Gas Monkey Garage Goes JDM

Regularly associated with building hot rods and V8s, Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage wanted to do something different and decided that his next project would be a Japanese make. He wanted to ensure the car was legit, so worked with an expert and well respected member of the JDM auto society, Big Mike.

Their creation made its way to the 2017 SEMA Show.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-6

I think it’s safe to say that many of us here at Speedhunters are fans of Nissans. Dino’s BNR34, Paddy’s work with the Worthouse S15s, and of course Larry’s 240Z with its SR20DET swap – we’re pretty well versed in the Nissan life. So we couldn’t help but take a closer look at the Gas Monkey Garage 280Z, as displayed at the Nitto Tire booth.

What I really like about the S30 is its body shape. The roofline, rear quarter windows, and the steepened angle of the hatch all scream British sports coupe to me. There’s a little bit of Jensen Interceptor, a little bit of MG MGB GT, and a little bit of Jaguar E-Type all mixed in by Nissan to give us the Datsun S30. In this case it’s a 280Z 2+2 model.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-11

Richard is normally rounded into the circle of the V8; Big Mike is tied in to the Honda scene with his builds, including his Prelude we featured at SEMA last year. However, just because these guys are stereotyped into those builds doesn’t mean they can’t build something outside of that realm. That’s why they both went with this 1975 280Z.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-7

We can’t help but do some comparisons to Larry’s Z when you consider these both have been swapped to Nissan’s SR20DET ‘Blacktop’ engine. This one has been worked on with a Honeywell Garrett GT3071 that attaches to a Hypertune exhaust manifold and matches the valvetrain setup of a pair of Tomei Poncam camshafts and rocker arm stoppers. Before air is sent down the turbocharger, a custom made dual inlet airbox has a pair of K&N filters made for a Chevrolet to filter out those dust particles. The CP pistons feature a 9.5:1 compression ratio with the Carrillo H-Beam rods at the stock length and crankshaft stroke.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-10

The Garrett boosts ambient air into a Vibrant Performance boost tube to the McKinney Motorsports intercooler. Once the temperature is dropped, it’s then sent to the Hypertune throttle body and intake manifold while their fuel rail sends that precious go juice to the cylinders by the Injector Dynamics 1,050cc/min injectors. A Turbosmart Race-Port blow-off valve protects the turbo from compressor surge while a Turbosmart 45mm Hyper-Gate45 wastegate maintains boost pressure in combination with an AEM boost solenoid kit.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-20

Engine management is handled by an AEM system that gets inputs from a matching AEM Uego controller and sensor. The ignition is a four-channel coil driver by AEM as well, and all of the connections are made by legendary wiring master Rywire with a mil-spec SR20 harness. Switching for lights and accessories is achieved through a Rywire keypad. Speedhut gauges gives vital information and speedometer readings while a Datsun Competition steering wheel (with matching shift knob) gives steering feedback as the driver and passenger sit in a pair of 09 Racing bucket seats while the ‘plus two’ sit in a custom rear seat.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-15
2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-9

From the control arms to the coilovers to the hubs, the suspension is a full suite of Arizona Z Car components. The wheels are RAYS Volk Racing TE37Vs in 17×9-inch -10 front and 17×9.5-inch -15 rear for that proper lip a classic sports car needs, with a set of Nitto NT01 tires in 225/45R17 front and 255/40R17 rear. Behind the classic-looking forged wheels are Wilwood 6-piston front and 4-piston rear brakes.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-3

With more power than stock, you need a drivetrain to match it. A Silvia 5-speed transmission is more than up to the task, but an ACT XTSS clutch gives bite to the lightweight 10.5-pound flywheel. From the output shaft, the driveshaft spins up a Q45 R200 differential with a Tomei 1.5-way limited slip differential. This ensures that the rear tires get proper traction with a little bit of lock as you get on the brakes to help keep the chassis square under initial braking. The rear axles are also an upgraded and custom pair.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-2

Now we get to the part that just catches your eyes – the Leaf Green Metallic laid on the 280Z. However, the body isn’t stock as it features a custom made contoured rear pan to replace the bumper. The BRE rear wing brings out memories of the classic road racers but a little bit of British thanks to the 280Z’s 2+2 body. ZG flares front and rear attached by Downstar hardware allow those far wider than stock wheels and chunky tires to sit under a body part rather than out in the open. A 240Z front bumper replaces the 280’s with a Type 1 ducted air dam directing air away from the underbody. Of course, you can’t have a JDM-inspired Z without a set of Nissan’s original fender mirrors.

