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1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship

Aircraft mechanic Gordon MacSwain has transformed his Datsun 240Z into a modern-day missile.

David Pratte
Dec 9, 2013
Photographer: Jeff Creech

Perhaps the worst kept secret in our scene these days is the growing popularity of classic Japanese car tuning. The S30 Z-cars are leading the charge just like they did 40 odd years ago when they showed the American sports car market there was more to life than ponycars and Corvettes. Even if you’re not into jetting carbs, rust repair, or scouring the Internet for out-of- production parts, you have to admit there’s something irresistible about the classic lines of a car like the Datsun 240Z.

For Gordon MacSwain, his journey into classic J-tin began when his two eldest sons got their own cars (a Nissan 240SX and a Honda Civic hatch) and started modifying them. His oldest son wanted to do an SR swap into his ’95 240SX, and as Gordon explained, “That’s when I started searching the web and picked up some knowledge about engine swaps. There is lots of great info out there; all you have to do is search and read. I was actually looking around for a Datsun 510 and kept seeing 240Zs for sale. I figured it would be perfect for an RB26 engine swap and was about the most badass-looking sports car out there.”

1970 datsun 240z custom front air dam Photo 2/9   |   1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship

Gordon bought this early ’70 Datsun 240Z back in February 2009. As he told us, “The car had been sitting in Tucson, Arizona, and had not moved for many, many years. The engine did not run, and everything made out of plastic or rubber was destroyed from the sun. The only shade it had seen was thanks to a surfboard mounted to the rear hatch. My dad drove over from Yuma to check the car out and said it was a keeper. From there, we had it transported back to Ohio [where Gordon lives] in the middle of winter.”

Rather than just dropping off the car at Rad Rides By Troy, Gordon took on his Z as a true DIY project, putting his aircraft mechanic skills to the test on something other than Learjets. By October 2010, he’d completed the Godzilla-spec heart transplant, yanking the seized L-series engine and dropping in a 2.6L twin-turbo inline-six out of an R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R using McKinney Motorsports engine mounts. By June 2011, he had it on the road, but in a condition far from what you see here. As Gordon’s build thread on nicoclub.com shows (username: gmac708), there was a lot of custom work involved before turning the ignition key, including fabricating the intercooler piping as well as sorting out the cooling system, fuel tank, plumbing, and the “Frankenstein to 240Z wiring harness.”

“The first time I showed up with it on the road was for a car detailing clinic that the local Z car club, ZROC, was putting on,” Gordon said. “The car still was not painted, just old Bondo and primer, no side windows or door panels. The dash was out and all the new gauges were stuck in a cardboard box lid mounted to the heater core. A sight for sore eyes. I was so proud to finally take her out on the road. My friends still kid me about that one.”

1970 datsun 240z watanabe 8 spoke wheels Photo 3/9   |   1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship

It wasn’t long after this that he had the car out for its first of many track days, where he dialed in the suspension. As Gordon explained, “My first goal was to get the car running as a good track car. I think I achieved that. I went overkill on the drivetrain to support major upgrades to the engine later on. My next version of the engine will hopefully be around 500 to 600 horsepower. Everything I have installed should support that without any changes to the drivetrain, and there is plenty of room for more.”

Not that 360 whp out of the stock RB26DETT is anything to sneeze at, especially when you mount it in a lightweight 240Z (with a factory curb weight of about 2,350 pounds). With a better power-to-weight ratio than a Corvette Z06, Gordon’s S30 is already a serious rocket ship, so to ensure chassis stiffness and handling to support its newfound thrust, upgrades including Bad Dog framerail reinforcement, a custom rollbar from Defined Autoworks, custom coilovers with Ground Control camber plates, and a bunch of other suspension goodies from Arizona Z and Techno Toy Tuning were installed. And, of course, the brakes have also been upgraded, using Toyota 4Runner 4- piston front calipers and Z32 vented front rotors along with 240SX rear calipers and Brembo rotors.

