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1972 Datsun 240Z - Fast from the Past

Damn you, Tod Kaneko. Damn you!

Maury Strand
Aug 1, 2001 SHARE

As kids, in between reruns of The Jeffersons and excursions to sewage-soaked beaches, my brother and I spent our summers immersed in plastic model making. Attention to detail was not my strong point, and glue-stained windshields, splotchy, runny paint schemes, and ham-fingered Krazy Glue repair work formed the backbone of my creative style. Meanwhile, my brother was producing near-perfect replicas of WWII tanks and planes, even resorting to such anal-retentive detail as using flesh tone paint for pilot’s faces. In the time it took him to complete one kit, I had finished about five “cars” without missing a second of Hollywood Squares. My brother’s models made mine look like something a large dog had left behind after eating a can of chili. It was utterly humiliating, and I would have to wait until we were older, and I was big enough to put my foot in his ass to extract revenge for the deep scar his absurd penchant for perfection had levied on my psyche.

Twenty years later, I can thank Tod Kaneko for reacquainting me with similar humiliation. This guy has debased my life, dashed my dreams, made me want to give up cars and dedicate myself to a life of sin and porn. My feelings toward the cars on these pages are as two-faced as a politician with Tourrete’s Syndrome. This internal tug of war is rooted in the fact that I have two Datsuns of my own. Unfortunately, mine are truly wretched—two beaters for which I had grand designs that will most likely never see the light of day. As Super Street’s de-facto old school car groupie, while there is a part of me that cheeses over the pictures in this spread, I also feel a bit like the guy who just lost his prom date to a better man. The brilliance of Tod’s cars is a cruel and persistent reminder of my inadequacies as a gearhead and may even be a damning condemnation of my status as a man. In the meantime, my shattered ego has me copying down toll-free numbers of truck driving schools and considering the DeVry curriculum in serious contemplation of pursuing a non-car related gig. Worst of all, kicking Tod’s ass is out of the question because he’s a martial arts expert who would make me choke on my teeth if I ever got any ideas.

Some of the retro-grouches in the old car circles had warned me about staring into the light. “Dude, Kaneko’s cars are the mountain top, they’ll make you want to give up 510 and 240s forever because you’ll never build one as sweet.” I’ve seen so many exceptional cars and never before felt the sting of such an automotive “penis-envy.” As these pages serve notice, Tod’s is bigger.

The 240Z stays true to its L-series lineage with what must be the most outrageous street-driven L-series engine roaming the blue marble. The short-block is opened up to 3.1 liters using a diesel crank, Saenz lightweight connecting rods, dry film-coated JE pistons, topped off with a reworked E88 head with ports smoother than Suzie’s freshly shorn legs. (Ha! How much you wanna bet?—SC) Triple carburetors are for mortals and unimaginative, piss-broke edit guys like myself. Tod uses TWM throttle-body injection on a Datsun Competition manifold and then shows the world up with a carbon Kevlar plenum that’s fed by a customized Garrett/HKS turbo no regular mortal could have on his/her car. The output is estimated at around 500 horses, which becomes a handful in a 2,300-pound street-driven car. Tod was kind enough to spin me around the block a few times in the Z just to show me how easily it breaks traction in Fifth gear at lower boost. The acceleration nearly gave me a nose bleed and compressed my spleen.

The only aspect that it shared with my Z was the slight hint of vinyl smell to the interior, which is harder to detect on my car, with the gagging waft of cat piss and all. Tod’s engine compartment is more jet fighter than Flintstone-era Datsun, featuring only the foxiest plumbing, Wiggins clamps, and fabricated, polished stainless turbo plumbing to seduce the eyes. Legions of Z car fans surround this car at shows, gawking in disbelief that such an engine not only exists but runs tamely on the street and is registered for public highways.

Average Z owners busy themselves trying to extract better mileage from their ancient Hitachi/ SU carburetors, figuring out which lowering springs work with 16-inch wheels, or surfing the Internet for a set of used Panasport wheels. Meanwhile, Tod has the gumption to display a nearly surreal car no one has a prayer of rivaling.

