COULD FIND A SET IN THE RIGHT SIZES, BUT TO BE HONEST, I RUN THEMON SOME OFMY OTHER CARS AND THE CASTING QUALITY IS HORRIFIC. PEOPLE BANG ON ABOUT ROTAS BEING ‘FAKE’. BUT THE MODERN TECHNOLOGY THAT GOES INTOMAKING THEM MEANS THEY ARE OFTEN BETTERMADE THAN THE REAL THINGWHEN IT COMES TO CLASSIC JDMWHEELS.’
‘THE LOOK IS INSPIRED BY THE SUPER SAMURI RACECARS OF THE ‘70S’
ENGINE 2.8-litre, 6-cyl, 12v L28 motor with P90 turbo head, Janspeed turbo conversion, Janspeed exhaust, Pipercross induction kit, Mahle pistons, King bearings, ARP con-rod bolts, Rotor Master turbo, Holley lifter pump, Bosch 044 fuel pump, surge tank
TRANSMISSION RWD 4-speed 240Z transmission, Competition clutch and lightened Flywheel
SUSPENSION 30mm Z Tune lowering springs, polyurethane front suspension arm bushes, polyurethane drop link bushes, new OEM rear trailing arm bushes
BRAKES Hel braided brake lines, refurbished brake system, disc brakes at the front, magnesium-finned drums at the rear
WHEELS & TYRES 8x15in Rota RKR wheels with Nankang tyres with Japanese tyre writing (Fast in Japanese)
EXTERIOR S30 body, Ford Panther Black paint, Fiat 500 cream paint, gold pinstripe sealed under the lacquer, hand-finished lowered over-fenders that have been reshaped and smoothed so they are ripple-free, Datsun duck tail spoiler, tailgate louvre, smoothed front Euro bumper, JDM front lower valance, smoothed rear body bumper recess, UK-spec light conversion, side marker light delete, fender badges relocated to spoiler and grille, aftermarket mirrors
INTERIOR Seats retrimmed, dash and centre console flocked, A’PEXi boost gauge in place of original clock, external surge tank and fuel pump in the boot, original restored faux-wood steering wheel, new seals and mats ICE Period correct stereo with graphic Equalizer
THANKS JDMK for friendship and fun times, Nikki at Banbury Flockers, Damien at Streets Auto, Kleen Freaks for allowing my cars on show stands, and my partner Jo for being understanding of my automotive addiction!