Some retro car/modern engine combinations make more sense than others, and some go together so well that you really do have to wonder whether the designers of the car in question also had access to a crystal ball when the time came to put pen to (drawing) paper. Case in point, the Datsun 260Z and the RB25DET, an engine found in countless fast Nissans from the early ‘90s onwards.
We’re not going to claim that we’re the first to introduce mid ‘70s ‘Z-Car’ and mid ‘90s six-pot, not when our friends across the pond have been doing it for years. Still, Datsuns of all kinds are a rare sight in ‘blighty’ these days, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to give one ‘the Retropower treatment’ when the chance arose some years ago.
That said, the very idea of bolting an engine, any engine into the Datsun seemed like little more than a pipe dream when the project first began; the car initially brought in by the customer had been ‘found’ when his family had bought a house, the 2+2 260Z having been locked up in the garage and forgotten about it by the previous owners. A careful inspection revealed the car to be rotten as the proverbial pear, with every panel either rusted through or inexpertly ‘repaired’ through obsessive use of filler. It’s very rare that we deem a car to be rotten to the point of being beyond help, but this was one such occasion.
Not that the owner was in any way deterred by his initial brush with ‘70s Japanese car ownership, in fact if anything it only encouraged him to press on with the project! We therefore commenced a hunt for a suitable 260Z on his behalf, a more challenging proposition than you might have thought thanks to the staggering rarity of these cars in the UK nowadays.
The search ultimately turned up the car you see here, a UK example from new. This is actually quite a rare thing nowadays when you consider that the majority awaiting restoration have been imported from warmer climes. That this example was a UK car from the very beginning was made abundantly clear when the time came to strip it back to a bare shell, a step which revealed rust – and lots of it. Datsuns of this vintage were always fairly gifted in this department (something the British climate tended to exacerbate) so we went into the strip down expecting to find it, but we will admit to being taken aback by just how rampart the corrosion actually was.
That we’d only been able to source this car after searching the length and breadth of the country convinced us of the value in proceeding with the project, a decision validated by the owner’s willingness to stray from originality. This willingness to go ‘off piste’ proved to be a huge help throughout the remainder of the project, not least the bodywork stage. It meant that we were no longer beholden to tracing the lines of the standard car and could instead focus on the best way of engineering it to take far, far more power than it was originally intended to have.
Said engineering involved comprehensive strengthening of the Z’s chassis, with the chassis legs now reinforced and re-fabricated so that they meet the front and rear sub-frames. The sills have also been bolstered with additional steel, as have the arches, both front and rear now considerably wider than Datsun ever envisioned. The rear arches are worth focussing on in particular, mainly as the lips were originally fitted to (of all things) the front of a BMW E46.
One of the customer’s key requirements was that the Datsun have a twin-exit exhaust, a demand which in turn forced us to relocate the fuel filter to the rear panel, as there was simply no space to both run a second exhaust pipe and retain the OEM filler run.
The RB element of the equation came to be midway through the build, when the owner unearthed and delivered a Nissan GT ST, the rear-wheel drive variant of the Skyline and an ideal engine donor. We’d already decided to retain as much Skyline running gear as possible, mainly as there’s so much high end aftermarket hardware available for these cars and it made a great deal of sense to utilise it. We’ll ultimately re-use the GT ST’s engine, transmission and suspension, while the rear-end will be from a Nissan 300ZX.
We’ve since painted the freshly welded, strengthened and arched shell in a very special shade of green, Jaguar F1 Team Green – no prizes for guessing what it was originally intended for.
This build is still very much in progress, and we hope to begin fitting the running gear and reassembling the car over the course of the next few months.