If you're doing what we did when we first saw this car-lusting over its flared dimensions, monster wheels, big engine swap, and ridiculously clean overall finish-we're going to let you in on a stomach-churning, identity-questioning revelation: You're at least a little bit into muscle cars. Domestic muscle cars. But it's OK! This is 2010, and the automotive world has a place for enthusiasts of every orientation. Diehard import guy though you may be, there's no reason to hide the curiosity you might feel at the sight of a buff hot rod. Your mom won't be disappointed, and your dad may actually be a little proud. After all, there are worse situations to be in. You could be Japanese, living in Japan, and have to explain to your family your love of (gasp) imports!
Imagine, for a moment, that you grew up in Mei prefecture, Japan-just outside the city of Iga, better known as "the sticks". Cut off from other major cities by sprawling voids of mountain terrain and countryside, miles away from Osaka's laid-back lifestyle and Tokyo's cybernized network of progressive thought. For perspective, picture our Deep South compared to L.A. or NYC. Add in that you were raised by a family of gearheads, whose affinity for classic Japanese steel runs as pure and deep as their undying national pride. The day you opened your first tuning shop undoubtedly drew great respect from your family; chalk up another mark for those who taught you to appreciate where you came from. It's probably a safe bet that your old man passed the time dreaming vicariously of all the vintage KPGC10 Skylines, RX-2s and 3s, Bluebirds, and Celicas that would bear the family name, restored to how they looked winning the Japanese Grand Prix, IMSA, Fuji 500, SCCA B Sedan Champs, and WRC, respectively. Now imagine what went through his head when you told him you wanted to build American mini-trucks, off-road rigs and pro-touring USDM hot rods, and that any "domestic" projects you may undertake would probably be built in that tradition. Shame, dishonor, disgust-the emotion here is roughly the same as that felt by any gearhead dad from the South, upon hearing of his son's plans to "supe-up mom's Civic."
The name "Common Snapper" may seem strange for a Japanese tuning shop, and to tell you the truth, we have no idea what it's supposed to mean. It's the name Noriaki Miyamoto gave his shop when he opened its doors decades ago, and what we do know is that American muscle cars, hot rods, and trucks are his specialty. Search the name on Youtube, and aside from all the turtle videos with 11 views each, you'll find a rough-idling Chevy Impala or two, some Bosozoku rides sliding around what appears to be a go-kart track, and this '74 Nissan Fairlady Z. Noriaki-san had a hand in all those creations. About this particular one, he only offered, "American custom, racing car style, hot rod-I wanted to mix all the essence in one car."
But that's not to say Noriaki-san strayed too far from the traditional path in modifying this Z. American pro-touring cars share a lot more with modified Japanese rides than many of us might like to admit. After all, thanks to the principle of parts interchangeability adopted from American automotive assembly lines, the first-generation S30 Fairlady hit Japanese showrooms complete with an L20-stamped, 130ps adaptation of the Datsun 510's SOHC inline-six, components of the Laurel C30's MacPherson suspension, the R180 differential of the KPGC10 Skyline, and potential for more backdoor upgrades courtesy of larger Nissan/Datsun platforms. Factory-backed U.S. drag racers were among the first to experiment with parts interchangeability for performance, and as they did, American O.E.s began offering more aggressive optional upgrades. Beginning in 1964, Oldsmobile offered its Cutlass in a trim dubbed "442" for the four-barrel carbs, four-speed transmission, and dual exhaust fitted to the Rocket V-8 stuffed in its engine bay, snagged from the larger Olds 88/98. The package also included upgrades from elsewhere in the parts bin, but once legislation from parent company GM put an end to Olds' factory-backed racing support, the new car was marketed to street enthusiasts. A decade later, in an effort to build support for racers of Nissan machines, dealer-direct versions of the Fairlady were produced in Japan in small batches homologated as the "ZG"-with an extended "aero-dyna" nose (commonly known as the "G-nose"), fender flares, acrylic headlight covers, and fender-mounted side mirrors-and later as the "432" and "432R", for the four-valve-per-cylinder, triple-carb, DOHC S20 inline-six it borrowed from the C10 Skyline 2000 GT-R. Removed carpeting, sound-deadening and heat; a fiberglass hood, transmission tunnel and body panels; lightweight doors; Lexan side and rear windows; bucket seats; four-point racing harnesses; a duckbill spoiler; and a choice of gearing also came standard. Interestingly enough, Japanese highway police were among the first buyers of the Nissan Z432, just as U.S. highway cops bought up the first Olds 442s a decade earlier. After learning this bit of history, it seems that if any car perfectly exemplifies the breadth of each country's automotive enthusiasm, including their push into the modern day, it's Noriaki-san's Fairlady.