2017 SEMA Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-1

I think it’s safe to say that this will be a Nissan and a Japanese car that hot rodders and JDM-heads alike will be able to sit back and say, ‘yeah, that’s awesome.’ As the Z goes beyond classic car and into the collector realm, builds like these will probably start to become harder to find. And that’s part of what makes this build by Big Mike and Richard Rawlings with Gas Monkey Garage so special in the end. It also makes us look forward to their next projects.

Could we potentially see Mike do a hot rod? Could Richard finally build a Honda? Maybe they’ll collaborate again? Only time will tell…

Words by Justin Banner
Instagram: jb27tt
Facebook: racerbanner
Twitter: RacerBanner

Photos by Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos



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There was a time when the 2+2 was considered the hot trash of the z car fleet. But, like the second gen camaro and the vanagon, time has been kind to these ugly siblings.


I consider it to be a highly overlooked chassis.


After doing a bit of poking around I figured out where the extra room came from. The wheelbase on the 2+2 is a full foot longer than the standard s30 chassis. And with that comes a chassis I'm sure is better at speed or on the freeway but not as butt-sensitive as I remember my old z cars to be. I'm sure however that any z car that exceeds 300 hp really could use the extra wheelbase, (said the guy that backed his datto into the ditch).


Yeah I'll have to agree with ya. There are some angles on the 2+2 that make me really like them. Too bad I don't have the money lol


LOL I'm with you on that one


That is something pretty special. Is the rear window heat element really the same colour as the body?
If so that's a pretty cool detail.


It is not the same color. That is the original stock glass.


I hope it is and not a byproduct of dodgy lighting.


I think it's dodgy lighting TBH.




I dig it, love what they've done with this car and can see all the good hard work they put into it!!! Get you some of that!!!


Thank you! Watch the episodes and let me know what you think.


That colour is stunning! I would love to see the build footage of this.


There will be two episodes on the build in the future





I wonder if they televised the creation of this beast. And this would be the absolute LAST thing I would expect to see from a shop that mainly builds hot rods and muscle cars.


It hasn’t aired yet. There are two episodes on our build process and the story.


Terry, I'm right there with you. I saw Gas Monkey in the title, then I saw that it had TE37Vs (not a brand I'd ever expect to be used by them), then I clicked into the article and saw Big Mike, and the SR in the bay (not an LS!). This thing is so far outside the box for GMG... and it was built from a true 'tuner' perspective. I hope to god they filmed it. I don't watch much TV, but Fast N' Loud is one of my favorites. Awesome car, considering the minds involved.

There was an RB-swapped 240Z on Bitchin' Rides once. Not a full build, just a small side feature, but the crew absolutely loved it, and it still surprised the hell out of me to see it get real screen time on a domestic car show.


Thank you. You honor me with your words. It hasn’t aired yet but there are two episodes showing the build coming up.


As far as I'm aware, they have. I seen Big Mike being filmed at different stages of the event. Can't wait to see the process on TV because this is a quality JDM build.


Thank you, Paddy. And yes, it’ll be on the show.


Wow, that's really on point! It actually stands out from the crowd because it's not super excessive in any way - the tires fit the wheels, the wheels fit the arches. The details all seem thought out and are consistent. Nuts! :D


Thank you! Those words mean a lot. It was meant to be subtle and have the small details stand out when observed.


Thank you! I'm all about subtleties and the "less is more" approach.


That looong body! Great build, probably one of the only chassis that looks right with bolt on flares. Unreal shots Paddy.


Thank you! And yes, Paddy's shots are so good!


Thank you very much!


One of the best cars Gas Monkey has ever done!


It's an honor to have been called in to design their first ever import build


That's a huge compliment. I'm honored to have been called in to design it and be a part of the process.


Yeah man, love the clean look while very well stated design wise. Great use of parts. Looks both modern and retro at the same time. This would be a keeper for life.


Say what you want about Gas Monkey. But this is exactly what I imagine in my mind when I think about a 280z. So simple, yet so good. If I ever were to build one, I would copy this one from bumper to bumper.


Thank you very much. Simple, subtle, and classy. That was my end goal with this design.


Thank you. I paid special attention to staying true to the lineage and history of the car, and to accent and compliment the lines of the car, not change them.


