What happens when you take all the best pieces from the Nissan back catalogue, and mix them all together to build a drifter? Bloody damn good things, as it turns out
The world of competitive drifting is in a great place right now — the sport is forging ahead at a rapid rate of knots, with extensive R&D having made it easier than ever to build a podium-capable machine. But with this ease comes an element of cookie-cutter builds. Building drift ‘hot rods’ is becoming rarer and rarer, with an alarming number of people signing up to the ‘if you can’t beat ’em join them’ mentality, and taking the easy route to the top. But drifting won’t waste away into obscurity, as thankfully there are those still brave enough to forge ahead and create a hot rod, throwing caution to the wind and building something that’s downright cool, yet still has the promise of being competitive, and not just a back marker.
“When I started getting into drifting, I realized [that] I never wanted to do something like everyone else,” says Joel Dimmack, who early on in his drifting career hatched a plan to build a drift Zed. That plan became somewhat of an obsession, “I’m not a Datsun fan, but more of Z enthusiast, I’ve had a personal relationship with the 240Z over the years, I’ve just always been drawn to them. After deciding to build a drift-specific one I was pretty much walking around with constant anxiety that someone else would beat me to it, that I would wake up one day, and there would be a 240Z drift car floating around on the internet. The way I had envisioned the car, it was consuming my imagination to the point I couldn’t think of anything else, so basically it was haunting me.”
That saw Joel rush into a build well before he was ready to tackle such a mammoth task, and ultimately his build number one, a 280ZX with an RB25NEO, would fail. As Joel explains it, there were a lot of people involved who didn’t know what they were doing, himself included.
Power was never the major concern with the build, the focus was torque, something an R35 is not short of. A pair of Gen II Garrett GTX3076R turbos sit on custom manifolds, while internally the block remains factory
Many mistakes were made and ultimately the decision was made to scrap the concept once they realised it wouldn’t turn out the way he had planned. Still, from the ashes of that 280ZX project Joel’s more conventional S13 was born, which would serve him for the next five years, going from a daily driven street car to competing at the highest level in Australia, placing 10th overall and the highest points holder for a rookie season in ADGP. Sure, it was a kick in the guts that the Datsun failed, but it was nothing more than a test flight for the real deal project which now calls his workshop home — the real deal chassis with the real deal engine.
As anyone in the Datsun fraternity can attest, finding a holy grail 240Z shell is a near impossibility, and then you have to convince the owner you’re a worthy recipient, as Joel soon discovered.
“After that ZX, I started looking around for actual 240Z shells and found some really nice cars, but none were fitting for this project. Most were way too nice a car to chop up and use for racing, so I continued actively looking for a shell,” he says. “There is an air of entitlement you have to navigate around, in that some 240Z owners really don’t like people having more than one or more than them. They will allow you the honour of purchasing one, provided you meet their criteria and restore it in their vein. With some of the negative connotations drifting receives, naturally I had to be quite vague on my plans for the car despite the fact it was going to be built to a very high calibre.”
Eventually an exhaustive search put the right shell in Joel’s possession, and his master plan could be put into play. The 240Z was picked up the week before WTAC 2016, and the deadline debut was WTAC 2017. Now anyone who has undertaken a project of this magnitude will know that 12 months is ambitious, but not unachievable if the right people are engaged in the process. Learning from the first attempt, Joel took no chances, and engaged with one of the — if not the — leading race engineering consultancy services in Australasia, Pace Innovations. But first there was extensive rust and repair work to be carried out on the body — work that would stretch out months longer than expected and put the build on the back foot before it even really kicked off.
Having obsessed over the project for so long, Joel had a solid plan in place before he knocked on the workshop door at Pace, but he credits Reuben Lorenson of Pace as the catalyst for what the car is today. It was at Pace that the 240 transformed into a proper race-car build.
"As for the chassis and suspension, I was always going to go all out and invest most of my budget in that area, as you only really get one shot to do it properly. When it came to the engine I was originally going to splice the factory R35 loom and reflash the factory ECU. With the stock turbos and E85, it would still make around 600hp [447kW]. Backing this was a 370Z gearbox just to get the car going, with the intention to upgrade at a later date. Then Pace got involved and simply asked, ‘Do you want to build the car once or twice?’. We started with getting current V8 Supercar suppliers Albins on board with the program, who supplied us a ST6-I sequential, capable of handling any power and torque we’ll throw at it in the future. After that, we started applying that same theory of building it once, and building it right, for the entire build.”
The engine combination was the first area to benefit from this way of thinking, with the R35-sourced VR38DETT receiving a pair of GTX3076R GEN II turbos, each rated to 559kW (750hp), all in the name of one thing — torque. After years of getting left behind by big-capacity nitrous-fuelled V8s, that was the key factor Joel identified as mandatory if you want to build a competitive comp car.
“To build a competitive drifter you need torque, and that’s really where the VR came in. While I love RBs or a properly built, high-revving Nascar-style V8, there is definitely the Nissan purist side of me that solidified the idea of having arguably the most iconic Japanese sports car that Nissan has produced combined with their current supercar engine.”
