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1972 Datsun 240Z - The Sidestep

Circumventing smog laws in a 45-year-old Z doesn't come easy

Aaron Bonk
Aug 22, 2018
Photographer: Alexander Hou

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."

1972 datsun 240z skillard rear diffuser Photo 2/20   |   1972 Datsun 240Z Skillard Rear Diffuser

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."

1972 datsun 240z LS swap Photo 3/20   |   Because a V-8 swap isn't enough, Saul turbocharged his LS to make upward of 600 hp.

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."

1972 datsun 240z custom widebody panels Photo 7/20   |   Saul and his crew at SOS Customz doing what they do best with a full custom metal widebody conversion, topped off with a Lambo orange paint job.

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.

1972 datsun 240z turbonetics turbo Photo 8/20   |   With some custom fab work, the turbo was positioned nearly completely out of the engine bay to reduce heat...or to just show people not to f*ck with Saul.

"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.

1972 datsun 240z turbonetics turbo Photo 12/20   |   1972 Datsun 240Z Turbonetics Turbo
1972 datsun 240z 75 240Z taillights Photo 16/20   |   1972 Datsun 240Z 75 240Z Taillights
1972 datsun 240z driver seat Photo 20/20   |   1972 Datsun 240Z Driver Seat
By Aaron Bonk
416 Articles
1972 Datsun 240Z - The Sidestep
Tuning Menu
Owner: Saul Rodriguez Valencia
Hometown: Oceanside, CA
Occupation: builder at SOS Customz
Engine: 5.3L Chevrolet LS engine swap; Turbonetics turbo; Precision 44mm wastegate; HKS blow-off valve; TiAL blow-off valve; SOS Customz intercooler, piping, exhaust manifolds, exhaust; Aeromotive fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator; custom fuel cell; Reikken battery; PSI wiring harness
Drivetrain: General Motors 4L60E automatic transmission; R200 rear differential
Engine Management: HP Tuner engine management system
Footwork & Chassis: CXRacing coilovers, control arms, tension rods; custom subframe;
Brakes: Silver Mine Motors Stage 4 brake kit
Wheels & Tires: Atara Racing wheels; 225/45R15 front, 275/50R15 rear Nitto NT555R tires
Exterior: custom metal widebody panels, projector beam headlights; Seibon carbon-fiber hood, door handle covers, rear spoiler; Skillard rear diffuser; '75 240Z taillights; Lamborghini Orange Iridescent Pearl paint
Interior: SOS Customz rollcage; custom aluminum dash; NRG Innovations quick-release hub adapter; AutoMeter gauges; AEM air/fuel ratio meter; Hurst shifter; leather/alcantara seats



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