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Fair Lady: Gas Monkey Garage X Big Mike Datsun Z

Those familiar with Gas Monkey Garage’s Fast N’ Loud show may be surprised to see this car come through its doors. It’s true; GMG has never built a Japanese car. But if Richard’s tagline of “Get you some of that!” is any indication, these guys are open to just about anything—and in this case it’s a 1975 Datsun 280Z.

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

Switching things up in the garage, the Gas Monkeys recruited Big Mike to help as guest builder. Having deep roots with imports, Big Mike’s personal builds have graced the covers of magazines and gained widespread acclaim from the tuner scene. Last year’s SEMA show saw the unveiling of his ’92 Honda Prelude and its Top 10 placement in SEMA’s prestigious Battle of the Builders competition. For the 2017 SEMA show he’s got a new project taking shape.

Once asked by Richard to join in on this build, the two quickly agreed on the classic Z car platform. “Even if you can’t put your finger on it, I felt the hot rod demographic would be able to relate to the Z. And Richard agreed,” recounts Big Mike. Already in the proper era to be considered a “classic,” the Z car is at once decidedly Japanese and American. The size, nimbleness and power plant all say JDM—while the lines and styling have been geared toward the U.S.of A from the start. Big Mike’s vision for the Datsun was to maintain its classic simplicity while complementing its power, saying, “The smaller flares, the color, every decision made was to keep this car in that era.”

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

They kicked things off with an incredibly clean stock ’75 280Z. A solid base vehicle always helps when it comes to squeezing work into GMG’s strenuous TV timeline. From there, the body was reworked in places, taking skills more often associated with a kustom. Blacking out trim was the easy part. All side lighting was deleted, along with the rear bumper, giving the car simpler lines and streamlining the back significantly. “We made it look like it could have come from the factory like that, but it was a lot of work,” notes Mike. “I didn’t want to redesign the car and change it, I wanted to complement it.” Rear fenders had to be re-worked to accommodate a wider tire, all the while “We tried to keep it as close to a stock bodyline as it could be,” says lead GMG builder, Charles Cimino.

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

Sitting underneath those fenders is where things begin to get exciting. “The closer you look at it the more you see and are impressed,” explains Big Mike. “It’s classy on the outside, but its technologically advanced and the powerful performance makes it truly stand apart.” If the sticky Nitto NT01 tires are any indication, this car was meant for much more than just sitting under a spotlight. Handling is taken care of by top-of-the-line suspension components from Arizona Z Car, featuring billet everything with coilovers and custom springs. Charles notes, “It’s got a fully adjustable suspension front and back. Every pick-up point, where the suspension is attached to the body, is adjustable – so if you decide to tune it or race it, it’s all adjustable. That’ll give you that more aggressive track handling and then you can adjust it back for street driving.”

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike: Z Car Suspension

Powering this lady is not it’s original 6-cylinder, but something smaller. Seeking to get the best weight balance, the chosen 4-cylinder powerplant is lighter and allows placement closer to the car’s centerline. Even though it’s smaller, this JDM-spec S14 Nissan Silvia SR20 engine allows for big gains in horsepower. “Everything about this car was designed to make it perform on the street versus in a drag manner,” says Mike. “The SR20 gives us a simple, usable, powerful powerband versus a huge turbo and huge cams.”

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike: SR20 engine

The engine and its placement gives the Datsun a 48/52 weight balance, not to mention about 300 more horses than the car had stock. “Conservatively, if we meet 400 hp we’ll be happy,” notes Charles. “Considering the horsepower-to-weight ratio of this car, it puts it in a competitive seat.” The boost comes from a Garrett GT3071 turbo with Turbosmart wastegates and blowoff valve joined to Hypertune manifolds, throttle body and fuel rail. No stone’s been left unturned or detail overlooked in this engine bay—while the exterior is kept simple and classy, under the hood is where Big Mike really likes to wow.

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

While some of Gas Monkey’s fans may be more used to seeing patched-together imports noisy-up their local streets, this Z project makes a statement that high caliber builds and attention to detail exist on both sides of the fence. Likewise, Big Mike is eager to introduce his crew to a larger world. “People tend to categorize me as a Prelude guy, or a Honda guy, because that’s what they’ve seen. The opportunity to be on a show with this famous hot rod shop, and we’re not working on a Honda, it’s going to blow some people’s minds!”

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

On the inside, the original 2+2 configuration remains. Seating has received an updated bolstering effect, with the original vent hole look being carried through. Starting out with such a clean original car, dash and other areas remain largely untouched. Gauges have been updated to digital Speedhut units and customized with Gas Monkey Garage logos, lest you forget this build came out of their garage. A Datsun Competition steering wheel and shift knob finish off the proper vintage tuner look and feel.

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike: Interior

Once the engine bay was plumbed, metal was shaped, and Leaf Green Metallic paint laid down, the only thing remaining is waiting to see how the build will be received on both sides of the bridge. Charles is confident the finished product will go over well, “SEMA gives people the opportunity to see that we aren’t just limited to the hot rod, muscle car or truck world. Gas Monkey Garage is capable of building just about anything out there—it’s a matter of getting your hands on it, having a vision and getting it done.” Big Mike adds, “I want people to think bigger. When you think bigger, you can achieve better—when you think bigger, you can build better.”

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike Photos by Tim Sutton.

If the Z’s ability to churn out donut smoke is any indication, we’re sure the Fast N’ Loud audience will be perfectly happy with the finished product.

Browse below for specs and a gallery of more photos and be sure to stop in at Nitto's booth (#41127) during SEMA to see this build for yourself!

Gas Monkey Garage Datsun 280Z with Big Mike

Specs: 1975 Datsun 280Z

BUILT FOR: Gas Monkey Garage by Big Mike, Charles Cimino, Jason Aker, Tony Cano, Jeremy Cheatham and Mike Coy
ENGINE: S14 Nissan Silvia Blacktop SR20DET; Honeywell Garrett GT3071; Tomei Pons camshafts and rocker arm stoppers; CP pistons (9.5:1); Turbosmart 45MM wastegates and Raceport blowoff valve; Hypertune manifolds, throttle body and fuel rail; Vibrant Performance plumbing
ELECTRONICS: AEM V.2 Engine Management System, UEGO controller, sensors and 4-channel coil driver; RYWIRE mil-spec SR20 engine harness, Panel Power keypad and boost solenoid kit
TRANSMISSION: Nissan Silvia 5-speed transmission; Q45 R200 differential with Tomei 1.5-way LSD; ACT XTSS clutch and 10.5lb flywheel
SUSPENSION: Arizona Z Car everything… literally 
WHEELS: RAYS Volk Racing TE37V (17x9” -10, 17x9.5” -15), Wilwood brakes (6-piston w/13” rotors, 4-piston w/12.2” rotors)
 TIRES: Nitto NTO1 (225/45/17, 250/40/17)
 BODY: Contoured rear pan, BRE rear wing, ZG flares, 240Z front bumper, Type 1 ducted air dam, Nissan fender mirrors, Leaf Green Metallic paint
 INTERIOR: Speedhut gauges; Datsun Competition steering wheel and shift knob
SPONSORS: RAYS Engineering, Honeywell Garrett, Vibrant Performance, Speedhut, Wilwood Disc Brakes 

Watch for this build on Discovery's Fast N' Loud show soon!

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