Goes to show that with a little love, what’s often considered the ugly duckling can become a swan




I’d like to take a moment and thank Speedhunters for always showing me love. Thank you Justin for the article, I’m honored by the words. The community has been abuzz about this build and I’m honored that my design has been so well accepted. I’ve had the ideas in my mind of how a 2+2 should be done for years, so it’s quite surreal to see it become a reality. And it was an honor to be looked to as the man to bridge worlds and design


this famous Hot Rod’s shop first import build. Thank you to Paddy for the crisp photos, they are awesome.

And thanks to all of you for the kind words. Please take the time to check me out on IG @thebigmike and watch Fast N Loud next season to see the build process we went through.


They really did a very good job, the paint fits perfectly with the car and gives it an oldschool look with a modern touch, very GMG.


Maintaining a period-correct, era-specific feel was very important to me. The modernization of the powerplant, electronics and suspension are where the car segues to being a flat out race car. But "less is more" is certainly my approach when it comes to aesthetics... most of the time.


Anyone who puts any kind of 4-banger in this car should burn in hell for all eternity. For god's sake, at least RB, JZ or any other inline-6, if you need swapping....


Clean and mean. The formula used to make this car works with all custom cars. Keep it simple and clean and you can never go wrong. JDM, Hot Rod, Muscle Car, Rat’s all good.




I tend to agree with your perspective :)


I'm going to have to call out Speedhunters here for their focus on JDM, Euro, and JDM/Euro-inspired builds. Gas Monkey Garage has had very little coverage on this site over the years, and in one case it was for a Ferrari. Western car culture is suffering from a massive, rampant obsession with JDM in particular, and it needs to stop. Let's get some USDM respect up in here.


That would be great, however our audience numbers have been stronger on JDM and European Vehicle coverage than US Domestics and Trucks unless it's a Ken Block or Vaughn Gittin Jr build. Honestly, I would love to do more and if you guys, our audience and fans, want to see more you have to prove it by liking, commenting, and sharing the hell out of any of our US Domestic coverage.


You guys should go hit up some SCCA Track Nights in America, the National Autosport Association, or the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street car events, for starters. Speedhunting is happening at tracks all across the US. Get out of the parking lots and showcar scenes and onto the road courses where the real grassroots stuff happens and you'll find a whole different culture with a ton of feature-worthy USDM cars.


I was at OUSCI this weekend and you're absolutely right, but again, it's not an issue with getting US Domestic content. Far from it. It's what our audience reacts best to and, unfortunately, it's not US cars or trucks. Our viewership tanks when compared to our European and Japanese coverage. I want to do it, just ask Paddy or Dino, my knowledge on US cars and engines blew them away. We just don't get the traction on those articles.


I enjoy USDM quite a bit, and we've featured some astounding builds over the years but more often than not, they were largely ignored. Maybe it's time to re-visit them?


(Posted this in the wrong place earlier)

I'll have to see how many more people I can get involved then because that in and of itself is the problem. Even Americans don't care about American car culture anymore unless it's someone who has already achieved memetic status. We've got people who would rather have a Trueno than a Camaro and it's absolutely sad to see.

And then I see your articles on Ireland & the UK and it's... almost the same. It's as if somehow, we're being pushed toward a Japan-based one-world order of car culture, and it genuinely makes me sad to see. Same is bad. Local differences in car culture, whatever the culture was like in those places before, should be preserved and treasured. But instead everyone fanboys JDM car culture.

I did see quite a few US brands mentioned in this build, which does my heart good to see. I do have one nitpick with it, but I can't really think of a good way to say it, even if it is something pretty simple to say.


Guess you better and start educating your audience then ;)


I have to say that is one of the cleanest Z builds i've seen and there are quite a few around at the moment. That back end with the way it's been cleaned of any holes is just lovely and the flares are perfect.
Kudos to Big Mike for this one, smashed it out of the park.


Build is good, quality - superb, but something is missing....when looking to whole package this 280 is too cliche, soul element of this car?! Can't find it yet, it looks too polite


Believe in the communities (at least here in Australia) they call them buses... never really understood it. I'm the proud owner of a 2+2 and while not as pretty as the 2 seater I still love the look of them and the ability to occasionally take passengers for very short trips!


Only thing I dont like is the SR engine. Z-cars should always have 6 cylinders. Its like putting a 3s-gte in a Supra :/ Btw SRs are just everywhere theese days.


This was my favorite car at SEMA. I have a 75 280z with a VQ35hr swap (08 350z). I just wanted to keep looking at it and never wanted to leave. Nice job!!!


This might be a really stupid question, but does this car have AC? I used to have a redtop swapped Nissan 240sx and hated not having a.c. cuz I live in california. I think you'd have to custom fab a way for a.c. to be used with this combo