Not every build that begins with a definite plan ends up following it to a tee. Sometimes, circumstances can push a project car in a completely different direction than the one you thought you were headed in when you first started turning a wrench. That's exactly what happened with Shawn Bassett when he first laid eyes on this Datsun 240Z at a local racetrack.
"I was there with my prerunner [race truck] competing in a rallycross class," he remembers. "And I saw a little yellow Z on the nearby road course. I had to have one, and three days later, I was the proud owner of the cheapest possible Datsun from Miami Craigslist."
Initially keen on building a fun and inexpensive track toy, Shawn soon discovered the Z he had purchased was in far worse shape than he suspected. Taking the car apart, he realized it was rotten from front to back—a "complete pile of rust," in his words.
It's here that the story of Shawn's Z takes a most unexpected turn. Whereas most people would have simply sent the heap to the crusher and chalked it up to experience, after letting the shell marinate in his garage for almost six months, Shawn decided this setback actually represented an unlikely opportunity.
"I had always wanted to run Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Being a longtime professional motorcycle racer, I thought it would happen on two wheels, not four," he explains. "But I realized it was time to finally put to use all the fabrication and composite skills I'd learned over the years to give this beat-up car a purpose and make that dream a reality for me at the same time."
Shawn had the advantage of having built many rockcrawlers and other off-road rigs, which gave him a strong familiarity with tube work. This solved the major structural issues with the Swiss cheese quality of the Datsun, and it also allowed him a fresh start to make sure whatever he built ended up satisfying the considerable regulations governing hillclimb racing.
"Pikes Peak was useful as a target because it has a rule book," Shawn says. "I grouped FIA, NASA, and Pikes Peak together and used them as a guideline for how to assemble the entire vehicle. That way, I'd be able to qualify and run in as many different events as possible. It was a long time before I actually picked up a welder, because I made sure the research was done well in advance."
That tube frame is wrapped in a bespoke carbon-fiber body and outrageous, hillclimb-ready aero that gives the Datsun a hyper-aggressive look that's impossible to ignore. Under the hood, a 5.3L all-aluminum L33 LS V-8 serves up 415hp through a reinforced T56 six-speed transmission, which is in turn sequentially shifted before sending its output through a carbon-fiber driveshaft to a Kaaz 1.5-way LSD nestled in an S14 differential.
A Holley Dominator ECU calls the fuel injection shots, with the car featuring a RacePak PDM and a tune from Nashville's Carma Performance. BC Racing ZR coilovers are found front and rear, and a braced S13 subframe, SPL tension arms, and sway bars from Whiteline and GK Tech police the rest of the suspension setup. StopTech brakes up front are hidden behind custom 18-inch BC Forged wheels all around, with massive Toyo RR slicks gripping the asphalt.
Shawn's car was first seen at SEMA 2018, but it still had more than a few details to work out before it was ready for track duty—and its eventual debut at Pikes Peak—which meant two more months of intensive tuning and wiring prior to hitting the track for the first time.
"That was one of the things that worried me the most: How is the car going to handle?" Shawn relates, laughing nervously. "I wasn't worried about my own skills, but this was the first time I had attempted something this involved, and at that first track day I was going crazy wondering if something was going to fall off or catch fire."
In fact, the car ran like it was on rails in each and every session, and Shawn soon began to concentrate on getting to know the vehicle rather than worrying about its reliability. He also had to pack in as much racing experience as possible in order to qualify for the Pikes Peak competition.
"I really wanted to hit the mountain last year," he says. "But when I requested an entry, I had to submit a resume of racing history. While they were willing to give me a motorcycle entry, I didn't have enough four-wheel seat time to qualify. They told me my best bet was to get my license and get some track days under the car's belt, and then reapply for the following year."
Shawn did exactly that, passing his SCCA Pro TT license without issue and snagging as much track time as he could. After a podium finish at its first competitive event at Road Atlanta, it was clear the car was ready for its intended venue, and the vehicle and driver will indeed be applying for 2020 consideration.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this particular Z? Shawn stressed repeatedly that building a car like his Datsun doesn't require winning the lottery or owning a high-end shop.
"I really want people to know you can acquire the skills to do a project like this gradually, just like I did, if you're patient enough to amass the tools and find the time," he says. "After all, this car was built in my 750-square-foot pole barn, which is pretty far from the glitz and glamour that's usually associated with these kinds of builds."