Let's cut the suspense-yes, that is an RB26DETT under this Z's hood, taken from an R34 GT-R, mated to an RB25DET's native five-speed transmission from a RWD R33 GT-S, and upgraded only slightly. "I wanted to keep a proper engine," Noriaki-san said, regarding the choice to stay with a Nissan inline-six. "But I wanted to make the car with comfort." Engine internals are stock, as are the factory twin Garrett T25s, but the harmonic instability inherent in the RB26's rotating assembly has been corrected with some Common Snapper machine work to the crankshaft, and the cylinder head was ported and polished in-house and fitted with Tomei cams and valve springs, and Naprec valves. The car's differential has been upgraded to the ubiquitous R200 unit, and surprisingly, all this drivetrain retrofitting was accomplished with the stock S30 front and rear subframes-evidence of the far-reaching history of Nissan's RB line and Fairlady/Skyline commonalities.
Like SCCA- and SCCJ-winning Nissan S30s of the late '70s, Noriaki-san's utilizes FRP ZG-style flares and a BRE front air dam, complete with provisions for brake cooling ducts. But more in tune with American pro-touring cars, it rolls on comparatively large alloys-in this case, 18x8.5 and 10.5 -17mm offset SSR MS1s-even though cambered a bit and covered by stretched Japanese rubber in the Bosozoku tradition. Noriaki-san also shaved the hood handles and locks, badges, front and rear bumper uprights, and antenna, and sprang for the USDM 240Z's mirror-less front fenders for that ultra-clean look of "import" mini-trucks. He also did away with the grille-who needs one when you've got a massive HKS front-mount that looks better than any faux billet piece? Inside, things are even more eclectic. An R33 GT-R dash, center console, and seats were fitted in the old-school Z, while sharing space with Simpson four-point harnesses and a Fuel Safe racing cell (an homage to U.S. Z racers like Bob Sharp, Bob Bondurant, and Peter Brock? See sidebar). Kicker audio components were throw in for, um, kicks.
Like any true performance builder, Noriaki-san relied simply on what works in keeping this creation planted: 12kg/mm springs and Bilstein dampers front and rear, Cusco front and rear strut bars, Project Mu brake pads and fluid, and for a little more parts interchangeability, Z31 front spindles, hubs, and rotors. Final power numbers weren't disclosed-an unstated Japanese custom-but with its Greddy Profec-B keeping boost at full potential and Tomei Reytec ECU controlling its full Sard fuel system, we'd estimate output at right around 400 whp and 350 lb-ft of torque.
Mixing in elements of his passion for the roots of American muscle cars, the contemporary styling and performance of mini-trucks and pro-touring machines, along with more than a bit of Japan's own automotive production/competition heritage, Noriaki-san has taken seemingly misguided ambition and succeeded in creating a functional, comfortable machine at which enthusiasts from every corner of the automotive world would be hard-pressed not to crack a smile. There's a good chance the hypothetical introduction of this story couldn't be further from Noriaki-san's true life. But in the event that we were spot on with it, we're sure even his dad would be proud of this Fairlady.
Behind The Build
Iga, Mei prefecture, Japan
Performance tuning, fabricating, body work
Import trucks, lowriders
"I like turtles."
