If you're looking to update a classic Japanese sports car like the S30-generation Datsun Z yet retain as much of that classic retro styling and attitude as possible, Linh Bui of JER Development is the man to see. A longtime veteran of the Z-car swap game, the Southern California resident did his first RB26 conversion in 1998; so it was only natural that when Jay Joaquin of USA Vape Lab put the word out that he was seeking someone to build a rolling billboard for his company's Naked 100 E-Liquid vape juice, he was referred to Linh. In fact, the trust between the two partners was so strong that Jay gave Linh carte blanche to come up with the ultimate head-turner for his company.
"Jay came to me with a vision of what he wanted the car to be and then let me do my thing," Linh explains. "He had been inspired by Sung Kang's Fugu Z and wanted something at that level. I found the car, planned out where we wanted to go with it, and then handled the entire project from start to finish. It was like being given a corporate credit card and then told to build the best possible Datsun 240Z I could imagine."
Fortunately for Joaquin and his crew, there aren't many folks out there with imaginations quite as impressive as Linh's when it comes to stuffing turbocharged Nissan sixes under the hoods of the brand's iconic sports car. "The Z started out as a previous client's ride, and it actually featured a pretty cool RB30 block that was mated to an RB26 head, in an all-motor setup," Linh says. "But USA Vape Lab wanted to be in the neighborhood of 400 to 500 hp, so we had no choice but to go with forced induction."
Out went the RB30. In its place went a relatively stock RB26 sourced from an R33 Skyline GT-R; that is until the JER team decided to tear it apart, inspect everything they could, and correct all the little weaknesses the engine is known for. This meant changing the crank, porting and polishing the head, adding Tomei cams, valvesprings, valves, and retainers, plus Eagle rods, JE pistons, ACL bearings, ARP fasteners, and, of course, boring the block 0.40 over (while maintaining an 8.5:1 compression ratio). A Nissan N1 oil pump and water pump were also installed, along with a Tomei adjustable fuel pump fed by a 14-gallon fuel cell.
No expense was spared in building not just the engine, but also the rest of the 240Z. Linh clarifies: "This was kind of like 'my' build, but the customer financed it," he says. "That didn't mean money was no object, but what it did translate to was me seeking out the absolute best parts possible, based on their cost-effectiveness and the value they brought to the project."
The transmission was sourced from an RB25 car to create the strongest possible combination while staying in the Nissan parts bin, and it was mated to a custom chromoly clutch. A viscous limited-slip differential borrowed from a 300ZX handles the output from the Turbonetics twin-scroll dual ball-bearing turbo, with 3-inch exhaust piping as well as 3-inch piping for the JER intercooler and three-row radiator routing gases and liquids where they need to go.
Suspension-wise, the car rides on nearly the entire Arizona Z catalog, including fully adjustable coilovers with big bore shocks and race springs, as well as weld-on adjustable camber plates and billet-aluminum front and rear control arms. The company is also the source of the car's mustache bar, steering knuckles, and five-lug conversion hubs for attaching the 17-inch Rotiform LHR rims and Nitto NT01 rubber. A set of custom brakes from Arizona Z clamp six pistons down ahead of the driver, and four pistons behind.
Of course, not everything was easy, and there were challenges involved with putting together this killer '73 Z. "This car was fighting us tooth and nail almost to the end," Linh says. "We ended up having to make our own custom axles after we sourced the beefy ZX LSD, because no vendors offered a solution other than building them for us at a considerable cost, combined with weeks of waiting. Then we had a number of quality issues when fairly big name brands ended up failing on us relatively early in the build process, forcing us to circle back to address the issues with alternative components."
Tuning is still in progress with the car, but Linh is confident it's in the 500-whp range with the current setup. He's also eager to point out the Datsun's modern touches don't begin and end in the engine bay. "I wanted to make this car as comfortable to drive as possible, so I added a few features you wouldn't normally find in a Z," he explains. "For example, we used an electric power steering motor that makes it so much easier to turn the front wheels when parking, especially considering the enormous, sticky rubber the car is running. No S30 came from the factory with power steering of any kind. There's also a perimeter key system that activates once you're within 15 feet of the vehicle, so you can just pull the door open, hit the ignition button, and be on your way."
For his part, Joaquin couldn't be happier with how the Z has turned out. "One thing I really want to stress is this car was built to be driven," Jay says. "It's really great to be able to drive a vintage vehicle with the modern features Linh has baked into this build, and we get an incredible reaction whenever we take it to shows. The Pandem kit, combined with the livery, is so recognizable that there are certain local meets where they expect me to show up after my evening shakedown runs. I'm more than happy to be out there on the street with it, as this is not—and never will be—a trailer queen."