The Datsun 240Z had you as soon as you realized its age exempted it from bureaucrats and their smog-testing ways. There you were, dreaming about body kits and GT-R engine swaps, when all you really should've been thinking about were things like rotted-out rubber trim, a wiring harness as brittle as uncooked linguini, and an L-series engine you don't know the first thing about. For the 240Z to make sense, though, you really need to know what you're getting into, which Saul Rodriguez does. He already knows his way around half-put-together Datsuns and Nixon-era Oldsmobiles, not to mention the family business he helps run—SOS Customz—where he does these sort of things for a paycheck. "I restore cars for a living," he says, "so I always challenge myself [by] building different cars—not your normal builds."
For Saul, normalcy's evaded itself by way of things like an '84 300ZX that introduced him to stoplight drag racing, and later an SC 300 and a pair of 510s that acquainted him with the merits of 2JZ and SR20 engine swaps. He knows his way around something like a 45-year-old Z and, as such, is the sort of guy you'd expect to go on and do something like fabricate a metal widebody for it from scratch and stuff a 5.3L V-8 underneath its hood. "These motors are the new age [of] bang for your buck," he says about GM's lineage of LS long-blocks, citing the experience he's got swapping them into all manner of Camaros, Chevelles, Cadillacs, and even GTOs. "They're a no-brainer."
Except it wasn't entirely. Nissan's turbocharged RB engines were the first to show up on Saul's Z-swapping radar but ultimately lost out to the American small-block with more than twice the displacement. "I wanted something different," he says, "and I remembered, back in the '80s, I saw these cars with 350 V-8s [in them]." It was no LS, but for Saul, it set the precedent for his needing those two extra pistons.
Most folks would be perfectly happy with a naturally aspirated LS, but somebody like Saul had to go on and turbocharge it, which is what nets him the 600 or so horsepower he's laying down and is what makes up for whatever he's missing from any RB26 he originally thought about. "I ran into some issues," Saul says about getting that V-8 and its turbo kit with all of its trappings to coexist inside of the Datsun engine bay. "I had lots of fun fitting it all and making the piping work, but I did it."
Saul's Z is so much more than an old Datsun with eight cylinders and a turbo, though. More, as in the Lamborghini paint job he applied himself after he crafted the Z's one-off metal fenders. But it all keeps coming back to that engine swap. "I started [doing the] bodywork until I'd figured out what motor to put in it," he says about what transpired after the orange paint and the carbon-fiber exterior bits were applied. "My buddy wrecked his car and then we used the donor motor and transmission out of it." Fortuitous circumstances for Saul, no doubt, albeit not the most favorable of outcomes for that friend of his.
"I always knew I wanted to work with cars...and Datsuns [and] Nissans have always had a piece of my heart," Saul says, which made his decision to go with the Z an easy one. That and the whole smog-exemption thing, because bureaucrats poking, prodding, and second-guessing something like that external wastegate of yours will always be about as fun as a colonoscopy.