NEVER SAY DIE
BOOSTED AND STROKED ROCKET BUNNY 350Z
When drifting burst onto the scene here in New Zealand, the sport was new the world over: it was cheap; attainable; and, most important, that sh*t was exciting. It was a young man’s sport that proudly pointed the middle finger at traditional motorsport aficionados, and then rubbed their faces in it as crowd numbers swelled and sponsors flocked to get on the drift bandwagon. For many young Kiwis, drifting was an opportunity not to be turned down, and with training classes held regularly, the sport exploded here.
Brad Smith was among the converted youth who fell head over heels for drifting and dreamed of making it to the big time — the world stage. Even if he admits that at his first track day he couldn’t so much as keep a doughnut going around a cone without spinning out.
Over the next few years, his skills improved (vastly) and so did his car. He made the switch from an RB20DET Cefiro to a RB25DET Silvia and climbed his way towards the top of the D1NZ ranks. In 2008, the young Mag and Turbo staffer decided it was time to go big, and he bought a crashed 350Z: “I purchased the 350Z chassis because Tanner Foust and Chris Forsberg were winning championships in them in the States. Like every kid, I wanted to be this top-dog drifter, [and I thought] they are winning championships, so, OK, that’s the shell I should go and buy.”
Not two years old at the time, the 350Z was New Zealand new and had barely had 30 klicks on the clock before someone sideswiped the sh*t out of it, to the point that it resembled a peeled-open sardine can.
Engineless, the body made its way to Brad so the build could begin — or so he foolishly thought. The reality was that his dream of building a truly next-level build for New Zealand drifting far outweighed his minimum-wage-earning bank balance. You have to remember this was a two-year-old car, and barely anyone was developing parts, apart from top factory-backed teams in the US.
As he only had limited funds, progress was slow. Some adjustable arms were developed locally, and a very extensive roll cage found its way into the shell. The search for an engine was a real eye opener. At the time, VQs were commanding $4500. But, when a dismantled one was offered for $2K by Kelford Cams, it was promptly bought, though it had been completely stripped. “They had purchased it to start developing head swaps for the VQ and then realized there wasn’t a market, so they had this motor sitting in parts in the crate. They gave me the ported-and-polished heads with all the valves and cams, etc. — the cams alone would have been worth $2K. But, once again, through lack of research, I
The front-mounted Precision 6870 turbo left little to no room for the coolers up front, so Plazmaman had no option but to custom make the radiator and intercooler to suit the tight confines
This season saw the addition of a 6666 Customs Rocket Bunny kit, which absolutely swallows up the 18x10-inch (-35) and 18x11-inch (-55) Work Meister S1Rs
still had this motor that was super expensive to build. So that’s when it went and sat in the shed, while I went off and did other things, met my wife, and we built our first house. Through all this, we had this ‘thing’ following us around. We moved into a little two-bedroom place in Pakuranga with a tiny one-car garage — the race car took that space along with all its parts. The reality was, I had a dream to build this car, and I wasn’t not going to build it. I sold off parts like the gearboxes I had, and almost sold the motor, but never even entertained the idea of selling the shell.”
In 2013, after he’d dragged the car around for five years, and with only eight weeks until the start of the D1NZ season, Burger Fuel came on as naming right and it was rolled into the No Cams workshop where the build was kicked into top gear. The 350Z was completely stripped to nothing more than a caged shell, and it was decided to scale the dream back and build the car with nothing but the bare necessities to get Brad on the grid in two months flat.
With such a short period, as many off-the-shelf components as poss were ordered from the US and Oz. The engine was pieced together in factory form, and a Rotrex Supercharger kit was bolted on, which made just under 500 ponies. The car was finished the morning of the season opener — Brad made his return to D1NZ, and, despite the rushed build, the 350 performed faultlessly, even with a sleep-deprived and very rusty driver. “It wasn’t the build I wanted to do, but it was finally going, and I was back,” he says.
That first season was a real test for the team. The car blew an engine mid season, when the factory rod exited out of the block, then there was the big crash at the final round, which tore the back off the car. He’d been feeling more comfortable behind the wheel that round, thanks to some sound advice from D1NZ OG Justin Rood, so the crash was a kick in the guts. Just prior, Brad had made a change: “I had heard 10mm toe in the rear for grip was the thing to do. So I was struggling with a car that was twitchy and very grippy. Initially, I thought it was just me getting used to drifting again — but the reality was [that] I should have set it up to what I knew, and made it slippery to begin with. Which is what I did pre Mount Smart.”
