You often find the best things in the most unexpected places. Who would expect retro wide-body, GT2 style Porsches to emerge from Japan, or old Ur quattros to have such a following in Scandinavia? And then there’s the legendary 240Z. There currently seems to be a global resurgence of love for the S30, and naturally its domestic home of Japan and mass export market of the USA provide rich pickings. But would you expect to find one of the foremost Datsun specialists tucked away in a leafy Kent village in the south of England? There have been some wild S30s produced over the years, and some of the most interesting ones have actually come out of this workshop. This is Fourways Engineering.
Fourways’ love affair with Datsun’s prettiest product isn’t a recent thing – they’re no newcomers to the Z, with four decades of experience to fall back on.
Owner Geoff Jackson had started out tuning Ford Anglias around 1969, but bought his first 240Z back in ’72 – one of the first to be imported into the UK as a small trickle began to enter the country a couple of years after the original release of the car. It says something that the car Geoff sold to fund his new purchase was an E-Type Jaguar, such was the interest in this new Japanese coupé.
That was the start of an intense relationship with the Z. Geoff and his team saw the potential: the Datsun looked great, had excellent weight distribution and presented an ideal tuning platform.
The fact that there weren’t any tuning parts available in Europe seems to have been taken more as a positive than a negative: Fourways began to manufacturer their own cams, heads, exhausts and so on, and were soon out running customised Zs alongside more traditional British fare such as Escorts and Cortinas.
41 years later, Geoff reckons that the majority of tuned Zs in the UK have been through his hands at one stage or another, and a fair number were actually built up at Fourways. For instance, the legendary Big Sam Modsports Z was rebuilt at Fourways in the mid-1970s: it’s now cared for by JD Classics, where the spec remains pretty much as it left Fourways all those years ago.
The 240Z is a car that helped change European attitudes to Japanese cars. What Geoff loved about the car was how easy it was to transform from a relatively docile, perhaps even underpowered, but great handling car, into a snarling, low, wide-body racing machine that was happy on gravel or tarmac. Looking through some old pictures, Fourways street and competition history showed off some great cars – and even some of their other projects, which included converting Aston Martin DB4s to Zagato spec.
I’d first come across a Fourways 240Z at the Motorsport At The Palace sprint event a couple of years back, held at Crystal Palace near London; it had really stood out even amongst the other beautiful machinery on show.
I didn’t realise at the time, but Geoff was actually driving that day: this is his own competition car, which he’s been campaigning for quite some time now.
It just shows how the base of the Z just works: to put it simply, get a Z and lower it from the original narrow-wheel, slightly high ’70s ride height and you’re well on the way.
Add in improved suspension and a bored-out engine, and you’re gone over the horizon. People who drive Zs seem to have permanent smiles on their faces – it’s that kind of car.Bred for competition
Fourways have a number of workshops surrounding an old courtyard: each one was like an Aladdin’s Cave – and not just of Datsuns, it has to be said.
Racing and rallying have been in the company’s DNA since the beginning, and this wide-body S30 shows that the spirit of competition is still well and truly burning. This car has a long history having raced since the late ’70s, and it’s been through several guises.
It’s now running with an all-aluminium lightweight body, and the extended arches struggle to contain the big racing slicks. The car is effectively used as a development testbed by Fourways: they fitted their own rose-jointed wishbone suspension in the ’90s – fully adjustable and lighter than standard – with new track control arms and compression struts up front.
Not only does it handle well, but it’s fast. Geoff describes it with typical British understatement as ‘quite exciting’. Competing in various historic racing series, it runs at about 930kg, and the engine has been enlarged to three litres – it’s recently had a rebuild. A close ratio box and limited slip diff have also been fitted. I hope to catch up with this machine in the near future.
By its side was a far less extreme example: the S30 in this bay had come in from Europe. It had been built in Denmark, from where it had been campaigned in FIA historic events around Europe – and even driven by current Corvette factory driver Jan Magnussen on occasion.
The car was relatively stock, with not a huge amount of changes made – again highlighting what an ideal platform for a race car the S30 makes.
The main changes are in the cockpit, with a full interior strip, roll cage and racing dash. Much as I’m a big fan of the wide-body look, this bare metal car looked no less racy.
Fourways cater for pretty much any aspect of restoration and maintenance, from servicing to full bare metal restorations. Bodywork, paint, trim, engines – you name it, they take care of it. It’s truly cradle to grave to cradle again.
In the opposite workshop was a quartet of cars: three road and one very obvious rally machine. And not from any old rally, but one of the Zs spiritual homes…
Bringing classic S30s back to life is still the obvious passion at Fourways: the smile on Geoff’s face talking about various project made that clear.
For this car, the interior was completely stripped and retrimmed in white leather and walnut, giving a far more luxurious feel than the rather spartan original.
Tucked away under the racking, this Z hid something special under the bonnet: it was one of the very few crossflow-engined cars. The head was currently off, as Fourways are looking into ways of recreating the concept, where the carbs and exhaust are moved to the other side, keeping heat away from the carbs, improving internal flow and increasing torque. These crossflow Zs are rare beasts, with only 20 or so known internationally.
Up on the lift was this rally-spec car, which at the time of my visit was being prepared for the year’s Safari rally. It’s as near to an execution as you can inflict on a car… At its last Safari, the car was rolled early in the event: it had to be re-roofed as a result.
