Owning a classic car isn’t for everyone.
Speaking from experience (my first ever car was a 1969 VW Beetle), classic car ownership is often character-building, somewhat frustrating, occasionally testing, and sometimes really good fun. The exact mix of those varies hugely from person-to-person and car-to-car, but my personal encounter was one of spending almost as much time fixing or ignoring problems than driving the thing.
It’s this exact issue that stops me from owning another classic at this stage in my life, and probably puts a lot of other people off too. But thankfully, now in 2019, restomodding is in boom.
Small, independent companies are taking mass-produced classic cars and giving them a new lease of life. They’re making owning and driving a classic as easy as doing so in a modern car.
MZR Roadsports in Bradford, England is one such company. If you want a proper look behind the scenes at what they do, then read this first. Their work is often compared to Singer’s – it’s wonderfully subtle – but I’m here now to show you their most out-there creation to date: this 1972 one-of-a-kind widebody Datsun 240Z.
Obviously, the biggest difference between this particular car and the usual turn-key solutions that MZR offer is the exterior appearance, so let’s focus on that first.
The main talking point is the drastically widened wheel arches. Going by MZR’s mantra of doing the job properly, you should know by now that these aren’t universal bolt-on jobs, and there’s not a strand of fibreglass to be found within them either.
The team at MZR hand-crafted the 35mm-wider front and 90mm-wider rear fenders from steel, completely from scratch. The lines from the beefed-up fenders carry through into the custom front lower valance at the business end and sweep down beneath the chrome rear bumper at the party end.
They remind me of the bolt-on, rivets-exposed overfenders that you often see on JDM-inspired Zs in their shape, but much more permanent and with one key difference – the change in fender profile from front to rear helps accentuate the Z’s OEM rear haunches and that iconic rear window and roof line.
Compared to a stock-body 240Z, where the front fenders are reasonably subtle, the rears are absolutely gigantic in three-quarter view, yet in profile view they seem almost the same shape, and so are nicely balanced.
It’s a rare thing – a widebody conversion that’s actually been done well and with consideration for the shape and lines of the car first and foremost. If the 240Z was Japan’s version of an American muscle car, then MZR’s widebody transformation only exaggerates the claim.
Calling these cavernous new fenders home is a set of MZR’s own custom three-piece wheels, measuring 17×10-inches up front and 17×11-inches out back and wrapped in 245/40R17 and 255/40R17 rubber, respectively.
There’s a clear nod to a Z favourite wheel here – it’s a Watanabe-inspired design with the edges sharpened up to differentiate them from the classic JDM origins and bring them more up-to-date.
Hiding behind the dark grey spokes is MZR’s own – again custom – fast road brake package. This is a street car first and foremost, and a fairly svelte one at that going by modern standards, so huge stoppers aren’t needed.
Having said that, the 300mm rotor with lightweight aluminium 4-pot front calliper setup and 280mm rotor, single-pot rear setup should still bring things to a halt quick enough.
Elsewhere around the exterior the changes are subtle to the untrained eye. New OEM stainless bumpers have replaced worn counterparts, whilst MZR refreshed all of the glass in the car with brand new, untarnished items. The front grille is a custom billet item.
A nice upswept ducktail spoiler finishes off the boot lid, whilst at the front a deeper front air dam adds a bit of aggression and is finished with a carbon fibre lower splitter.
There’s more restrained use of carbon fibre scattered around too. The mirrors and exhaust tips are the only other immediately obvious items, however the bumper air intakes and rear light garnish are also fabricated from the lightweight composite weave.
MZR shifted the stock exhaust exit position and placed it slap-bang in the middle of the rear lower valance, adding symmetry to the rear end. It’s from this angle that you can really appreciate just how much wider this car is than a stock-bodied Z.
The body is coated in a custom grey metallic; the colour shifts from grey to bronze and brown depending on the light.
It’s the perfect hue for a slightly gloomy day on the moors, with the metal flakes shimmering in the occasional burst of sunlight we’re treated to.Zephyr
Swing open the driver’s door and a classy interior welcomes you. Lightweight MZR sports seats are finished in black Nappa leather, complemented by leather basket weave door cards. At your fingertips sits a deep-dish wheel, also finished in leather.
A Porsche 917-inspired wooden shifter contrasts with the otherwise sleek body-coloured centre console, while an array of gauges and dials stare back at your from their the wheel and across the top of the dash.
At first glance it looks like a really nicely refinished OEM interior, but then you notice little touches that would have never been possible back in 1972. There’s a push-button start tucked away where the key would normally go, and on the opposite side a USB port for 12V charging.
