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Nissan Restoration Club Renews the Safari Rally Z

Member Yukitaka Arakawa dishes on resuscitating historic race cars

Dec 2, 2013
Writer: Sean Russell

Safari Rally Z Restoration Details:

  • Nissan Restoration Club is a group of specialist volunteers from Nissan's Technical Center
  • Eighth car restored by club since 2006
  • Car won 1971 East African Safari Rally
  • Proved Z platform's merits in motorsport other than road racing

This month the Nissan Restoration Club (NRC) - a group of volunteers from the company's Japanese R&D facility working to get Nissan's historic race cars rolling again - wrapped up its latest project, reanimating a renowned Safari Rally Z. The special variant of the Fairlady Z (known as the Datsun 240Z in the U.S.) won two overall East African Safari Rally titles, in 1971 and again in '73, and more critically made a name for the circuit-working fastback coupe as a fishtailing dirt fighter.

The team chose to resuscitate the winning racer of the '71 event, driven then by Edgar Hermann and Hans Schuller, which has since been sitting on display in Nissan's Heritage Collection at the Zama Operations Center in Kanagawa. In the past the club has also brought to life the legendary 1964 Skyline race car, the "Fuji" and "Sakura" Datsun 210s that won Australia's 1958 Mobilgas Trial and the 1947 Tama electric vehicle.

We recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with NRC member Yukitaka Arakawa, who clued us into the club and what it takes to restore OG race cars.

Nissan restoration club safari rally z work under hood.JPG Photo 2/9   |   Nissan Restoration Club Safari Rally Z Work Under Hood

Import Tuner: When and why was the club started?

Yukitaka Arakawa: The Nissan Great Car Restoration Club was started in 2006 as a performance improvement activity, mainly to study the highest technology Nissan had to offer at the time. The purpose of Restoration Club activities is two-fold.

Firstly, the club returns Nissan's heritage vehicles to running condition when the vehicle was active. For the Safari Rally Z we wanted to take it back to its finished condition following the 1971 East African Safari Rally; for a car like the 240RS Group B rally racer [from the mid-1980s], since it was just a demonstration car and had no actual rally participation history, we took the car back to the condition it was shipped in from the factory in Oppama.

Sometimes the cars in the Zama Heritage Garage are not in original condition; the Safari Rally Z, for example, was displayed with a single carburetor and rubber upper radiator hose, while in racing spec actually used Weber triple carbs and a steel upper hose. We bring cars back to their original used condition.

Secondly, we study senior engineer's intentions, technical ideas and Mono-zukuri (manufacturing) through the club's restoration activities.

Nissan restoration club safari rally z.JPG Photo 3/9   |   Nissan Restoration Club Safari Rally Z

IT: What was the first car restored? What has been the most lengthy restoration and why?

YA: Our first vehicle was the 240RS Group B rally car. Generally, body sheeting and paint take a long time, but it also depends on the vehicle's condition. For the "Fuji" and "Sakura" 210s, which we restored in 2011, reproducing the pictures of cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji on the hood and trunk of these cars was one of the most difficult operations. We traced original pictures onto paper, and then copied them over to the bodies, an artisan performing everything by hand.

The Tama EV restored in 2010 also took a long time for body sheeting due to its wooden frame with steel panel structure. Gathering original vehicle condition information and parts also adds to the time it takes to restore a vehicle.

IT: How many of the 60 current members are Nissan employees?

YA: All of our members are Nissan employees or with sister companies. We work mainly on Saturdays.

IT: How does Nissan corporate support the club?

YA: Nissan permits use of its workshops and facilities at the Nissan Technical Center in Kanagawa, the company's R&D base. It houses specialists in styling, engines, braking, electrical, chassis, body, and power trains, as well as the club's home workshop.

IT: Sounds like there is a lot of planning involved in restoration of the cars. Can you take us through how much of a challenge they have been? For example, do you have to fabricate new parts? How is each car re-engineered?

YA: Each specialized division makes related parts. For example, engine parts are made or ordered through the engine development division. Bodies are restored in the pre-production division.

IT: How much time/man hours has it been taking to complete them?

YA: Generally, it takes 2,400 hours, but it also depends on vehicle condition. The Tama EV took the greatest amount of time.

IT: After completion, how often do restorations become regular drivers or see the track?

YA: We confirm restored vehicles running condition every other year at the Oppama proving grounds. Our members are each division's test driver.

IT: Which restoration has been the most fun to drive?

YA: Each member likes different restorations for different reasons. I like the Group B 240RS and Sunny 1400 Excellent (from the 1970s, restored in 2008). Generally, we like motorsports vehicles best.

IT: What do you plan to do with it when it's complete?

YA: We ran the vehicle at the 2013 Nismo Festival at Fuji Speedway. We hope next to run the vehicle at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed in the U.K. if it's possible.

*Photography by Nissan Restoration Club

Bob Hernandez
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