In this industry, there are certain terms that get thrown around a lot. What may have originally meant one thing can slowly morph and transform into a mere translation of its original context - a loose one, at that. When we hear the term "garage built," we think of a literal garage, like the one outside your house - not the full-service shop down the street. Mark Rainville feels the same way, and his ultimate sleeper 350Z is proof in the flesh.
"It all started one night while I was browsing online on LS1tech.com, and I saw someone had posted up a build about an LS1 [powered] RX-7," Mark says, recalling the long project's humble beginnings. "I read through the entire post, and by week's end, I had an RX-7 and my Trans Am was being parted out." Mark is no stranger to big power 8-cylinder cars, having owned three Pontiac Trans Ams over the better part of the last decade; with such an affinity for American muscle cars, why the sudden change of heart?
"Not long after buying the RX-7, I needed a daily driver, so I picked up a Jeep. When it was in the shop for servicing, I test drove a 350Z and absolutely loved it!" Mark tells us. "I sold the Jeep a month later and bought my first Z. I was going to use that as my daily driver while I built the LS RX-7." This didn't last long, however. A true tinkerer at heart, Mark was only satisfied with the stock VQ35 for a short while. "It all changed the day I was beat by a [Honda] Del Sol with a turbo on it," Mark says with a laugh. "I bought a Power Lab turbo kit for the 350; I was the first person in the country to order the single [GT]37R kit. Along with a Haltech Platinum stand-alone, injectors, fuel pump, all that, I made 417 hp at 8 lbs. I drove the car around like that for about two months before I knew I wanted more."
Going back to his V-8 roots, Mark was never truly satisfied with a peaky turbocharged 6-cylinder setup. We use the word "peaky" in a relative way, because when compared to a massive 8-cylinder (with instant low-end torque), pretty much anything else you drive will feel like it's lacking in the bottom end. But because Mark was so in love with how the Z33 felt aside from the lack of power, he decided to take a dive and try something few (if any) had attempted before him.
In a unique display of both mechanical confidence and automotive enthusiasm of almost unparalleled magnitude, Mark recalls the circumstances under which he first had the pleasure of viewing the V-8 in his Z33 engine bay. "I had about two weeks off from work last summer, so I got a little curious. I pulled the V-8 out of the RX-7 and pulled the motor out of the Z, just to put them side by side and see if it was possible. Well, it was pretty f'ing possible, and it looked great!" Mark says with a laugh. After buying a set of pre-made mounts and an oil pan that were supposed to fit, Mark discovered that, unfortunately, they did not. He ended up fabricating a set of custom mounts and jury-rigging the GM ECU to run the raw motor functions in tandem with the 350Z ECU (the Nissan unit is required if you want to maintain OE characteristics in all the electrical and interior systems), Mark was ready to roll.
Another interesting note is that Mark actually learned the acclaimed HP Tuners tuning software all on his own and spent many hours street-tuning his Z all on his own. That's a feat very few car owners can claim, and further proof of Mark's dedication to his home-brewed style.
"With just a cam and completely bone stock suspension, the car ran a 11.3 at 128 mph. Not too bad," Mark says. But with the newfound power comes newfound problems. "I ended up removing the rear end three different times and fabricating custom braces to help hold the power," Mark says with a chuckle.
After snapping several driveshafts, installing a set of solid diff braces (which didn't help at all), Mark couldn't seem to get the car to handle even the relatively low 500 hp and 500 ft-lbs his (at the time) NA motor was producing. Mark wanted to break into the 10's with a stock suspension and stock axles, which proved possible. This satisfied Mark for a while, but the perpetual need for more power soon struck him once again.
"I had always wanted a turbo V-8, and I also never expected the kind of attention the [Z] got," Mark says. People loved the car, and everything had come together so easily and so well, it just seemed natural to continue pushing the envelope. Over the coming cold Connecticut winter months, Mark put the car back under the knife, fabricating a complete turbo and fuel system with the help of close friend Corey Raymond. Using a MagnaFuel external fuel pump and a Venturi in-tank system from a Lexus, Mark was able to adequately supply the thirsty beast without starving one side of the Z's twin-tower tanks. Aside from the fuel system and the obviously tedious task of measuring and fitting the turbo and all of its associated plumbing and cooling, Mark says the project was a surprisingly straightforward affair.
