The road to getting this project car finished has been a long and challenging one. Yet, all the hard work has paid off and it’s actually been incredibly rewarding.
It’s hard for me to believe that Project Z31 432R started half my son’s life ago, almost four years to the day. I’d really like to thank my wife for putting up with my car obsession.
I would encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with my build, to have a look at my two previous Speedhunters features here and here. There is so much to this car that it’s hard to capture it all in one place, however, I will try to summarize and revisit a few key aspects in this final post.
In summary, my dad has been a Z enthusiast since 1971. Having grown up admiring muscle cars, it was his first trip to Road Atlanta that year where he watched Jon Morton tear up the esses in the BRE Datsun 240Z that changed his entire view on automobiles. Soon after, he bought his first Datsun, a used series 1 1970 240Z. He proceeded to build the engine, add flares and paint it black. I was born in 1979, and saw a lot of cool cars come and go from our driveway while I was growing up. My dad currently has five immaculate 240Zs, a Z32 300ZX and even an Acura NSX. His desire for me to own a Z has always had me thinking of what I could do, but having spent most of my days modifying BMWs, for a long time I put the idea on the back burner.
I don’t recall exactly what triggered it, but one day I decided I was ready to build a Z. What I didn’t want to do though, was use the same chassis my dad was using. This only left me with a few options, all of which were considered the undesirables, to put it mildly.
Admittedly, I too disliked the Z31 chassis for much of my life, but one day they started to grow on me. I attribute it to my obsession with the 1980s. It’s quite odd to think back on the fact that the car I have spent the most time and money on in my life is one that I despised for the longest time. It seems that my favorite project cars tend to come from underdogs in a way. The Volvo wagon, BMW 7 Series, BMW 5 Series wagon, AMG wagon etc. Did I mention I am also obsessed with station wagon/estates?
When I first started this project, I knew I wanted to build something nice, but I had a reasonably small budget in mind and a relatively short timeline. It was built simply because I wanted something fun and classic that was old-school-fast – a car in which you could use every single horsepower on the street if desired and not die or go to jail doing so. Sound and rev response would be paramount. It was never intended to be a show car, nor make its debut at SEMA.
I don’t even recall the exact moment I became aware of how special it would become. This project did teach me to become more patient, though. When you slow down and stop the rush, you can take your time and do a better job. With the number of years it took to complete this car, it gave me ample time to focus on individual components. And once one item was perfected, whatever was next to it deserved the same attention to detail, right? It almost became a curse to where perfection was the only option. I definitely remember restoring the windshield wiper motor as a turning point. It can honestly become difficult to go down this path as it can really stress you out. I will be the first one to tell you that the further I got into building this car, the less it seemed the car would likely be driven. I’ve not been shy about stating this in the past.
The key for this build has been sticking with the original vision and staying laser focused. There were a few items that were left out and/or changed from that vision, like the choice to keep the rear quarter window trim rather than trying to make the car look more modern by deleting it. The original plan was to have a rear cage and no rear bumper, but those ideas were abandoned early on after much debate. The car became less race-inspired and more street-focused, which was obviously the correct path looking at the final product.
I utilized digital artist Oleg Markaryan early on, and it’s remarkable how true to his original rendering the car has turned out. It’s really only short of the rear skirts, which unfortunately just didn’t fit tight enough against the body for me to install prior to SEMA.
I knew from the first few months what the color was, which wheels it would have and what the engine bay needed to look like. It’s incredibly rewarding to see these visions come to life, although it still doesn’t even feel real to me. All that being said, there were still plenty of moments that I felt the car wouldn’t come together. I wanted to give up on numerous occasions as it seemed much of the progress was one step forward and then two steps back. But the trials and tribulations from all of this just increase the value of the reward you feel in the end.
Let’s fast forward to discuss how this car made it to the 2021 SEMA Show…
Since 2000, I have built a number of cars which are often described as OEM+. My first real build was an S14 240SX that I transformed into a Silvia. That was before forums/social media. Shortly after, I bought my first BMW and spent the next 10+ years focusing on that marque. It was on a BMW forum, 15 years ago, that I started interacting with Mike Burroughs of StanceWorks. Mike and I seemed to have a similar affinity for cars, styling and we both were getting interested in photography. We have kept in touch ever since and I am proud to call Mike a friend. Although we have never met in person, we talk online quite often.
