Tyler Powell didn't grow up like you and I. He wasn't toying around with Hondas or Nissans as a teenager, he rarely picked up magazines like Super Street or Sport Compact Car, and his unique career path led him to become a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This didn't mean he wasn't a car guy, though—just not the type we'd normally talk to or hang out with. Tyler was born with V-8s and Corvettes in his DNA. Before he started his tenure for the FBI, he developed a knack for custom fabrication and wrenching on cars, but all under the Chevy umbrella. He's put together a long list of Corvette projects, including two Mongoose Motorsports '63 Grand Sports (top notch stuff in the Corvette world) that he's proudly daily driven and raced for years, even competing in SCCA track events, Holley LSFest, and Optima Ultimate Street Car. But after parting ways with his Corvettes, it was time to finish this '72 Datsun 240Z, a project he's kept under wraps for several years.
So how does a Corvette guru pick up Nissan's beloved Z? It dates back to Tyler's childhood. "One of my favorite Hot Wheels toys was a Z," he explains. "The Z is just so sleek and I've always loved the coupe profile. It's lightweight, handles great, and in all honesty, it's very Corvette like. Also, a friend of mine bought a Z in college and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so I made a mental note that it would be a car I would one day build!" And that's exactly what transpired several years later. While still working for the FBI, Tyler couldn't pass up a smoking deal on a '74 260Z and this 240Z for roughly $750 cash. The original plan was to use these donor vehicles along with a bunch of used 350Z and 370Z components to create a modern-day pro-touring roadster. However, during his scavenge for parts, he was struck with the idea of transplanting a powertrain he was more familiar with: a similar dry-sump LS7 setup from his previous Vette. This new concept would become known as the "Fairlady Z06."
Before we delve too deep into Tyler's Z, it's important to learn a little more about his not-so-typical background. "I used to design suspensions alongside Fab-Worx and Finch Performance," he reveals. "I had a chemical engineering scholarship in college and flipped over to mechanical for a while, but in the end I didn't feel it was the path I wanted to take. I played some [Division] 1 college baseball, I've worked on presidential campaigns and for the family construction business, was a musician, singer, and songwriter, then became an FBI agent. Today, I build custom cars for Showtime Motorsports and also build custom cars on the side." Quite the resume and list of achievements for the Nashville resident, and luckily for us, cars won him over, as we can be inspired by the Fairlady Z06 today.
All the magic took place in Tyler's 20x20-foot garage, and it began with the chassis. "Instead of trying to make the suspension fit the 240Z unibody, I made the Z fit my own tubular chassis and suspension," he explains. "The Corvette Z06 is roughly 105.5 inches long and a Z is around 90.5 inches, so I had to shorten the torque tube 15 inches to fit the 240Z wheelbase. It's a massive undertaking!" Tyler goes on to explain how literally every inch of the vehicle was altered. "Every change causes a chain reaction. So, you want a Vette transaxle? OK, well you're going to have to find the narrowest race seat possible because the transaxle is nuzzled next to your rib cage. Dropped footbox? Tighter custom header fitment. You get the idea... Everything has a consequence. I basically modified the entire car or modified something off the Z in some way. It would take hours to walk around the car and point out all the custom pieces and parts."
While Tyler developed the chassis, he sourced a transmission and diff locally from a C6 Corvette. He then bought a short-block, which he had Shacklett Automotive Machine rebuild. The V-8 received a set of Mahle forged pistons, ARP fasteners, Lingenfelter LS7 CNC-ported heads, MSD intake manifold, and a custom cam among other goodies. Graham Behan of Lingenfelter spec'd the cam to bleed off some of the overpowering torque while keeping the power strong up top. "Granted it's still making 500 lb-ft, but it makes the car so manageable down low. The car is a rocket out of the hole and you can just roll in the throttle," he adds.