1970 datsun 240z defined autoworks rollbar Photo 4/9   |   1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship

When the time finally came to give the exterior of his Z a refresh, Gordon drew much of his inspiration from builds found on the Hybrid Z forum. As he explained, “I do not think I have done anything that has not been done before; it’s just the combination of parts that I liked best that has made the car perfect to me. Everybody is different. What I like may not be appealing to you. Some big decisions for me were the fender mirrors and headlight lens covers. I tried to keep it simple.”

Tubbing the fenders isn’t exactly simple, but that’s exactly what Gordon did when fitting the ZG fender flares, a necessary step to clear the aggressively offset Watanabe wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus rubber. After that, he spent some time fitting and customizing the fiberglass front air dam and Beta Motorsports carbon-fiber hood before dropping off Betzy (Gordon’s pet name for the car) at his friend Jim McCray’s place, who painted it in his home garage.

As Gordon put it, “Forty years of door dings and bumps and scrapes had taken their toll on the old girl. Jim worked his magic and got everything looking perfect. That took seven months. I put everything back together August of last year. So far, I have put over 10,000 miles on the car. I drive it everywhere.” And by everywhere, he means not only to the grocery store or local car meet, but also around his favorite racetracks and down the Tail of the Dragon, experiences that no doubt make the four-year DIY transformation all the more rewarding for Gordon and his car-crazy kids.

Specs & Details
1970 Datsun 240Z

Engine 2.6L RB26DETT twin-turbocharged inline-six

Engine Modifications N1 oil pump, McKinney Motorsports engine mounts, Rips custom rear sump oil pan (6 quarts) with remote oil filter; custom 4-inch front mount intercooler and piping; GReddy intake manifold, PRC custom double pass radiator, Flex-a-Lite electric fan with custom shroud, custom Defined Autoworks 3-inch stainless exhaust with Borla muffler, Aeromotive fuel cell, stealth pump, and fuel pressure regulator; custom ½-inch stainless fuel lines, custom wiring harness

Engine Management Stock computer, stock sensors

Drivetrain Nissan Skyline GT 5-speed transmission, Nissan 300ZX Turbo R200 CLSD (370 gear) and CV axles; Carbonetic twin-plate carbon clutch, Driveline 1 custom driveshaft

Wheels, Tires & Brakes Watanabe 8-spoke 16x9-inch -13 (f) and 16x9.5’’ -19 (r) wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus 225/50ZR16 (f) and 245/50ZR16 (r) tires, Toyota 4Runner 4-piston S12W calipers and Nissan 300ZX Z32 vented rotors (f), Nissan 240SX brake calipers and Brembo rotors (r), Wilwood reverse mount dual pedal with balance bar and remote reservoirs; Tilton master cylinder

1970 datsun 240z aircraft hangar Photo 8/9   |   1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship

Suspension Modern Motorsports billet wheel hub and stub axles, custom modified front and rear struts with spring perches, Eibach springs, Tokico Illumina adjustable shocks, Ground Control camber plates (f/r), Suspension Techniques sway bars (f/r), Arizona Z billet moustache bar with rear sway bar mount, solid front diff pinion mount, and bumpsteer spacers with shorter control arms; Techno Toy Tuning adjustable control arms (f/r)

Interior Kameari GT seats with custom seat rails, Takata 4-point harnesses, Speedhut Revolution gauges

Exterior Bad Dog framerail reinforcement, custom Defined Autoworks rollbar, Beta Motorsports carbon-fiber hood with inner frame, custom fiberglass front air dam, tubbed front and rear fenders with ZG fender flares, BRE-style rear spoiler

Special Thanks Defined Autoworks for rollbar and exhaust fabrication and my friend Jim McCray for the body- and paintwork

1970 datsun 240z kameari GT seats Photo 9/9   |   1970 Datsun 240Z - Retro Rocket Ship
By David Pratte
216 Articles

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