Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”

My first car was an ‘83 Toyota Tercel hatchback and it ran fine until I joined the service and my parents sold it. I then had a ‘95 Nissan Sentra that was responsible and 4 doors thinking I was getting married soon. That fell apart and I traded it for a ‘97 Honda Prelude that launched me into modifying.

Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
1977 Datsun 280z
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”
Jon Lowrey - 1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”

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Jon Lowrey

1977 Datsun 280z “Wenchi”

Instagram: @gritandgrid


Donnie Roc
FB:r0cean11 Photography  

Instagram: @xavierstudios.hi

“Stay Gritty”

I’m a 43-year-old former Army helicopter mechanic from Dallas, Texas. Currently, a rocket engine build and test technician living the lake life outside Austin.

Growing up in the 80s there seemed to be more variety of car shows and movies to watch. Everything from Dukes of Hazzard to Knight Rider and of course Smokey and The Bandit. Everything changed when summertime daycare took our group of kids to see Cannonball Run (It was the 80s). I remember the fade-in of that black Countach at full throttle and looking over at every kid sitting in that glow of the screen with wide eyes and dropped jaws, just in shock and awe of the insane song of the V12.

On the way home in that cramped Dodge van with the sticky seats from years of Kool-Aid spills and Otter Pops, we argued what kind of car it was and how fast it could go. From then on I was hooked into car culture and thought only Lambo, Porsche and Ferrari were the only fun sports cars to have. My parents were into cars as well, however, the coolness came from my mother with a base model ‘68 Chevy Camaro that later traded in for a ‘72 Karmann Ghia, which my father wrecked. It wasn’t until my Oldman made the smart choice and got rid of the Ford Escort for a 1990 Acura Integra.

While in the middle lane of 35 East the Oldman got passed by a Red FC RX-7 and in a moment he downshifted and suddenly, we were battling. The little Tegi put up a good fight but hearing the turbo spool of the Mazda the Oldman knew it was over. As we were backing down he saluted and the RX saluted. I asked my father why and he just said, “It’s honour among thieves.” It changed my perception of what could be fun, attainable and I was all into JDM.

2008 I was looking for something classic and Japanese while on contract in Oklahoma. I had a friend (Terry) in the military that had 3 FC RX-7 and I always had a place in my heart for that body style (80’s wedge with asymmetrical hood bump am I right?). I found a local repair shop where the owner had two or three lots around town full of cars and he showed me a ‘71 240z. I didn’t know much about them until I did a search and found Wangan Midnight. Cars racing top end on a public highway?

That was my roots, my preferred type of underground racing, and then I researched the backstory of the origins of S30 and bought the ‘71 for 500 dollars. It wasn’t drivable (still isn’t) but while transporting it on a trailer, people would approach me at rest stops and want to talk about the car and their memories with the 240z. That’s when I started realizing how special these cars are. I got it home and just stripped it down to the chassis. It’s still being worked on and can’t wait to show it in another article (VH45 with CD008 swap). This 280z got parked across the street by the owner’s nephew and he just couldn’t put the time into it that it needed. It had hit a fire hydrant on the driver's side and was barely drivable. I really wanted it for reference to help restore the 240z and honestly, I just wanted to drive an S30 sooner than later. He liked my Honda VFR motorcycle (with V-Tech Yo!) so we did a straight-up trade.

My first car was an ‘83 Toyota Tercel hatchback and it ran fine until I joined the service and my parents sold it. I then had a ‘95 Nissan Sentra that was responsible and 4 doors thinking I was getting married soon. That fell apart and I traded it for a ‘97 Honda Prelude that launched me into modifying. Early 2000’s everyone wanted to rock a Civic, to have a Turbo Prelude let people know that you march to the beat of your own drum. I learned bodywork with it, rebuilt the engine, and did the best I could with the tools I had.

Problem was that the Prelude became a garage queen and it was always down for maintenance (H22’s were temperamental) so to hang out with the crew I bought my dream car, a 2005 S2000 Suzuka Blue with a blue interior. I loved the S2k because it was the first car I bought brand new and honestly the gearbox is just awesome. I never wanted to go back to front-wheel drive again. While I had some fun with it I was afraid to drive it anywhere because the car was perfect and new. If I did any mods to it I felt I would unbalance it or turn it into another garage queen. I wanted something that had a story to it, some character, and analogue enough that I can learn working on it without setting off a dozen sensors.

