My name is Brandon Miller and I was pretty much born into the obsession with cars. Growing up in the ’80s raised by a single dad with a love of Datsun and Porsche exposed me to some really cool stuff from the get go.
One of the most vivid childhood memories were of the Datsun 510 shells that lay in our backyard and the many days spent pretending to drive them. There were also 240Zs, 911s and 912s in the driveway at times, but what I always loved the most was my dad’s ’87 Maxima SE and the ’87 Pathfinder. I know the others were and still are much cooler and more desirable.
As I got my license in the mid-1990s, I just had to have an ’87 Maxima SE as my first car. Followed by a ’92 Maxima SE. Those cars received mild upgrades like wheels, springs and stereos. Over the last 20 years, there have been many cars I’ve been lucky enough to modify more heavily with some amazing friends. The first was in 2001 with an S14.
I picked up a junkyard 1995 240SX in base trim with an automatic transmission in addition to a large hole in the valve cover. I then found a complete Nissan Silvia front clip, and with the help of one of my oldest friends learned the basics, and ultimately did some pretty significant work on the car. Doing it all ourselves not only provided a great sense of accomplishment and confidence, but also saved a ton of money.
What I learned from creating that car led to one project after another. There’s been a BMW E39 Touring with an LSX 427/T56 swap…
A BMW E38 M7 with an ESS supercharged M5 S62 swap…
Followed by a very minor but equally impactful update to an incredible R30 Nissan Skyline which was sold last year.
Other highlights include a ’72 Datsun 510, turbo BMW E34 M50 525i, Volvo P2 V70R, Nissan D21 pickup, Mercedes-Benz W211 E55 Weistec, BMW E39 M5, another BMW E38 740i, and then my current third-gen Toyota Tacoma and S212 E63 Mercedes-Benz AMG wagon projects, which also act as daily drivers.
Although it all started with Nissan, the bulk of the time in the last 10 to 15 years was spent on German cars. Then, three years ago, Nissan lured me back in.
My dad has always wanted me to get a Z. He currently has five immaculate and well-modded 240Zs as well as a Z32 300ZX. He even owns a mint Acura NSX. I never wanted a 240Z or a Z32 for some reason, and none of the other generations did anything for me. Especially not the 280Z/ZXs nor Z31 300s. Then one day, out of nowhere, the Z31 just started to grow on me.
The ’80s had always been so influential to me, and perhaps that nostalgia once I hit my mid-to-late 30s helped me appreciate them more. It was just a minor thought at first, but I started to think about Z31s more and more by the day until I couldn’t stop imagining building one.
It’s hard to recall what moment it was exactly, but I do remember one day posting on Instagram with a stock Z31 photo and captioned it something like “Thinking this will be next”. Since then, I have a habit of posting something like that on a whim and then the actual car will be posted within a few months. It happened with the Z31, R31, R30, and then with the E63 AMG.
After the post, the daily search commenced. In studying the Z31 online, I came to the conclusion that I only wanted an ’86 due to the ’87 to ’89 fenders, but with the older 240Z-inspired tail lights. An analogue dash and black cloth interior was also a requirement. I was open to anything else so long as the interior was clean and there was little to no rust.
If there is one lesson I’ve learned in building project cars it’s to always start with the best base you can. The little parts add up far more than the savings made by purchasing something in rough shape.
Picking back up on AutoTempest, which is my personal go-to site for daily searching cars across the country, there was a Z that had been on the usual sites a few months prior and caught my eye the most. The car looked great and the mileage and color was right, but the asking price was too high. I continued looking daily for another few months, then one morning the just-mentioned Z31’s price dropped by $2K. I bought it within the hour.
There was a crystal clear vision in my head for a Z31 and it was based on the original Nissan S30 Z432 powered by the almighty Nissan S20 engine. The example that inspired me the most was the Z432 R which were often painted 920 Safari Gold with gunmetal wheels. 920 Safari Gold is also the color of my favorite 240Z in my dad’s collection, and the car with the most important back story for him and I. The 4-3-2 is in reference to that S20 engine shared with the original Skyline GT-R; the moniker represents the four valves per cylinder, triple carbs and twin cams.
Knowing the S20 would be far out of my price range, the original plan was to do an L-series swap which would be fully built. Ironically, the price of building an L-series to the level I wanted was what turned me off it, leading to search for an RB20 from a JDM Z31 200ZR or possibly even an RB25.
I ended up visiting my long-time friends at Japanese Classics/Japan Parts Service who just so happened to have a naturally aspirated RB25 with long-tube headers, and my full vision just revealed itself in an instant. Using a naturally aspirated RB would be the perfect solution, and would better represent the original inspiration. The irony was me not knowing that building a naturally aspirated RB while trying to get the most power possible would prove to be more expensive than the L-series. However, in the end, it would look better, should sound almost as good as an F1 car or sport bike, rev like the latter, and also be easier to bolt in since the Z31 was available in Japan with an RB. Electronic ignition and crossflow, in theory, should be a better platform to make power. This power plant would also be a direct tie to the original 432 with an RB26 head having four valves per cylinder, triple throttle bodies and twin cams
Although this project started out as a budget build with a 12-month time frame, it’s just kept evolving into something more special. At each step, I’ve focused on attention to detail, which just makes the next step that much more important. It’s now become a three-plus-year build that is basically a full nut and bolt restomod. Time is no longer really even a consideration as it’s more important for me to have everything done right.
It’s hard to comprehend how far this project has come, how much longer it took than expected, but more importantly, how close it is now to being finished. It has also been truly amazing to make so many new friends in addition to the number of people who have been along for the ride on social media and shown their appreciation.
As mentioned, the goal for this car was to really make it look like a Z432-inspired Z31 restomod. Requirements were the 920 Safari Gold paint, gunmetal RS Watanabe wheels, an extremely low static height with ideal handling, naturally aspirated RB engine and gunmetal trim. It had to keep the bodywork pretty close to how the Z31 Shiro Special looked, and would also have to sport a minimal shaved engine bay. Luckily I found some talented digital artists on Instagram who helped me bring the vision to the screen as a template. Remarkably, the car is coming out exactly the same.
I must admit that although I used to do much of the work myself on my cars, the Z31 was mostly brought to fruition by some talented friends of mine as well as companies I have found to be the best in their fields.
I still do some of the work and will be putting the car back together, but the biggest appreciation should be directed towards my good friend I have known since age 15, Mike Poore, the body and paintwork of Paul ‘Seamus’ Rogers/Concept Color, the RB parts supplier Raw Brokerage, my machinist Mike Clemons, Freed Engineering, and countless other providers like Innovative Engines Engineering, Supertech Performance, Tomei, Nitto Performance Parts, Ross Performance, Haltech, CP-Carrillo, Feal Suspension, PartsShopMax, Platinum Racing Products, Radium Engineering, Racing Service Watanabe, Lonely Driver Company, Renown, TechnoToyTuning, Bride Japan, Brembo, Toyo Tires, Remade in the USA, HN Engineering, Wiring Specialties, Mako Motorsports, EFI Hardware, Japan Parts Service, plus anyone else I’ve forgotten to mention.
Thanks for tuning in and I’m looking forward to sharing more in Part 2…
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