Reborn: The Hand-Me-Down Datsun Z
Regifting isn’t always bad. In fact, when Bill Brinkworth was in high school, he wanted nothing more than the hand-me-down Zed (he’s Canadian) that his pal, Jason Nakano, got for his 16th birthday. “His parents bought the car new,” Bill points out.
He relates a few stories, like the one about going to the next town over to meet some girls. “It’s a two-seater, of course, so they had to squish up into the hatch!” And like with any good story, this one has tension. “I had to be back at 9 o’clock, and my parents were really strict. A minute late and I’d be grounded.”
“I realized that I was probably going to get home late. ‘No problem,’ Jason says. We hit the highway, and he just buried the needle.” Like every good story, this one has some embellishment—a Zed speedo goes to 160 mph. “I’ll never forget that—man, we were flying. But he got me home with 3 minutes to spare!”
As it usually does, graduation took Bill and Jason different directions. When Jason worked his way into a newer car, his old Zed sat. And sat. “Throughout the years, I bugged him to sell the car to me,” Bill says. “But he wanted me to restore the car for him.” Bill restores Japanese classics for a living. “After a while, I got on his case, ‘You know you’ll never do anything with that car,’ I’d tell him. But he was all, ‘I love that car—I got it for my 16th!’” Which, to be honest, is relatable.
A Project and a Half
“Then out of the blue one day, he messages me—‘Hey, if you want it, come and pick it up.’” Turns out his parents wanted it out of their yard more than Jason wanted to keep it. “By then, there was so much work that it needed, he said he probably couldn’t afford to make it right.
“My brother, Barry, came with me; he got me into cars when I was a kid, and we went into business doing cars for a while. When he saw it, he said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous! It needs everything!’” Blinded by nostalgia, Bill rationalized that he could just clean the car up, make it drive, then decide what to do from there. “He agrees, but he’s laughing at me because he already has tons of those one-day-I’ll-finish-it projects.
“When we got it home, I showed my son, Dylan, and asked if it was something he wanted to do.” Now about this Dylan. Going by Bill’s account of how the car came together, you’d assume Dylan was a grown-assed man. He’s 11. And when Bill pitched the idea, Dylan was only 7. But he’s precocious; he could already smell the potential folly. “‘I guess so, but it looks like a lot of work,’ he told me,” Bill recounts.
“Then it started to hit me, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ It was scary—I didn’t know if I had the time to do this with my regular work. And if I was to do it the way it’s supposed to be done—strip it down and have it blasted—it would take too long and make Dylan lose interest. I thought if there’s any way we can get it running and driving, then we could work on the cosmetics.”
Which is exactly what they did. “That’s when I noticed the rear quarter-panels,” Bill continues. “They were so rusty.”
Then it struck him: why not flares? “We’re both Mad Mike fans,” Bill says. “Dylan asks, ‘Why don’t we do those kinds of flares.’ This was on Mike’s Mazda FD RX-7 with the Rocket Bunny kit. I was kind of on the fence about it—I mean, they’re big flares. So he did a few sketches and showed me that it would work.”
Car people are pretty enterprising, but making a bodykit from scratch is on another level altogether. This Bill, though—he ain’t cut from regular cloth. “My family builds models,” he says.
These aren’t the model kits you got as a kid, though. “We make things from scratch,” Bill explains. His grandfather built scale-model train accessories for the renowned Bassett-Lowke. “Then my dad, Al, basically took that over.”
When Al emigrated to Canada, he took on new jobs that opened new avenues, mostly within the architecture world. “I was in high school when my dad got me into the business making little things for architectural models, like cars from Plexiglas,” Bill says. Then they got into the racing industry. “Some guy wanted a Rolls-Royce made,” Bill recalls. It was Paul Newman, then of Newman-Haas fame. They started ordering scale versions of the team cars piloted by Andrettis Mario and Michael. “Then Chip Ganassi got his Target cars done. Then we went to Players Racing,” Bill says. “We built all those cars by hand with saws and files. My dad is more of an engineer than a model maker.”
Barry helped with the sculpting and molding. Rocket Bunny didn’t produce its S30 flares at the time, but Bill and Barry took cues from the company’s flares for its RX-7. They carved the shape from modeling foam, but rather than laminating and finishing one set, they pulled molds to go into production. The canard and spoiler are the duo’s one-off designs.
