26-09-2018 – Laurie Southern
What Would You Find In A Californian Barn?
Feature

If you own one of the UK’s most immaculate show-spec S14 Silvias, what do you keep as a project car to keep yourself busy?

For Jonathan Wells, the answer was clear and simple right from the start; a Datsun 240z. It couldn’t be a UK model, however, as that would be too easy. For Jonathan Wells, it’s California or nothing.

I didn’t take much convincing as to why. He even kept the car’s original plates. I was under strict instructions not to shoot the car until they were swapped out. I’d only just properly met the guy, and I already admired his eye for detail.

I found out about the car through a mutual friend of ours (keep an eye out for more on that), and I couldn’t get in touch quick enough. Datsun’s chef d’oeuvre isn’t something you come across very often in the UK, not least such an authentic example.

Just look at it. 

Jonathan bought the car in early 2017, fresh off the boat from the US. Once the car was registered he became the first UK owner the car has ever seen. Northern California to Cheshire isn’t a transition I could ever see myself wanting to make, but for this particular piece of history I’m so glad it did.

It’s seen a few owners before Jonathan, mind. He reckons a small restoration was carried out some time during the 1980s. This overhaul saw the colour changed from the original factory green to a Chevrolet flavoured shade of red. The interior vinyl was also painted, along with the engine bay receiving a coat of black. Classy.

After the work, something caused the owner to sell up, and the next few years of it’s story are hazy. It wasn’t until 2003 when the car was found again, holed up in a barn in Oakland, California. As with any barn find the car had been sat untouched for a rather long time, and all of the usual issues that come with neglect were apparent.

The L24 straight six was running on 5 of it’s cylinders with coolant leaks in abundance. Zero brakes were present, and the clutch was questionable at best. Anything that consisted of rubber or plastic just didn’t exist any more and the interior was a home to several families of mice. I’m getting the impression at this point that Jonathan isn’t a quitter.

It took six months to get the car up to a point where it could be driven on the road again. I’m told the bodywork wasn’t in the worst state, but no stone is being left un-turned. The entire underside of the car has been stripped back to metal, with rust repair carried out to the floor pan and wheel arches. Aside from this, any patina that has built up over the years has been left alone. I’m a huge fan of that.

The original 36,000 mile engine has been revived and rebuilt with twin SU round-top carbs. It’s then been mated to a straight through shotgun exhaust. It is the rules, after all. Stainless steel core plugs, an Exedy Stage 1 clutch and Omex ignition cut rev limiter round off the niceties to the updated powerplant.

On the exterior, the car is very much the same as it was in the mid-’80s. The paint had a chalkboard finish, which has been cut back to regain some of the original shine. I mentioned the patina has been left untouched, something you really notice when you spend some time with the car.

Even the badges are all original.

One of my favourite things about the car is the business at the front. The bumper rubbers and over riders have been removed, and Jonathan has shortened the series 2 bumper down to match the series 1. The air dam has also been hand made from sheet metal. It screams Trans-Am and I’m absolutely infatuated with it.

What more obvious addition to a car with such heritage than a pair of white door roundels? It’s a style that’s often played-out, but in this instance it couldn’t look better if it tried.

The side profile is completed with the fender mirrors. You can’t see a damn thing out of them, but as long as they look good…

I’m sure you’ve also noticed Jonathan has great taste in shoes for his cars, too. I often ponder what my favourite wheel might be. SSR MK2’s wouldn’t be my first choice, but I couldn’t think of a wheel that would suit the car better. These particular examples are 14-inch and feature gunmetal centres with a polished barrel and lip, and they’re gorgeous. Toyo R888 semi-slicks only add to the vintage racer vibe. It doesn’t take much to imagine the car hammering it down the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. I’d expect no less from him mind, with one of the most beautiful sets of Work Meister S1s sitting under the arches of his S14.

Wheel choice means nothing however if the car doesn’t sit right. As with the rest of the car, the suspension and handling has been far from ignored. BC Racing coilovers give the car it’s low ride height, but that’s not enough for Jonathan. Camber adjustable top mounts and CNC billet top mount castor spacers give him the adjustability he needs for both the road and the track.

The suspension arms have been blasted and powder coated, with the car being fully poly-bushed in the process. Track rod ends and ball joints have been replaced. The steering rack has been cleaned and re-greased. Nothing is too much work when it comes to this car, and it’s beginning to show through.

There’s no point in having great handling if you’ve nothing to help you stop however. The brakes were rebuilt, with the master cylinder along with a few other perished items replaced with brand new parts. Some hefty Red Stuff pads and braided lines ensure that stopping power is there when it’s needed.

Continuing the ‘if it’s even slightly fucked I’m going to replace it’ theme, the interior was completely stripped and anything perishable has been replaced. The Rosewood wheel is something I wouldn’t mind staring at every time I drove the car.

It’s just such a pleasant place to be. 

After Jonathan had finished telling us about the car, he took us to a couple of spots around the local area. Not a single passer-by didn’t double take or stop to ask about the car. It’s a true gem in a world of Eco-flex this and hybrid energy that. It’s as authentic as they come. It has that old car smell. Its loud.

Most of all however, it’s here in the UK and it’s alive. And I mean that, too. It regularly sees the hill at Shelsley Walsh hill climb and it’s driven like it was intended to be all those years ago. Sometimes things really are worth working hard for…

…This is one of those times.

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Laurie Southern