Mark laughs as we ask about the reliability of his Z post-turbo. "The only reliability problem I have had [since going turbo] is my electronic gas pedal dying. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the problem was! I would just be driving down the road, everything is working fine, and all of a sudden, the car would just die. I would have to pull over, yank the battery, let it reset - it was very embarrassing." After replacing nearly every part he could think of, the problem was finally narrowed down to a single kinked wire on the throttle body assembly. Ironic that one wire can cripple even the most savage of beasts, and we don't use that term lightly. As it sits, Mark's car is running low 10s and is only set to go faster.
When asked about what the future holds for him and his Z, Mark is certain he wants to keep his car simple and clean. It really is the perfect sleeper, so why ruin a good thing? With the subtle Enkei RPF1 wheels and the barely noticeable flared OEM fenders (body work courtesy of Tony Massaro and Connecticut Coach Auto Body), the custom rollcage courtesy of Sean Lyddy is the only sign hinting at what might lurk underneath the hood - you might very well walk past the Z and never look twice. But if you see Mark at the strip, don't laugh. You'll most likely get your ass handed to you by what you would assume is a stock Z. And the noise it makes under load makes freight trains sound tame.
"The only place to go from here, is faster," Mark says, and we think that says it all. With the ever-increasing popularity of V-8 swaps, we hope to see more people taking cues from Mr. Rainville and his amazing Z33 creation.
Specs & Details
'04 Nissan 350Z
Engine '05 Pontiac 6.0-liter LS2 V-8
Engine Modifications Stock rotating assembly; ARP rod bolts; custom Comp Cams turbo cam; "317" low-compression truck heads w/ PRC Extreme dual valve springs & titanium retainers; custom-length Comp Cams chromoly pushrods; Cadillac Racing lifters; ARP head studs: MLS head gaskets; stock intake manifold; 90mm throttle body; custom 2.5-bar MAP sensor; 83-lb FIC injectors; NGK TR7 spark plugs; Speed Inc. billet fuel rails; Magnafuel 4301 1,500hp external fuel pump w/ custom in-tank Venturi system; Aeromotive 13101 AFPR; Precision PT47-88mm turbo; twin Tial 38mm wastegates dumped to atmosphere; Tial 50mm BOV, 31x12x4" intercooler, 4" downpipe w/ cats; dual 3" MagnaFlow mufflers; Griffin radiator w/ billet straight water neck; custom sheetmetal oil pan; solid chromoly engine mounts
Engine Management GM E40 ECU; HP Tuners w/ custom 2.5-bar Open Loop Speed Density OS; MSD 2-step launch controller
Drivetrain Viper spec MN12 t56 transmission; Mcleod RXT twin-disc clutch; modified GTO clutch master cylinder; Pro Billet shifter; custom carbon-fiber driveshaft; SPL solid differential bushings; custom modified SP differential braces
Suspension SPL chromoly camber & traction rods
Interior Sean Lyddy 6-point rollcage w/ removable door bars; Recaro Speed seat; G-Force racing 5-point camlock harness; STRI fuel pressure, water temperature & oil pressure gauges; AEM Tru Boost; Innovate wideband; Speed Hut custom in dash Tach w/ LED integrated shift light; Pioneer in-dash head unit, 6.5" speakers; GTO gas pedal & shift knob w/ boot
Thanks To Tony Massaro at Connecticut Coach Auto Body, Corey Raymond, Sean Lyddy, Jesse & the crew at Turbokits.com & Nick Laudano
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Enkei RPF1 wheels 18x9" +35mm offset (f) & 18x10" +38mm offset (r); Eibach 20mm spacers (f/r); BFGoodrich KDW2 tires 255/40R18 & (f) 295/35R18 (r); OEM Brembo brakes
Exterior Custom stretched & rolled OEM rear fenders (+10mm); shaved antenna & rear wiper; Rear bumper tuck; '08+ front-end conversion; custom silver metallic paint; Nismo clear corner lights.