It all started with a concept drawing of the proposed 2016 Australian v8 Ute series, which was looking to move to the likes of D40s, Holden Colorados, and Ford Rangers for the 2017 season. These slammed-out tradie trucks looked amazing sitting super low, with a big front splitter and roll cage. It was enough for Hamilton-based Glenn Hodges of The Lab to instantly decide he would build one.
A cab was found at his local wrecker, and he hatched a plan to build a tube-frame chassis and take it racing. The only problem was that his better half didn’t quite share the vision and didn’t see the car-nut side of building another race car when they already had one at home. Like all good couples, they reached a compromise — Glenn would build a road-going version to replace the D22 Navara that was serving as his work hack and race-car tow vehicle.
With the new project’s direction sorted, the cab was collected, along with a complete rolling chassis to use for parts, because Glenn still planned a scratch-built chassis, as that was the logical way to get the normally high-riding D40 ute six-inches lower and still retain practical things like ground clearance, as he explained: “It worked out easier to build as a scratch-built vehicle, as I planned so much work to the chassis. The concept drawing looked so low that it was impractical to achieve that with the factory chassis. By the time I would have dropped it six-inches, I would have had zero ground clearance.” He worked with his local certifier, and the new chassis used the front clip from that D40 rolling chassis and the very back of it, to retain the factory two mounts. The rest of it — from the rear front-suspension mount to behind the subframe — was built by Glenn, who also added an R51 Pathfinder independent rear suspension (IRS) subframe and 300ZX LSD.
To make use of the LSD, there’s a VK45DD Nissan V8 backed by a factory D40 five-speed, mated to the V8 via a custom bellhousing made by Glenn. Although factory internally — for now, at least — the low-down torque and driveability make it very fit for purpose, and it’ll tow the race car in comfort. It was no plug-and-play affair to get all the electronics working, as anyone who has engine-swapped late-model cars will confirm. Some of that new technology, like the CAN bus, makes it very tricky to get it all talking. Dave from Tauranga’s Dtech Motorsport spent many a frustrating hour getting the engine, Emtron ECU, and factory dash to work in harmony.
Another of the bigger custom jobs was creating the king-cab tray. “The king cab was sold in ver limited numbers here in New Zealand then discontinued, so it is extremely hard to get a second-hand tray. Mine is two double-cab trays cut and sectioned together,” Glenn told us. When you consider he basically only had a few photos to go off, the fact he got the tray spot on is not a bad effort. Just how spot on? That’s an aftermarket Tuf Dek liner, which fitted straight in.
You might expect a project of this magnitude to take a few years, but Glenn managed to smash it out in only nine months, from just the bare cab. Looking at it at first glance, you may be tempted dismiss the amount of work that Glenn has poured into it, but that’s the kind of project it is; low key, but it will have all those other D40 owners scratching their heads and probably more than a little jealous that theirs isn’t this low and certainly does not sound like Glenn’s. That IRS rear also makes it handle a bunch better: “Compared to my old D22, which was like going 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali whenever we towed with it, this one is like kicking back and watching a movie, it’s that relaxing.”
We don’t think you could ask for anything more in a workhorse. The only question we have left is, if the completed project has convinced the better half, surely a tube-frame race version is not such a bad idea after all? We guess only time will tell how that goes …
2015 LVV scratch-built Navara
- Engine: VK45DD
- Block: Factory
- Head: Factory
- Intake: Custom airbox, three-inch intake pipe, low-speed butterflies in throttle body removed, mild porting inside manifolds
- Exhaust: Standard manifolds, 2.5-inch stainless system, Coby stainless mufflers, Coby/ The Lab stainless resonators, laser-cut flanges, 2.5-inch balance pipe, The Lab custom tips
- Fuel: Custom alloy 125-litre tank, Aeroflow external fuel pump, Tomei fuel-pressure regulator, custom fuel rails, top-feed injectors
- Ignition: Factory COP
- ECU: Emtron KV8, dual wideband and knock sensors, CAN interface programmed to run instrument cluster
- Cooling: D40 Navara radiator, custom shroud, VK45DD hydraulic-driven fan, custom header tank
- Extra: Custom engine mounts, custom engine harness
- Gearbox: D40 six-speed, modified with VK45DD bellhousing
- Clutch: Factory
- Flywheel: VG30DETT, modified with crank trigger fitted
- Diff: Z32 300ZX R230 LSD
- Struts: Shortened Nissan shocks, Dobi springs (R) R51 Pathfinder shocks, Dobi springs
- Brakes: DBA T2 rotors, OEM pads
- Other: R51 Pathfinder rear cradle
- Wheels: (F) Lenso RTC 20x9-inch (+30) (R) 20x10.5-inch (+10)
- Tyres: (F) 275/35R20 R35 GT-R Bridgestones (R) 285/35/R20 R35 GT-R Bridgestones
- Paint: OEM
- Enhancements: Custom alloy side skirts, custom tray arches pumped out 70mm, custom Tuff Dek liner, The Lab stainless roll bar, tinted windows, carbon-fibre vinyl-wrapped tailgate
- Seats: Factory
- Steering wheel: Factory
- Instrumentation: Factory
- Power: 187kW / 413Nm at the hubs
- Driver/owner: Glenn Hodges
- Age: 39
- Location: Hamilton
- Occupation: Owner/operator at The Lab Limited
- Build time: Nine months
- Length of ownership: Nine Months
- Thanks: Nissin King PartsWorld, Jim Wright Nissan, Nostalgia Motors, Dtech, Kelvin, Daniel, Gerry and wifey
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 231. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: