Ten Years, Six Figures & One Nasty Z
Family Affair

Before you think ‘oh look, another Z article’ let me be clear in stating that this is absolutely not your typical Z story. James Stephens is not your average Datsun owner who seems to be stuck in a constant building and selling cycle like many are.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing that. Hell, I have owned my fair share of cars and have gone through the whole ‘I’m bored with it so I’ll sell it and rebuild another car’ phase. But it really takes a special type of love to build one car for 10 years straight. Really let that sink in… A whole decade of building a car, progressing, digressing, fighting, hating, loving, yelling, cursing and so forth, yet still managing to find the passion within yourself to stick with one car to its completion.

It really is tough when you think about it.


With help, James bought his first Datsun 240Z back in 1985, when he was still in high school. His parents promised to cover half the cost if he would front the other half, on any car of his choice. James had his mind set on buying a Z as he felt it was a true classic with nostalgic design and endless capabilities for potential to build and make it your own. That specific car was kept until 1994, when family priorities forced a regretful sale of the car.

At that point, James told himself that he would own another one day, and sure enough, come 2008, this current Z was purchased. There was only one vision in mind: In James’ own words, to “build the Z of my dreams.”

James’ family has a history of automotive enthusiasm. His father owned a 1964 Ford Falcon which was turbocharged, and his uncle owned a 1965 Ford Mustang GT350. Growing up, James was told stories of how his father and uncle would go over to drag racing legend Don “Big Daddy” Garlit’s shop in Tampa, Florida to hang out, help build cars and pick Garlit’s brain for expertise on how to improve their own. These stories had a huge influence on James’ decision to go turbo on the Z.

The same idea kind of flowed through James’ mind by choosing the Z car gurus over at Z Car Garage in downtown San Jose. Rob Fuller and his team have been known in the Nissan and Datsun community for decades, and have built some of the best Zs to ever hit the pavement. They have done everything from full factory restorations to six-figure, OS Giken TC24-powered restomods, so James’ choice couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Onto The Details

James had seen numerous unconventional builds throughout the years, everything from Chevy, to Ford and even Toyota motors being swapped into Zs. Though his car is not necessarily a purist build, he wanted to retain a factory Nissan SOHC inline six, with a little more oomph.

After researching for a few years and taking inspiration from other Zs on the Nissan forums, James made the decision to go with a Rebello Racing-built L-series, which boasted an incredible 3.2 liters of capacity. What he ended up with was specced with an LD crank, JE forged pistons, an Isky cam, oversized valves and a crank trigger system, then finally mated with a modest Garrett GTX3576R ball-bearing turbo and all the supporting ancillaries. Some notable touches are the unique Nissan ‘Turbo’ valve cover, a sleek wire tuck in the engine bay, and endless amounts of polished aluminum. The Z makes just over 520whp at a modest 21psi boost, but that number may increase in the future if James decides to up the pressure a bit.

Of course, you can’t have that sort of power without proper stabilization. Mated to the 3.2L engine is a Hoke Performance 6-speed manual transmission, custom aluminum drive shaft, OS Giken limited slip differential, Ground Control coilover suspension, and loads of Techno Toy Tuning suspension bits including control arms and urethane bushings.


The wheels are RAYS Volk Racing TE37Vs in 17×9-inch and 17×11-inch fitments front and rear respectively, while stopping power comes from Z Car Garage’s in-house engineered 4-piston big brake kit.


Moving onto the exterior, the color of choice is Ferrari’s Grigio Silverstone, which matches perfectly with the extensive amounts of carbon found all around the car, including the rear panel, Retro-spec front air dam, and Retro-spec ZG fender flares.

When I met up with James, he mentioned that the car had been sent back to the shop three times to ensure every bit of body work was absolutely perfect. There’s no waves and no orange peel, and the perfectly aligned panels and mirror finish really help set this Z apart from the other restomods you generally see on the roads. It genuinely looks better than it did from the factory.


But of course, James couldn’t do all of this without tying it all together with the interior. The first thing that hits you right in the face is the gorgeous Alcantara-wrapped dash. Old Z cars are infamous for having wrecked dashes since they were made of cheap plastic and had years of hot summer sun rays beating down on them. Not to mention, the glare you get from the factory dash makes it really hard to see. So James’ solution is not only beautiful, but practical as well.

Recaro SPG seats paired with Takata Racing harnesses help keep the driver at home, and a full Haltech IQ3 Street digital display allows for precision reading when on the road. Finishing touches include custom Z floor mats, a custom Hertz Audio sound system, and Momo racing steering wheel.

Get Motivated

All said and done, James’ 10-year vision is slowly coming to completion. It’s been an epic journey that has faced numerous forks in the road, which has ultimately led to bringing this dream Z to life.

I’ve always found stories like this to be the most interesting, as they show promise to those of us who simply fail to see the finish line. I’m sure there are countless numbers of you guys going through this same process, including myself with my own Z, but I want everyone who reads this to soak it up and genuinely feel that motivation in getting your projects done. I know I felt it while putting this feature together.