Getting the oiling and cooling systems up to speed was also a vital part of the build. "I went with the factory-style LS7 dry-sump system but upgraded to a Katech red pump—30 percent greater scavenge and 20 percent greater pressure. I used Improved Racing trap door baffles and one of its crank scrapers to control oil in the bottom end. A massive -16 AN line feeds the pump from a 3-gallon dry-sump tank mounted behind the passenger seat. The Earl's oil cooler thermostat kicks on at 180 degrees and oil is sent through a cooler that's about as big as the radiator itself!"
After hooking up the Holley HP EFI system and plug-and-play harness, Tyler mentioned the system had quite the easy learning curve, as he taught himself tuning the ECU to make 565 whp and 515 lb-ft of torque. Considering the curb weight of the Datsun is 2,650 pounds, it was more than enough power to handle.
We continued to learn more about the chassis, which Tyler reasons is a thing of beauty as he's utilizing Corvette knuckles and suspension parts. They're bolt-on affairs, and if anything ever got damaged, finding replacements would be incredibly easy. A notable highlight about the suspension is the JRi hydraulic ride height system, which offers the benefits of a full coilover but allows all four corners to raise and lower a few inches via a hydraulic pump. Quite frankly, it's a pretty baller setup you'd normally spot on a high-end sports car.
Again, dipping into the Corvette parts bin are the Wilwood Aero6 big brakes, which any C5 or C6 guy can go out and buy. As an autocross addict, Tyler upgraded the pads to BP-30 Smart parts for less fade and higher friction.
You're probably still wondering how wide is this altered beast... Well, there's an insane amount of grip thanks to 315-series front and 335-series tires out back. And in case you're curious about the track width, a stock 240Z is roughly 64 inches, while the Fairlady Z06 is a whopping 78 inches wide! A ridiculous difference in size; however, the more we admire it, the more we're surprised how well it flows and looks as if Tyler knew what he was doing all along.
The blueprint started with JDM Marugen Shoukai Works over-fenders, but they weren't wide enough for the C6 Corvette track width, so that idea was scratched. Next, Tyler sourced a 280YZ fender kit from Arizona-based ZTrix. It wasn't wide enough, either, but at least he had the foundation for something he could cut, add fiberglass to, and widen himself until it was the shape he'd envisioned. He later fab'd up a flat-bottom undertray that connects to the carbon-fiber front splitter and rear diffuser. Despite the vehicle's aggressive appearance, he reiterates how keeping some elements untouched was important. "When you build a car this wild, you have to be careful not to lose the original car in the build itself. The Z headlights, the original cowl in the hood, the rear taillights, roofline, and such. As wild as the car is, non-car people still know it's a Z car."
The interior also retains the factory Z flavor while being semi-stripped and quite raw. The ZTrix fiberglass dash holds Speed Hut Revolution gauges. Tyler bead rolled the rear deck in a quilted pattern as a nod to the OG Z. He gives props to Bev McCann who helped sew the suede down the transmission tunnel similar to the original Z cars.
The Fairlady Z06 was completed just in time for last year's LSFest, where the response couldn't have been more well received. "I kept this build pretty close to my chest and didn't really post anything or show anyone progress pics," he recounts. "I designed the entire car, so I really didn't know what to expect when I released it to the world. So many DMs on Instagram of people being inspired to either start a build or finish a build that's been collecting dust."
And the man isn't finished yet. Next on the agenda is carbon-fiber body panels to replace the fiberglass, a more Time Attack-focused aero, and "beating the crap out of the car on the track." He's hinted to us that he wouldn't hesitate driving the car 300 miles, race at an event, then drive it back home another 300 miles. Sounds like something for One Lap of America or HOT ROD Power Tour...
Tyler has cemented himself, not as just a car builder in the V-8 world but in the sports car and tuner community as well. The last question we posed was why he left his role at the FBI. "Being an FBI Special Agent is a job like no other and a job that comes with a great amount of responsibility. I worked everything from counter-terrorism cases to bank robberies, political corruption, covert operations, drug searches, you name it... It's an incredible organization, regardless of your standpoint or what you hear in the news. As someone from the inside, I can tell you the FBI as a whole is filled with incredible people who work every day at making this country a better place. But in the end, I left the bureau to move closer to family and to pursue building and designing cars."