Engine 2.6L RB26DETT engine; Common Snapper tuning, cylinder head porting/polishing, balanced rotating assembly, radiator diffuser, polished valve cover, spark plug cover, hard lines, silicone vacuum lines, oil catch can, full stainless 90mm exhaust; Tomei cams, valve springs; Naprec valves; Sard fuel pressure regulator; Bosch fuel pump; Greddy fuel rail, oil pan, oil filler cap, boost controller, radiator, overflow reservoir, modified intercooler piping, couplers; Samco hoses, couplers; Tomei turbo manifold, Reytec ECU; NGK plugs; HKS blow-off valve, modified front-mount intercooler, modified piping
Drivetrain R33 RB25DET transmission; R200 3.9:1 LSD rear differential; OS Giken STR2 twin-plate clutch, flywheel
Suspension Bilstein dampers; 12kg/mm springs; Common Snapper rear lower control arms; Cusco front and rear strut tower bars; Z31 front spindles, hubs
Wheels/tires SSR MS1 wheels (18x8.5 front, 18x10.5 rear, -17mm offset); Yokohama Advan A048 tires (225/40-18 front, 255/40-18 rear)
Brakes R31 front and rear brake conversion; Endless brake pads; custom stainless steel braided brake lines; Motul brake fluid
Exterior LED taillights; USDM 240SX front fenders; custom-relocated small side markers; shaved door handles, locks, badging, antenna, bumper uprights; ZG-style FRP fender flares; vented BRE front air dam; Mystery Sportbike carbon fiber side mirrors; Common Snapper Super Pearl White paint
Interior R33 front seats, dashboard, center console; Simpson four-point racing harnesses; Nismo shift knob, white gauge faces; custom upholstered door panels; Fuel Safe ED115-A racing cell; custom fuel line plumbing
Electronics Alpine head unit; Kicker ZX650.4 amplifier, speakers
The Birth of the Scene
Love import car culture? Thank these guys.
In the worlds of autocross, club racing, and professional circuit competition, the dynamics of Japan's smaller and lighter platforms have proven tough to beat. Just ask the American SCCA racers Nissan first hooked up in the late '60s and early '70s, whose winning rides were among the first to usher in a new age of vehicle modification.
By the time Peter Brock founded Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) in 1966, he had already put in work as a General Motors designer (the Cobra Daytona Coupe was his) and chief driving instructor at famed Ford tuner Carroll Shelby's self-titled school in Riverside, CA. Despite heavy domestic ties, Brock earned BRE its first big win later that year with two Japanese Hino Coupes he and a teammate drove to First- and Second-place finishes in a Times-Mirror event at Riverside Raceway, in front of a six-figure crowd. His performance caught the eye of Nissan North America president Yutaka "Mr. K" Katayama, who partnered Datsun with BRE so Brock could take out Toyota's 2000GT with a pair of modified Nissan 2000 roadsters in their first race. With the help of ace driver John Morton, tuned BRE Datsun Zs and 510s would go on to oust other Toyotas, Porsches, BMWs, and literally every other SCCA class competitor by the late '70s, at which point no one would race against them.
On the East Coast, it was Bob Sharp who no one could topple. After some successful years racing Bugeye Sprites and Lotus kit cars in the SCCA, Sharp picked up a Datsun sponsorship courtesy of East Coast Nissan frontman Mr. Kawasoe, and would continue winning in modified Datsun 1600s and 2000s. Bob Sharp Racing (BSR) became the first team to compete a 240Z in early 1970, when Mr. Kawasoe contributed a damaged New York Auto Show model to the team off the books. It was a risky move, but one that paid off-Sharp himself would go on to win division titles in 1970 and '71, and production champs in '72, '73, and '75 in the 240Z, alongside his and other BSR racers' wins in Datsun 510s. Actor Paul Newman even joined BSR ranks in 1977 and won six of eight races entered in 1979 from behind the wheel of a tuned 280ZX. Newman would become the Northeast champion that year and go on to take the C Production national title.
SoCal ex-Formula 1/Le Mans/NASCAR racer Bob Bondurant gets the nod for having taught Newman, at his world-renowned School of High Performance Driving then in Ontario, CA (now in Phoenix, AZ), beginning in 1972 as Newman researched his role for Winning. Another Carroll Shelby alum, Bondurant opened his school in 1968 in Irvine, CA, with two Datsun 240Zs and a 510 contributed by Mr. K himself (the Z pictured here was modified by BRE). Ford and General Motors have subsequently supported Bondurant's school into the modern day, but at a meeting with Mr. K. in 1995, the racing legend is quoted as saying, 'What I am today, I owe entirely to Mr. K.'