At the end of that season, the car was taken to International Motorsport (IMS) for a complete overhaul, giving Brad an insight into how a well-oiled motorsport machine can run. IMS rebuilt the 350, tube framing the front and rear and also offering a Quaife sixspeed with V8-supercar flat shift as an alternative to the four-speed route Brad was eyeing up. At the same time, the engine was back at Glendene Engine Reconditioners (GER) receiving a Brian Crower 3.8 stroker kit and larger front housing on the blower — which saw
the power rise to around 480kW, with a very linear power curve.
With IMS now on board, the 350 was a completely different animal — one that was super reliable and allowed Brad to concentrate on the most important aspect of drifting — the driving.
The following season, he made huge inroads in the competitor field, going from 23rd to 10th in the season, qualifying at each round, and making a podium at Christchurch after nabbing P1. But, despite the results, the car was still not as competitive as Brad wanted. That super-smooth power delivery just wasn’t suited to his driving style. “I would be pinned absolutely everywhere and having to clutch kick it,” he recalls. “We wanted to increase the wheel speed much earlier in the rpm, which would help me drive it.” The answer? Going turbo.
A few weeks out from the season, Limitless Motorsport came on board and supplied the necessary gear, a specially specced turbo from Precision and custom coolers from Plazmaman, to suit the extremely tight confines of the 350’s bay. The result was 599kW at 7800rpm and a tyre-destroying 1007Nm of torque on only 14.5psi. But again, making all these changes so close to the season opener hampered Brad’s performance, as he had to relearn the car entirely, which meant that he slipped back in the ranks. So, heading into another new season, don’t expect to see drastic changes to the 350’s mechanicals. The plan is to change nothing in that department, and instead focus on getting Brad some serious seat time — something that any drifter knows is key to results.
You can’t but admire the way that he’s stuck to the dream he had as a 24-year-old. The car he now has is undoubtedly the machine he set out to build all those years ago. Sure, it didn’t happen overnight, and he learned some lessons along the way, but he never gave up — and still today, he is pushing hard for perfection. This truly is a next-level build, one of the highest-calibre race cars to call the Demon Energy D1NZ grid home.
Although equipped with a flat shift from a V8 Supercar, it’s rarely used for drifting, as Brad prefers to stomp the clutch to swap gears with the Quaife E69G sixspeed sequential Since its debut in 2013, the 350Z has run the full swag of Parts Shop Max catalogue items, including the pro coilovers. There was talk of going Wisefab at some stage, but Brad is still weighing up the idea
ENGINE: GER-built Nissan VQ38DET, 3800cc, 6 cylinder BLOCK: VQ35DE, Brian Crower billet crank (86.4 stroke), Pro H rods, JE 1mm oversized pistons (10:0.1), 625+ fasteners HEAD: Kelford Cams portedand-polished heads and custom ground cams, Ferrea valve springs, Supertech 1mm oversized valves INTAKE: Custom plenum, K&N air filter, Plazmaman intercooler with V-band clamps EXHAUST: 3.5-inch straightthrough, V-band clamps TURBO: Precision 6870, DKM Fabrication manifold WASTEGATE: Dual Precision 48mm BOV: Precision FUEL: Fuel Safe 60-litre tank, V8-super-tourer lift pumps and surge tank, Dual Bosch 044 main pumps, Turbosmart 1200 fuel-pressure regulator, Siemens 2400cc injectors IGNITION: Factory coils, HKS spark plugs ECU: Link G4+ Xtreme COOLING: Custom Plazmaman alloy radiator, -20 AN fittings EXTRA: Custom oil catch-can
INTERIOR SEATS: (Driver) Racetech 4009HR, Racetech harness; (passenger) Racetech 4009 STEERING WHEEL: Racetech 70mm dish, Racetech quick-release INSTRUMENTATION: Link dash
SUPPORT STRUTS: Parts Shop Max Pro coilovers; (F) 12kg Parts Shop Max springs, (R) 8kg Parts Shop Max springs BRAKES: (F) Factory Brembo, (R) factory Brembo; Parts Shop Max handbrake with secondary calipers EXTRA: Parts Shop Max lock kit, tubeframe front, tube-frame rear DRIVELINE GEARBOX: Quaife E69G six-speed sequential, Quaife bellhousing, V8-supercar flat-shift system CLUTCH: Powertrain triple-plate FLYWHEEL: Custom billet DIFF: Locked factory (3:3.0 ratio)
SHOES WHEELS: (F) 18x10-inch (-35) Work Meister S1R, (R) 18x11-inch (-55) Work Meister S1R TYRES: (F) 235/40R18 Jinyu semislick, (R) 265/35R18 Jinyu semi-slick