Naveed Yousufzai 
Instagram: eatwithnaveed



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Z of the Year, easily!




Easily the BEST sounding L-series on the planet. If you haven't heard it in person you are missing out. Great article!


first car, sounds like it eats puppies.


VERY nice Z indeed, personally I am one of your readers that NEVER gets enough of the old Z's as it was my first real-car drive as a kid.
However, as a admitted detail freak I will point out that as nice as the dash wrap is, those wrinkles would KILL me (my own similar work I've done comes out that way too often, and takes a LOT of patience and work to fix) and that would have been another trip back to whoever did the work for detailing.
Doesn't change the overall product though, top-notch!


Great feedback, those clusters are very tricky, great feedback


Straightest body I've ever seen, gorgeous,perfect. I was extremely happy to see that L series in there, even if it was probably around 12k all in, perhaps more. Unless I win the powerball I'll just have to be happy with my 150hp L28e. No LS for me, thank you very much.


I never considered a swap, L series all the way, but yes, it cost $$$. Your not far off on guesstimate


I see that this isn't another "I AM THE SPEED HUNTER" post so is it safe to say Navheed is now fully on board?


He sure is, along with a few new faces and some other familiar ones...

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

He's been fully on board for a while now.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Those 17" wheels look too large for the car, but still a looker overall.


I totally agree, unfortunately wide tires only start in 17s and rims being built will sport 315s rear and 275s up front. Great comment


I thought the same, the one thing that i would change - 15" wheels, otherwise perfect 10/10.

Can such a presumably light car generate enough heat to make 315 tires work / seems unnecessarily large?

235/50/15 Toyo R888 simi slick or similar would be ideal imo

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Ah, so there's a reason to it. Well, if that is the only way, then there isn't much choice.


Fighting, hating, loving, yelling, - just those words alone are beautiful. Thanks.


And that was just the first 3 years....


that is a lot of money. I would have went OS Giken TCB engine


Maybe next go around if I have any energy left. The OS gikken is bad ass


Ten years? Newb. I've been building the same car for 34 years.


Lol haha. But it’s not done,

Daniel P Huneault

no car is ever done, its just at a different stage in its life lol I own a AE86 now for 11 years and its gone through 4 different stages(all to which I though I was done, driven,raced ect), and Now I'm considering a 5th :)


I'm with you! I am just 5 years in and trying to sort a 41 year family car. I feel ya!


I see that car and I don't see six figures. Check out the Hoonigans channel 5 year Frankenstein V8 Z build; that one might, it's a couple levels above.


If you've worked on Z-Cars, then you would understand the costs involved and the estimate given is easily digested by these cars when sourcing quality parts.
I can see that the car has been properly gone over from top to bottom, EASILY 6 figures if using top quality everything and done properly.


Totally respect your opinion, many many additional to details that can’t be seen. Unfortunately my extensive build sheet and invoices might beg to differ, however I so wish you were right


A beautiful machine.... but the old guy in me needs to ask... why do you need so much Horse Power? unless its a specific track car or built for the drags... it more than likely will barely if ever be fully used to it's fullest potential.....

its always more fun to drive a slow car fast, than to drive a fast car slow....


I intend to track it :) but do I need it, nope. Great feedback


Glad to hear it, I hope you will share your adventures with it.. with us.


Go pro mounts ready. Konis currently being built to same specs as #46 car that John Morten has been racing at historic events. The tokiko 5 ways with single adjustment isn’t cutting it....


Let me know if you decided to get rid of those adjustable Tokicos.
They are discontinued. Also have a L-ET S30.


No idea illuminas were discontinued, send me message on IG and I will keep you in the loop when Konis are done.


The wheels too, haha.


So actually it's a 33 years build in mind and 10 years of execution. The Alcantara is always nice addition, can i suggest to wrap the steering wheel also?
Good luck keeping that beauty and wish you'll never have to part ways again.


Let’s just say my original build in mind was much more simplistic but I got waasayyy carried away. It rather morphed into what it is today. I actually had the door panels wrapped in Alcantera few weeks ago after the shoot. Came out flawless. Thanks for comment:)


Inspirational to say the least. This is a stunner


I'm just at the bottom of the mountain looking up with my Z. I need to tie my laces and get on with the climb. Had it since April this year, it's hard knowing which direction you want to go as there are so many things the car could be.


A beautiful build, ten years well spent! All of the details blend in together really well which is something that I'm not seeing a lot of these days. Good work to the owner and a great article as well


Beauty of a car. This is damn near the exact car I've always wanted.


Easily one of my favorite Z's hung out with James and rode in it and let me tell you this thing is scary fast!




Sounds so mean! L series is the best thing for this car! Better than a conversion in terms of character and overall feel


I cant find mirrors on car, are there any?


Not yet, but some Long Stocks gonna be added to fenders soon :)