Although the gauges look original they’re all custom, fully electronic and nicely backlit. There are small quality of life improvements all around me, the sorts of things that you do start to miss after driving a classic car. The heating system has been brought up to date and the windscreen wiper configuration has been replaced with a modern equivalent – both essential upgrades unless you’re planning to keep the car hidden away during winter up north in the UK.
The controls are replaced with modern illuminated buttons and dials. Every single bulb, interior and exterior is now an LED item. The radio looks like it could be an OEM original unit, but it’s actually a more modern DAB Bluetooth setup with the aerial tucked away discreetly in the windscreen.
None of this really feels at odds with the car’s timely design.
The custom T45 roll bar above my head is so subtle that I don’t notice it until I’ve been sitting in the car for a good few minutes, and it’s certainly not intrusive in any way. This no longer feels like you’re sitting in an older car, although MZR have somehow managed to retain the charm of doing so.
Behind the two front seats the rear luggage area is finished in Swiss heather-loop carpet, as are the front footwells. Having your belongings arrive at the back of your head during a spot of spirited driving is less than ideal, so leather luggage straps are provided to keep everything tied down.
The rear strut towers are left partly exposed and partly wrapped in the same basket weave leather as the front door cards. From here you can easily adjust the rear BC Racing coilovers (which MZR specified the valving and damping rate for). Every single surface and fitting has been finished to the highest quality. It’s a very, very nice place to spend time.Zesty
As impressive as MZR’s craft is on the outside, it’s what’s underneath the skin that sets this Z apart. With a reputation for making these old Datsuns very much drivable, as you’d expect everything that you can’t immediately see has either been replaced, refurbished or modernised in some way, shape or form.
We’ve already mentioned the adjustable coilover suspension front and rear – this is bolstered by a fully adjustable geometry setup that allows almost every conceivable angle to be adjusted to suit, while custom upgraded linkage shafts and universal joints are all complimented with spherical joint adjustable track rod ends.
Overkill for a road car? Maybe, but as MZR were refreshing everything underneath anyway it made sense to upgrade what they could.
Uprated sway bars front and rear help keep body roll under control, whilst a lightweight uprated steering rack and speed-sensitive (and adjustable) electric power steering has been added.
The drivetrain has been uprated using a rebuilt Nissan SR20 5-speed transmission and heavy duty rear axle conversion. A modern 3.9 final drive LSD helps deliver power to the ground via those substantial rear wheels.
Lift the front-hinged bonnet and you’re greeted by the glorious sight of a 3.1-litre stroked and forged L28 inline six that looks almost as good as it sounds.
The modernisation continues with this classic power-plant too – MZR have converted the engine to a more modern electronic fuel injection setup along with a drive-by-wire throttle system. There’s even a switchable map for ‘Sport’ or ‘Race’ modes.
The wiring loom has been completely overhauled too, with a motorsport-spec lightweight loom complete with a central ECU that allows every electronic item on the car to be monitored and controlled.
Whilst keeping their cards close to their chest, MZR tell me that it has been designed by a team that “works within Formula 1.” So it’s probably pretty good.
MZR’s own custom inlet manifold sits sandwiched between the brand new block and six noisy Jenvey throttle bodies with custom trumpets and individual air filters. As much as possible is tucked away out of sight to keep the engine bay clean and simple.
What you also can’t see is the custom baffled high-capacity fuel cell complete with in-tank anti-surge pump. The owner specified that he wanted to do some long-range driving in Europe in the car, so MZR designed the setup with this in mind.
MZR’s own design of exhaust manifold guides the spent gasses away from the block and through a custom stainless system. Matched with the bark of the intake, you certainly hear this Z coming, although the noise remains inoffensive at a steady cruise.
Out on the road, the MZR widebody has a great presence. Cruising through traditional Yorkshire villages pedestrians stop and stare – at first with a bit of distrainment for whatever is making the racket, which quickly transforms into admiration when they see the Datsun.
While we’re shooting we have several people stop and ask us about the car. No-one has a bad word to say – cars like this are extremely amicable to everyone, and MZR’s touches here are somehow both sensitive to the car’s original design whilst transforming it into something completely different.
I’ve always thought that it takes a certain type of person to own a classic car, but MZR have kind of made my point irrelevant. They’ve created a near 50-year-old Datsun that’s as easy and reliable to run as anything you can drive out of a Nissan showroom today.
It’s just a damn sight better looking I’d say.