As Mike was following along with the build, it was about year two that I started to realize this car might be up to SEMA standards. Since Mike had some experience with showing cars at the Las Vegas show, I looked to him for thoughts on the matter. Mike indicated that the car would have a chance and introduced me to Stan Chen, Events Manager at Toyo Tires. I sent Stan the required information along with a rendering to which he replied I should be good to go. However, I still had to wait for the official acceptance. You don’t know if you are official until August, right before SEMA. You are also not able to share this publicly, nor are you allowed to post any finished photos of the vehicle.
The initial acceptance was for SEMA 2020, but we all know how that panned out. Not to mention the fact that with the disruption to the global supply chain, the progress on the project almost came to a halt. Luckily, Stan had extended the offer for my spot in the Toyo Treadpass to 2021.
In the end, the extra time allowed me to continue building the car without cutting any corners. I used this time as motivation to have a completely finished car. Countless people have told me that many cars at SEMA are cobbled together at the last minute and many don’t even run. This was not acceptable for me; the car needed to be finished, streetable, running and driving, or I didn’t want to show it at all.
During the course of the last year, I was able to discover two other car builders I interact with – Leo Reece Graves has the Lexus GS time attack build and Carlos Bonilla, AKA PakmanZ, has the wide-body Z32 – would also be showcased in the Treadpass. It was comical how we all found out as we would message one another while not being able to reveal the news. I recall Leo, Carlos and I finding out about the acceptance around the same time, and we tried to guess each other’s news. We ended up asking what the first letter of our sponsored booths were and when we all said ‘T’, we immediately knew. It has been fun discussing preparations for the event with them. It also made it more enjoyable to spend time with these people at the show. I have made life long friends that I will never forget.
Once accepted into SEMA, it takes quite a bit of preparation to get the logistics in order, and I felt so overwhelmed having never done anything like this before. Given I reside in Virginia, which is about as far as you can be from Las Vegas and still in the continental US, my main concern was transportation. The first consideration was Reliable Auto Carriers, but obviously they would be the most expensive. Having called around to a few other places, I decided that Reliable wasn’t going to cost that much more, and therefore was the best choice given their great reputation. I cannot emphasize enough how good they actually are. Everything went exactly to plan.
Accommodation was a concern as well, but I ended up staying in the closest hotel to the Treadpass, which was only about a 10-minute walk each way. Las Vegas International Airport is run very well, and I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient they are. In summary, every concern I had ended up being a non-issue. The entire trip went as smooth as you could imagine.
After acceptance, getting the car ready for the event was all hands on deck. I found myself working on the car until the last week before the transporter turned up, poring over every inch to make sure no detail was left unfinished nor uncleaned. It was at that time that I decided to install the cheap universal-fit eBay rear interior blinds/louvers, a detail that a lot people seem to love. In the month prior, I had my friend Charles Jones spend around 50 hours wet sanding and buffing the paint to a mirror-like finish. Charles is well known locally for his skills. In fact, I would argue the paint got the highest praise from those at the event. The gentlemen tasked with keeping everything clean during the week had indicated the Z had the best finish of any vehicle within the Treadpass.
While at SEMA, many people told me that the show was watered down for 2021; there was more empty space and less people than usual. From my personal perspective, this made it ideal. It felt more social, and you were able to have a good look at the vehicles. It felt easier to have conversations and meet people. For me personally, it was meeting and interacting with all the people that made the trip the most enjoyable. The smaller event also seemingly gave more attention to those vendors who decided to go ahead with the show.
Having a exhibitor pass also allowed me to walk around before and after hours, which was incredible. The number of quality builds was quite overwhelming. Unfortunately, even though I saw so much, there was still about 50% of the show I never got to. It’s definitely not easy when you’ve got a car on display.
I had also invited my lead fabricator, Billy Freed, as well as my painter, Paul ‘Seamus’ Rogers, and wanted to introduce them to others and showcase their skills. It’s important that the people who do top-notch work get recognized for their incredible talent.