Sometimes we find genius hidden behind the unexpected and this Datsun 280z is one of them.

Words by Tony Matthews

Photography by Tony & Carmen Matthews

At first glance of this insane Datsun 280z, you will most likely have a few WTF words to say and most likely trip over your jaw…for many reasons and some may not be that positive. We have seen comments on our instagram post of this mental build such as ‘It’s from Madmax’, ‘What the Frrrk is this piece of sh*t’, to ‘what have they done to the poor 280z?’ to list just a few we came across.

Now what ever reaction you gave, don’t let that put you into a place of thinking that the car guys behind this build, have totally gone insane and chopped up a retro legend of a car. The reason, is that both the guys who built it are totally awesome to hang out with, have incredibly creative minds, find opportunities when they come their way and created what you see here.

datsun 240z rat rod

Let me introduce you to Norm (left) and Joe (right), who have been great friends for over 30 years and have a passion for all things on four wheels. We met them for the first time at the Pomona Swap Meet in January this year. I remember parking up at the venue and suddenly hearing what I thought was a tractor.

Norm’s background starts at an early age when he started a business building repairing pins in the 3rd grade at high school and has always been creating and building things ever since. He also did a lot of stock car racing when he was younger and was always building cars. Norm recalls having a Barracuda and performing an engine swap, by adding a larger Chrysler engine, which was a monster of a car and numerous other projects that he customised. He is also a huge fan of diesel engines, hence this Datsun has a diesel engine.

He spends half of the year hanging out with Joe at his farm yard, where both tinker around with old machines and tractors, to build whatever they feel like at the time. Now Joe at a very young age used to work at an automotive repair shop and that all changed when his father got sick. He asked him to drive the dump truck for his farm business. Fast forward 40 years later and he is still working the farm.

So now you know a brief background on both these two guys, let’s find out about the Datsun 280z. Asking Norm, he just said ‘These ideas just come into my head’ and so from there, both the guys build whatever that idea is.

Norm found the Datsun 280z at one of his clients yards and it was just sitting there rotting in a field. He ended up trading the car for a tractor tire and $50 and as the front was so rotten, he salvaged the engine and the remaining body including the interior, which now forms part of this build.

As you take a look at the front end, you are most likely wondering what the engine is and what it came out of. Well, it didn’t come out of any other automotive, but it is a 6-cylinder Duetz air cooled diesel engine and it came from an irrigation pump! Yes, this engine used to irrigate farmers fields with manure! Bet you didn’t expect to hear that!

Norm picked up two of these irrigation pumps at an old junk yard he visited at times and managed to buy them. One was fine and ran really well, but the one on this build needed some attention such as the turbo. Either way, as these engines are super tough and built to last, Norm and Joe fixed it right up.

So now that we have no Datsun engine or gearbox, what trickery was used to get this thing moving? So the gearbox is a Chrysler seven-twenty seven from a motor home they have on the yard, which was then matted to the Duetz diesel engine. Norm added the Torque converter, centered it and he had to tack weld the bolts to stop it all moving. Turn it on and it sounds incredible! Just like a tractor engine with a turbo.

Take a look closer and as you can see, Norm and Joe chopped off the front and kept the rest including the original engine, which they will rebuild for another project. Inside, is the original Datsun 280z interior in some sort of condition as it had sat in a field for many years.

As there is no chassis from the Datsun, Norm built a custom frame with 2×4-inch steel rods to keep every part in place, to stop it from breaking in two parts. The front suspension was used from the Datsun 280z with leaf springs chained up to extended them. The front wheels are from the Datsun also and the fenders were bought from a swap meet for $20.

Now the rear is something else and does give that MadMax feel to it. What Norm and Joe added, was the differential off the old motor home and it has 18 lug bolts on it between the two wheels. The result is mind-blowing and draws attention everywhere they go, especially at the Pomona Swap Meet.

I have to say that Norm and Joe are two of the coolest and creative geniuses we have ever had the pleasure to meet. It goes to show you that with some creativity, balls to be different and find opportunities in parts that are deemed worthless, that you can build a project like no other. Until next time we meet these two, I’m sure that they will out do this Datsun 280z.