Thanks to the CarbonSignal Moonbeam styling kit the Datsun has a very aggressive stance, albeit in a very 1970s way, that is
And who can blame Joel, when the VR looks as at home in the bay as it does in the R35. An extensive eight-point roll cage and bracing hold together a chassis that’s near half a century old — number 1212 to roll off the Datsun production line. But when it came to the suspension, again Nissan’s more modern catalogue was called upon. The rear end was borrowed from a S15 to make use of a two-way Nismo LSD, and the front suspension was also meant for an S15, which allowed off-the-shelf drift-specific componentry to be fitted.
The Pace crew were already reshaping the wheel, so there was no need to redesign it at the same time, right? Right from the get-go one of the biggest areas of concern for Pace was getting the lock working, and swapping the front end to S15 meant the Parts Shop Max ‘Limit Break’ high-angle steering kit slotted straight into place. Going down this route paid off instantly, as right out of the gate Joel says the car felt great, even if it wasn’t 100 per cent mechanically, as a faulty fuel pump plagued its WTAC debut. But hey, you can’t knock the kid, he did actually make the deadline, after all.
“Thursday morning at 6am, we were still on the dyno trying to sort it. Bobby managed to get a tune into it, but we still don’t know exactly what power it made, as it was just tuning to the air-fuel ratio. It had some grunt, but when he went back and looked at the data, the fuel was dropping off pressure at high RPM, so he just capped it at 6000rpm, and limited the throttle to 75 per cent so it couldn’t overboost and kill the engine. It felt like it had nothing.”
Despite this, it was still baking the rears when Joel dropped it in fifth gear. “It felt awesome! But once I hit the rev limiter there were no revs to run out the gear, so I was forced to load it up and use the torque to try and hold a drift as long as possible.”
The boys have had the car back on the dyno since WTAC, and out for some private testing, but where to next is really still up in the air. Comp drifting in Australia is a mess compared to the solid formula we have here in NZ, and that’s an attractive prospect for the Queenslander, but we will just have to see. One thing’s for sure — Joel will not rest now he’s got it going, he is a competitive man, and the story of the GT-Z is only just getting started.
“It was really important for me to get a 240Z: shell-wise, the 260/280s are generally less rusty, but it doesn’t have the prestige that the earlier chassis number has. It’s a 240Z with a very early chassis number. Yes, we have removed most of the Datsun from it, but there is still something about having that old piece of metal that’s got a stamp on it.”
1971 Datsun Fairlady 240Z
ENGINE: Nissan R35 VR38DETT, 3800cc, six cylinder
INTAKE: PWR intercooler
EXHAUST: Four-inch to twin three-inch straight through
TURBO: Twin GCG spec Garrett GTX3076R GEN II, ceramic coated housings, Pace Innovations high-mount manifold
WASTEGATE: Twin Turbosmart Pro-Gate50
FUEL: Fuel Safe Endurance cell, Bosch 1000cc injectors, Edelbrock fuel-pressure regulator
ECU: MoTeC M150 GPR, PDM15, LTCD 4.9
COOLING: PWR VR38 radiator, PWR oil cooler, PWR gearbox cooler
EXTRA: Custom dry sump pan, Dailey Engineering pump, Peterson oil tank, Aero fittings, lines, and hoses
GEARBOX: Albins ST6-I six-speed sequential, Albins billet shifter
CLUTCH: Direct Clutch Services twin-plate
FLYWHEEL: Lightened factory
DIFF: R32 GT-R Nismo GT two-way LSD
STRUTS: Tractive suspension custom coilovers
BRAKES: Tilton pedal box, Obp billet handbrake, (F) Z32/R33 four-pot calipers, Project Mu pads, slotted rotors, (R) dual Z32/R33 two-pot calipers, Project Mu D1 pads, slotted rotors
EXTRA: Parts Shop Max Limit Break high-angle steering kit, adjustable arms throughout, Pace Innovations eight-point roll cage, Pace Innovations chassis bracing,
R32 GT-R Whiteline sway bars, electric power steering, Woodward steering column
WHEELS: (F) 17x8.5-inch Rota RKR (-10), (R) 17x9.5-inch (-20)
TYRES: (F) 215/45R17 Achilles 123S, (R) 255/35R17 Achilles 123S
PAINT: Black on black on black by Matt Stone Racing
ENHANCEMENTS: Carbon fibre roof, carbon bonnet, CarbonSignal Moonbeam front bumper, splitter, widebody, side blades, and three-piece wing, Skillard grille, louvred inspection panels, Restored.jp front guards, front and rear bumpers
SEATS: Japan special edition Bride ZIEG III Type-R, Schroth Racing six-point harness
STEERING WHEEL: Sparco R124, Woodward quick release
INSTRUMENTATION: MoTeC C125 dash, MoTeC keypad, Turbosmart MAC valve
EXTRA: Platinum GT-Z custom metallic paintwork, Top Stage carbon dash
LOCATION: Luscombe, Queensland, Australia
OCCUPATION: Owner — The Vinyl Studio / Camber Wear Clothing
BUILD TIME: 12 months
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: 12 months
THANKS: Pace Innovations, Matt Stone Racing, Mostech Race Engines, PWR Performance Products, Albins Gearboxes, GCG Turbochargers, Direct Clutch Services, Tractive/ TT Suspension, RCE Performance Warehouse, Carbon Signal Automotive, Speedhunters, Parts Shop Max, Skillard
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 253 — you can get your grubby mitts on a copy by clicking the cover below