SAUL RO­DRIGUEZ’S DAT­SUN 240Z

CIR­CUM­VENT­ING SMOG LAWS IN A 45-YEAR-OLD Z DOESN’T COME EASY

Super Street - - CONTENTS - WORDS Aaron Bonk PHO­TOS Alexan­der Hou

The Dat­sun 240Z had you as soon as you re­al­ized its age ex­empted it from bu­reau­crats and their smog-test­ing ways. There you were, dream­ing about body kits and GT-R en­gine swaps, when all you re­ally should’ve been think­ing about were things like rot­ted-out rub­ber trim, a wiring har­ness as brit­tle as un­cooked lin­guini, and an L-se­ries en­gine you don’t know the first thing about. For the 240Z to make sense, though, you re­ally need to know what you’re get­ting into, which Saul Ro­driguez does. He al­ready knows his way around half-put-to­gether Dat­suns and Nixon-era Oldsmo­biles, not to men­tion the fam­ily busi­ness he helps run—sos Cus­tomz—where he does th­ese sort of things for a pay­check. “I res­tore cars for a liv­ing,” he says, “so I al­ways chal­lenge my­self [by] build­ing dif­fer­ent cars—not your nor­mal builds.”

For Saul, nor­malcy’s evaded it­self by way of things like an ’84 300ZX that in­tro­duced him to stop­light drag rac­ing, and later an SC300 and a pair of 510s that ac­quainted him with the mer­its of 2JZ and SR20 en­gine swaps. He knows his way around some­thing like a 45-year-old Z and, as such, is the sort of guy you’d ex­pect to go on and do some­thing like fab­ri­cate a metal wide­body for it from scratch and stuff a 5.3L V-8 un­derneath its hood. “Th­ese mo­tors are the new age [of] bang for your buck,” he says about GM’S lin­eage of LS long-blocks, cit­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence he’s got swap­ping them into all man­ner of Ca­maros, Chev­elles, Cadil­lacs, and even GTOS. “They’re a no­brainer.”

Ex­cept it wasn’t en­tirely. Nis­san’s tur­bocharged RB engines were the first to show up on Saul’s Z-swap­ping radar but ul­ti­mately lost out to the Amer­i­can small-block with more than twice the dis­place­ment. “I wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he says, “and I re­mem­bered, back in the ’80s, I saw th­ese cars with 350 V-8s [in them].” It was no LS, but for Saul, it set the prece­dent for his need­ing those two ex­tra pis­tons.

Most folks would be per­fectly happy with a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated LS, but some­body like Saul had to go on and tur­bocharge it, which is what nets him the 600 or so horse­power he’s lay­ing down and is what makes up for what­ever he’s miss­ing from any RB26 he orig­i­nally thought about. “I ran into some is­sues,” Saul says about get­ting that V-8 and its turbo kit with all of its trap­pings to co­ex­ist in­side of the Dat­sun en­gine bay. “I had lots of fun fit­ting it all and mak­ing the pip­ing work, but I did it.”

Saul’s Z is so much more than an old Dat­sun with eight cylin­ders and a turbo, though. More, as in the Lam­borgh­ini paint job he ap­plied him­self after he crafted the Z’s one-off metal fenders. But it all keeps com­ing back to that en­gine swap. “I started [do­ing the] body­work un­til I’d fig­ured out what mo­tor to put in it,” he says about what tran­spired after the or­ange paint and the car­bon-fiber ex­te­rior bits were ap­plied. “My buddy wrecked his car and then we used the donor mo­tor and trans­mis­sion out of it.” For­tu­itous cir­cum­stances for Saul, no doubt, al­beit not the most fa­vor­able of out­comes for that friend of his.

“I al­ways knew I wanted to work with cars…and Dat­suns [and] Nis­sans have al­ways had a piece of my heart,” Saul says, which made his de­ci­sion to go with the Z an easy one. That and the whole smog-ex­emp­tion thing, be­cause bu­reau­crats pok­ing, prod­ding, and sec­ond-guess­ing some­thing like that ex­ter­nal waste­gate of yours will al­ways be about as fun as a colonoscopy.

››Be­cause a V-8 swap isn’t enough, Saul tur­bocharged his LS to make up­ward of 600 hp.

››Saul and his crew at SOS Cus­tomz do­ing what they do best with a full cus­tom metal wide­body con­ver­sion, topped off with a Lambo or­ange paint job.

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