Learning at a Young Age
Meanwhile, Dylan stripped the car. “Then I taught him how to do things like spray primer. First, it was rattle cans, but now he mixes primer and shoots it from the gun. He also did a lot of the filler work and sanding on the car.” Again, eight.
Bill ultimately painted the car, but Dylan did a lot of the prep. It’s an Axalta/Nason single-stage, a newer Porsche 911 orange. Vancity Vinyl applied some black graphics. The flares let Bill stuff 225/45 NT01s and 275/50 NT555Rs on 15x10.5 Atara Racing rollers.
“We wanted something that would tie in to the Japanese part,” Bill says. “It made sense to find a word that would describe the car from when we grabbed it to now. You know, something about coming back from the dead. One of my Japanese friends said that saisei best described that. It basically means reborn.” Bret Spangler at ZX Design 3D printed the badges on the sail panels.
Bill traded some rear flares for an Autopower rollbar. “At first, it had just a stock hood painted satin black, but then we got the carbon-fiber hood.” The car came with an L28 stroked to 3.1. “It was swapped by [Jason’s] uncle, who built Nissan race engines back in the day in Japan.” Rather than run the SU carburetors, Bill had Mac Harris at MDA Fabrications build elbows to adapt Weber 44 IDFs to Tomei manifolds. Dylan and Bill cut the necessary hole in the hood. “It was all a little bit at a time,” Bill admits.
Showing Their Masterpiece
All the while, Bill and Dylan showed the car whenever possible. “I remember my first Formula Drift,” Dylan recalls. “It was so cool.”
Then one day a new show popped up on their Facebook feed: Hot Wheels was bringing its Legends 50th Anniversary Tour to Seattle. Bill signed up. And they won.
“I thought you just got another award, but then they tell me, ‘Great, the next stop is the SEMA Show.’ Are you kidding me? I always wanted to go to SEMA, and now I have a car going? Dylan didn’t know what to say, either—I mean, he knows what SEMA is. He knows it’s a big deal.”
Making It SEMA-Worthy
But as cool as it is, taking a car to the event is a bit of a free pony in the sense that it labors builders with a ton more work. “We had to step it up to make the car look better,” Bill says. Dave’s Powdercoating refinished the wheels and various components in the candy red. Wraps n Gadgets applied the mirrored graphics and made the acrylic console inserts. Kingdom Carbon made some interior accessories and a set of red-insert Bride seats replaced the gray ones.
The crew at Thirty3 Pneumatics set up a manifold to operate Bag Barn air springs on front coilovers. Mac Harris sweet-talked Ticon Industries into donating the tubing the MDA crew used to make the exhaust system. Bill and Dylan pulled the engine, filled the holes in the compartment and painted it the same color as the body so they could proudly raise the hood.
Their Zed made its splash at Hot Wheels’ booth in front of the main hall. The only rub: The event is an adults-only deal. “He was able to go wherever the car was, but because he’s too young, he couldn’t go into the show itself,” Bill laments. “He would’ve been all over it, seeing what new tools are out there. That’s like his thing.”
Leaving It Finished
Naturally, a SEMA appearance is kind of hard to beat, which is a bit of a relief for the duo. “I asked Dylan if we should do anything different, and he’s all, ‘No, Dad, we’re going to leave it.’” Forever the adult in the room, Dylan adds, “I told him I like it how it is now.”
“We need to bring the balance back,” Bill says. “My wife is real proud of us, but sometimes she’s all, ‘It’s all about the damn car!’ So I think I need to give her some more attention now.” And by her, he means her car, a V-Tec–swapped Austin Mini. “We’ve been working on it forever, so it’d make her happy and make up for what we put her through.”
While it tickles Bill to have the car of his boyhood dreams, he admits it almost pales to the real gift, the one he and Dylan share. “I think about when we worked late at night under small lights in a tent or whatever,” he says. “We’re super tired, but we’re joking—I can tell when he gets super tired because he laughs at the silliest things. I mean, it’s the same way with me. Doing this stuff can be really fun. Wow, those are the times that you can never replace. Or forget.”
Not bad for a regift, eh?