Geoff tends to the poor car whilst it’s being tormented on the Safari: he’s now been out three times. The car uses meaty Proflex suspension, without which it likely wouldn’t make it through the first stage – the assemblies were off being refurbished.
Looking at the arms, it’s like they’ve been carved from a battleship superstructure. The car was due to be shipped into the paint shop, though rather than the usual month-long painting programme, this Safari car would be getting just enough to make it look tidy. After all, with what the car would be facing, a concours paint job would hardly be the priority.
The Z community is close-knit of course, so Fourways don’t just support their own direct customers: they also supply parts and expertise to other race teams and restorers around the UK and the world.
At this point, I still hadn’t taken on board just how much stuff Fourways had, though the racking in this workshop should have given me a clue. There was almost so much that you had to defocus slightly to take it all in. Downstairs, wheels, light clusters, exhausts…
… on the mezzanine Geoff’s very first race car, recently rediscovered in someone’s front garden and awaiting restoration (a GSM Delta), wheels and panels; upstairs, wiring looms, dashboards, doors and more. But that wasn’t it, not by a long shot.Time is the enemy
The third main workshop contained a combination of projects: a customer car being put back on the road, a full restoration in progress and a pair of Datsuns awaiting both time and new owners.
The Ferrari was a beautiful period replica of a 350 Can Am – a replica like this is a great option for the owner who wants the feel of an original, while not having to worry about the costs involved. Although the sound may be a little different too in this case: the original engine has been swapped for a small-block Chevy V8 to reduce running costs. An original is worth a fortune, but even replicas like this can fetch six-figure sums.
The next car along recalls another marque that runs through Fourways’ history: Aston Martin. As ever with restorations, time is the enemy: this DB4 is a long-term project as much by necessity as will – it’s already four years in, but is due to be completed next year. The chassis was stripped back to bare metal and powdercoated, with a new front end fitted from the bulkhead forward to replace the rotten original. As is now typical – and sensible – the restoration weaves in modernity where appropriate, particularly for brakes and suspension.
Several Datsun projects-in-waiting were enticingly dotted around, from the 240Z gate guard to this Californian example. The biggest problem for the European S30 scene is of donor cars: it seems that US models are the only sensible ones to go for these days, even with the added costs of shipping and import duty.
The problem is that the source of decent original cars in the UK has pretty much dried up: what ones haven’t already been restored have usually rotted away by now, victims of too many hard winters. Geoff says he hasn’t seen a right-hand drive breaker for some time – and doesn’t expect to. As ever, it’s easy to rue the days when you could pick up donor cars for hundreds of pounds, back when the S30 was out of fashion…
Right-hand drive conversions are common for Fourways, though it depends on the direction the customer wants to take the car in. For a track day machine of course, the expense of the conversion isn’t so warranted.
Numbers of S30s in the UK are thought to be in the low couple of hundreds, which makes the Z gathering earlier this year at the Donington Historic Festival even more impressive. Rarer still are Fairladys…
This is another car awaiting a new home. Being, again, an American car by origin, it looked in particularly good condition.
Moving through the interconnecting rooms, even the paintshop was home to another surprise – this 500SL was tucked away next to a phalanx of Vespas.Classics in the courtyard, treasures in the attic
Outside in the courtyard was evidence of Fourways copious work on European models. The E-Type harked back to the company’s beginnings…
… but of course close to my heart was the pair of Alfas. Basically, with the 1750 and 240Z you’re looking at my dream garage! The yellow 2000 was just at the end of a full inside and out restoration.
The interior was absolutely immaculate, though with the soft-top perhaps more suited to southern France than southern England…
The 1750 has been looked after by Fourways for some time: from the engine bay out it looked like it had just rolled off the Milan production line. Beautiful.
My final destination was the engine and manufacturing area. Did I really want to see in here, I was asked?
Are you kidding? If the previous workshops had hinted at the heritage of Fourways, then this modest building was like a Z temple.
From the engines and major panels down to the smallest components, there seemed to be literally enough spares around to make up a squadron of new Zs.
Gaskets, valves, bolts… Also tucked away in the workshop were a set of moulds for the Group 5-influenced bodykit that Fourways produced in the ’70s: a ready-made racer kit just waiting for a customer.
There was also mention of more spares upstairs, built up over the years from a variety of sources. But surely that wouldn’t be interesting?
If you’re a Z devotee, I hope you’re sitting down.
The old wooden floor was groaning under the weight of four decades of collecting. An inveterate hoarder – and who can’t appreciate that trait – Geoff had said that he’s always keeping a look out for spares, as particular parts are getting hard to find, and they always need wiring looms, pedal boxes, steering racks, heater assemblies and so on.
But looking around here, it didn’t seem like he was about to run out of spares any time soon. This was more than a parts collection, this was a Z treasure trove!
Parts even dangled from the rafters. Naturally, the inventory is kept in Geoff’s head; recently someone had enquired about a set of spares and panels for a 280Z. A visit upstairs later, and there was one satisfied customer.
There’s a strange part of me that just loves seeing this kind of collection of history. I enjoy seeing the components almost as much as the cars themselves; to me, the apparent disorder is sign of an ordered long-term plan – to keep Zs alive.
Sometimes it’s easy to miss things that are right on your own doorstep. It seems that Datsun are a lot closer to home than I thought…