One of the most imposing time-attack builds to emerge from the Midwest and victor of '15's Tuner Galleria spoils, Matt Eck's 350Z, probably wouldn't have happened were it not for an S14 that burnt to the ground in a house fire.
That's where the SR20 engine came from that ultimately made its way into the Z33 at the hands of Chicago's TF-Works. "All he wanted was for us to put the engine into the car," shop owner David Lee says about the '05 chassis that's since been prepared for the race track and put through the one-off, carbon-fiber and titanium-lined wringer.
It starts with an SR20DET short-block that's been hogged out for 2.2L of displacement. More cubic inches mean getting the honkin' Precision 5862 turbo going is a whole lot easier and is in part what's led to the engine's 550 whp and 500 lb-ft of torque that Lee, in a shoulders-shrugged sort of way, says are really just preliminary, low-boost figures that ought not to excite you. Underneath the Seibon carbon-fiber hood, there's little that's been sourced from the off-the-shelf department. The twin-scroll turbine hangs from a custom exhaust manifold crafted by Lee's crew that pushes its waste through a 3-inch titanium exhaust handmade by the same team. None of this is the sort of stuff you'd expect from a car that, initially, went under Lee's care for nothing more than an engine swap. "Matt wanted to build the car, but he didn't know what direction to go," Lee says. "So we advised, collaborated, and came up with this."
And by this, Lee means a Z33 with the sort of dry-sump oiling system typically exclusive to big-dollar race cars, a ProEFI standalone computer that'll make your chipped ECU look about as sophisticated as a Walkman, and an OS Giken gearset and Exedy triple-disc-clutch combo that's worth more than a Miata. "Every part was chosen with purpose and for the appropriate response," Lee says before describing the MR2 electric power steering system that was integrated, which frees up parasitic drag at the crank yet allows Eck to go around corners without having to supplement his diet with Muscle Milk.
Eck delivered the Z33 as a stripped-down shell, bare of just about everything that differentiates a 350Z from a pile of metal that resembles a 350Z. The blank slate allowed Lee and his team of fabricators to construct the chassis how they saw fit. The chrome-moly rollcage, which surrounds the Racetech seats and protrudes into the engine bay, tying into the shock towers, increases the Z33's rigidity, allowing the suspension to better do its job. Suspension like Stance two-way coilovers and a barrage of custom control arms and tie rods together allow the chassis to better do what the driver will expect it to.
Walk around the Z and it's obvious that everything that could be made better was. Here, stopping is just as important as turning and making lots of power; as such, TF-Works fitted the coupe with 380mm Tarox rotors all around with 10-piston calipers up front and 12 in the rear. In other words, here, a single corner's got more stopping power than your whole Civic. None of this means Eck's Z is any heavier than it ought to be, either. As it turns out, despite the added metal, the whole lot tips the scale at 2,900 pounds without him in it—that's about 500 pounds lighter than when the Z33 left Nissan's assembly line and with its weight better distributed.
But all you care about when you first see Eck's Z is the big, fat Kognition GT wing that's mounted out back. That and the rest of the aero work, it's all purposeful. Like the Voltex front and rear spoilers and side sills that direct air toward all the right places, helping plant the chassis downward and increase tire grip as the speedo needle moves the right way.
It's this sort of aero that initially got Lee's TF-Works off the ground. Lee founded the company in '03, but it wasn't until it began importing Origin aero kits from Japan that the business really took off. "This was one of the first affordable kits from Japan," he says. "Now you could build a 240 that wasn't ugly."
Not ugly just like Eck's Z33 with its Lexan windows fitted at TF-Works that retain the original panes' curvature but weigh a whole lot less. Not ugly like the handcrafted tin work that directs air from the front bumper's opening toward the slant-mounted aluminum radiator that hooks up to the engine's water inlets and outlets with a series of anodized-aluminum fittings spanned and clocked to match the engine bay's lines. These aren't the sort of details you'd necessarily expect from a purpose-built track car, but are nevertheless what led to the car's being crowned Best of Show at last April's annual Tuner Galleria.
Best of Show trophies won't make Eck's Z do any better on the time-attack circuit come later this year, though, and he and Lee are quite aware of that. According to Lee, another 150 hp are already in the works, and by the time you read this, Eck's Z33 will have made the transition from the show circuit to where every carbon fiber of its being says it ought to be: the racetrack.