Charles Warland's 260Z might be road legal, but there's a race car lurking just beneath the surface - high power and low weight that tightens sweeping corners and raises pulses as 700 bhp pounds through the rear axles and into two lines of melted rubber on the asphalt. Not because it's a shell with license plates, either; it's a life-long love for the Datsun's form, sympathetically paired with the best parts Nissan could offer to bring it up to date.
"My uncle owned a white 240Z, and from that moment I fell in love with the shape of the car," he tells us, recalling the start point for what's been a lengthy journey to get here. "My dad has built full-size planes in his shed, so I suppose it's in my blood to create and build a dream package—I wanted it to be as fast as a supercar and to be able to pass Porsches on the track."
Porsches are the tip of the iceberg. Weighed down by a full interior and held back by the untreated surface of Cootamundra Airfield in New South Wales, Australia, the Z put down an 11.1-second, 133-mph quarter-mile sprint at last year's Motive DVD Drag Battle. That sort of time suggests he'd be into the nines on a dragstrip, not that that's important. If a car works at Coota, then it works on the road, too.
It's hard to imagine this as the car Charles first laid eyes on as it rolled off back of a low-loader three years ago; he'd bought it unseen from a seller in Melbourne, a thousand miles away from his place in Queensland. Neglect had made a boat anchor of the stock L26 engine, while the moist Victoria climate had taken its toll on every panel, layering thick patina over decades of rot. However, the structure was solid, most of it was still there, and even a freshly rebuilt L26 had no chance of staying put under the hood. It ticked enough boxes to be worth taking a chance on.
Beneath the mile-long hood, he's kept it in the family: "I've always wanted to do the RB26 swap; it's a classic Nissan straight-six like the original motor, so it just feels right. At the time, all I could afford was a moderate build as I was just starting my construction business, so this was going to be a clean street car. It's got a bit out of control since."
He's not kidding; the raw insanity available under Charles' right foot is drawn from a feat of motorsport-spec engineering. Fellow Queenslanders GT Auto Garage took on a full bottom end rebuild with a polished crankshaft and uprated pistons and rods, pairing it with an unused head imported from Japan, ported by PMC Race Engines. Being a right-hand-drive car, there was no steering rack to get in the way of fitting pretty much whatever turbochargers he wanted—in this case, a pair of Garrett 2860-5s, with room to spare for the headers and intake pipework to snake their way around the shaved engine bay.
"You can work on it all day and still have clean hands when you're done," he says, resting a forearm on the open hood. We don't doubt it.
Of course, fusing 260Z and race-tuned RB came with plenty of challenges. Anything that can get seriously hot is ceramic coated to avoid heat soak, and routing an efficient, larger-bore exhaust under the Datsun would have been a struggle even at standard ride height. And keeping that engine supplied with enough E85 at full boost required a set of 2,000cc injectors and a 2,000-bhp Aeromotive fuel pump, both controlled by a MoTeC M84 ECU. But the end result speaks volumes: 680 bhp and 549 lb-ft of torque at the wheels, with the help of 24 psi of boost.
"The goal was to maximize all of the supporting modifications, which would allow me to increase the power output without over-tuning and straining the motor," Charles says. "Build once, build right—I reckon the more power you can make on minimal boost is a good thing; it ensures the most expensive part of your car holds together and lasts a long time."
That way of working extends to the transmission, too. The RB25 gearbox retained the 260Z's stick shifter and its hardware proven on dragstrips all over the world, but this one features a cryogenically treated gearset for even more durability. A one-piece tailshaft connects that to a limited-slip differential, while a pair of custom-made heavy-duty driveshafts gets the hard job of translating it into forward thrust.
But not on its own. A lot of what makes this car tick is hidden away underneath the body, but no less show-worthy than what you can see up top. Behind the rear valance, there's a full package of Arizona Z Car suspension upgrades: fully adjustable coilovers with immaculate billet aluminum braces and control arms paired with Wilwood six- and four-piston calipers. At full boost, those parallel lines on the asphalt are being put down by un-stretched Federal tires, wrapped around staggered 17-inch TE37s.
Of course, it's money worth spending when you're tasking an old chassis with doing so much: "It spins a bit through second but stays fairly straight. Anyone who says drag racing is easy is lying to you... or has never done it!"
Given his taste for quarter-mile sprints, you could let him off a few weight-saving measures. But the effort that's been put into keeping the 260Z's original character is staggering. While the components arrived in boxes and moved around workshops, Charles and his dad had what was left of the body shell stripped back to bare metal in his garage, filling evenings and weekends undoing 40 years of use and abuse. What's visible now is a slight deviation from the Nissan stable: a customized shade of Subaru pearlescent white over the panelwork and shaved engine bay, contrasted against the black fender flares and splitter, license plate tub, and wheel centers. A hint of mid-'70s Datsun racers—understated, but tough with it.
Likewise, the interior gives almost nothing away. There's no carbon-fiber bucket seat, harnesses, or web of rollbars inside, but that doesn't mean it escaped the same standard of work as the rest of the car. The original seats had suffered worse than the bodywork, needing a full rebuild to bring them back to life—finished in the period-correct leather and matched to the red-stitched center console. A keener eye would spot the kill switch behind the gear shifter and the bank of Defi gauges, which give some hint of its violent alter ego.
And it really is the alter ego, because this was never intended to be a track toy. If anything, it's part of the family, an enviably awesome way for him and his wife, Emily, to get to their wedding and a car that gets used for laidback drives around rural Queensland as well as tearing strips off heavier modern performance cars when it gets time on track.
"When you go somewhere, people always want to talk to you and look at the car," he says. "I love going out to my shed and just admiring the classic shape and all the hard work and love that have gone into it—but also going out and using that hard work as it's meant to be used."
Charles's 260Z might have the heart of a race car, but it's a road car over the top. A best-of-all-worlds end result that speaks volumes for the time, effort, and research that went into turning a 40-year-old race car into a very modern supercar.