Moving on, the ’73 510s engine bay represents a departure from the traditional Datsun four-slug motors. Tod elected to go with a vicious Mazda 13B rotary-armed engine with yet another custom-designed and built turbocharger courtesy of Garrett’s racing “skunkworks.” CART racing technology yields an extremely efficient compressor that generates enough boost pressure to yield about 500 horses from the 1.3L rotary. This girthy wad of power can make the one-ton, RWD Datsun tin-ship a bit of a widow maker to drive, even with the revised race car suspension, chassis-stiffening rollcage, homebuilt electronic traction, and yaw control system (just kidding, but that might be the only room left for modification on this wee-beastie). If the engine and chassis aren’t enough to corrupt one with rampant jealousy, then the carbon-paneled interior can surely push one into a state of mouth-breathing, comatose awe. In sharp contrast, my 510 (still shod in a fading hue of primer) only seems to garner the keen interest of neighbors who scheme to “get that eyesore towed,” and Latino gardeners who offer beers in trade.

Externally, both cars assault the retinas with the same hue of reddish-orange, sprayed onto fairly stock bodywork that highlights the classic 510 and Z car lines. The appeal of these cars is achieved without the use of cartoon-ish body kits, massive spoilers, or space shuttle-esque ground effects; just orange on meticulously-prepped steel bodywork.

However, in public display, it’s the revelation of what each of these cars has under the hood that defines their true character, and collectively causes jaws to bungee to the floor. These two 30-year-old cars make almost every other car in this magazine look like that fat, homely friend with bad skin who gets attractive women to hover around him. Regaining some perspective, I realize that Tod’s rides are possibly the most outrageously modified, street-roaming vintage import cars in existence. Scanning the Fast Facts, you’ll begin to realize that these cars are plainly supernatural. It becomes obvious that Kaneko is no mere mortal, but rather some sort of performance car witch, warlock, or soothsayer; maybe a race gas-guzzling Jedi of sorts. How else do you describe a guy who was so young when he started working on Indy cars, that he had to get his mom to drop him off at the race shop?

Back when OP shorts were all the rage, Tod rolled in a sick, street, turbo-nitrous Pinto that could dip into the 11s. Mortals can’t get Pintos into the 11s. They only get Pintos to blow up. Back then, Tod was a jack of all trades—fabricating, engine building, suspension tuning, and working as a transport driver and donut jockey for Nissan’s famed motorsports teams. For 15 years, Tod’s day job revolved around turbos, and race-car compressor design at Garrett in Torrance, California; a capacity which called upon Tod’s knowledge to help create some of today’s import racing heroes. Somehow, he found some free time to build and race 160mph Superkarts, and helped organize some of the earliest import car shows in the SoCal area.

Given such an insane resume, you’d have to figure Tod wouldn’t concoct a couple of garden-variety old school cars but rather a couple of road-going masterpieces that defy the imagination. Whether it be Import Showoff or a national Nissan/Datsun event, Tod’s Z has won First Place wherever it’s been displayed, and the 510 has finished Second only behind the Z. The cars feature an attention to detail and a sense of race-car fabrication and engineering that’s uncommon on the show scene, where aftermarket pieces are the norm, rather than custom work.

While us regular folks might not have a doctorate in the race car arts or have access to top-notch engineering and design resources, the lesson here isn’t lost. Old school rides can serve as a great canvas for the dedicated wrenchhand, whose passion perseveres through adversity and numerous obstacles to see the project through. With older cars, parts and accessory availability present a challenge, but you get to enjoy the benefit of smog exemption. They also employ low-tech systems that are less intimidating to people looking to get their feet wet with wielding tools and allow the novice gain experience without the risk of making mistakes that would lay up the daily transportation. Cars (old ones in particular) are great forums for self-expression through car fashion, both visually and mechanically. Personally, I’ve realized that my own sense of old car fashion leans toward the parked on cinder blocks look. I’ll think I’ll stick with it.

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By Maury Strand
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