Driving into car shows draws in crowds and it is a crazy feeling because I built the car to be the almost “anti-show show car” (Anyone can use that as long as I get a hoodie out of it). I do get embarrassed about the paint not being perfect with dents and dings but man, dumping it out is the cherry on top because no one expects a Datsun to be on bags and those who know custom work give nothing but respect. Datsun S30s have a cult following that I never expected to be as big as it is and people from all demographics love to walk up and talk about it.

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The biggest tip is to know your abilities and your skillset. Most people can bolt-on and modify a new car. Some of these cars are either in their 50s or fast approaching therefore the first mission is less about modding and more about restoring. So if you can afford it, buy the best condition S30 available to save time. The rubber is going to be dry rotted and the plastic turns to dust if you touch it.

With the sudden popularity of the cars (looking at you Sung Kang) OEM replacement parts will be at a premium if you can find them at all. There are cheaper alternatives available if you get creative in your search for parts. So you are going to need to get a plan together and figure out early on what you want your build to be and how far you want to take the restoration process. From my experience, try to work on the car in sections or phases instead of jumping into a frame-up. It helps with a motivation knowing you can be on the road sooner than later.

I didn’t really have a plan, at first I was going to restore it to the factory but I got bored with the idea. Then I picked up a Kirin Ichiban beer tap and after installation, the Sumo just set the tone for the build, thus Wenchi was born. I liked the Idea of a Kyusha style build as if it was ’70s Japan. Except, I pulled it back (the style) a little and dipped into a little Shakotan and again pulled back. The Skillard Automotive aluminium aero gives Wenchi this aggressive sense of weight at the bottom but looks like a ratty Panda. I wanted to finish some of the bodywork and get it primed and sealed for painting. I see grey primer cars all the time so why not Olive Drab? Here is the fun part with creativity, the flat green you buy at the stores isn’t a true matte.

So why not find the Mil-Spec for Army flat green and get the real thing for half the price? It worked on helicopters and it is a call back to what got me turning wrenches for a career. Again, it is sort of military but pulled back from a full Army build. The paint is supposed to be there as a placeholder but like an old pair of jeans, it is easy to rinse off and any stains that occur only give the car more character. The flocked dash was fun and cheap to do and is based on what a racecar would have. I had the original Datsun fender mirrors stolen off the car and I didn’t want to pay the crazy Datsun tax they are going for. With lots of research, I looked at the classic Porsche aftermarket and found used Hella mirrors. So why not borrow some German aftermarket trends? So Wenchi is a crazy combo of various build styles that fall together just right. I think the secret is keeping proportions in harmony with each other so that people see the car in full first. Then they break down the parts in their head and start noticing the details and finding little Easter eggs.

What do you think?

Please leave your comments in the comments section at the bottom of the page


Engine/Drivetrain Modifications –

  • Original L28 Inline 6
  • Motorsport Auto Stage 1 Performance Camshaft
  • 82 280ZX 5 Speed Transmission (Close Ratio)
  • 82 280ZX Distributor
  • MSD Blaster Coil
  • Mishimoto Radiator
  • Custom Exhaust with Cherry Bomb muffler and glass pack

Suspension Modifications -

  • T3 GTX2 Front Lower Control Arms, Rear Lower Control Arms, Tension Rods.
  • ST Suspension rear Sway Bar
  • TechnoVersions R200 Diff Mount
  • Energy Suspension Urethane Bushings
  • BC Racing Coilovers with C2B Airbags and Airlift Performance P3 management System
  • Garage Theory Front and Rear Tower bars

Brakes/Wheels/Tires Modifications -

  • R1 Concepts Brakes and Pads
  • Rear 82 Maxima disc brake conversion
  • Atara Racing Wheels Front 15x9 off 0, Rear 15x10 off-25
  • Toyo Proxes R1R 205/50ZR15 and 225/45ZR15

Interior Modifications –

  • Skillard Automotive centre console, radio delete panel, door panels, light delete kit and door sills
  • T3 Harness Bar
  • RetroSeats KPGC10 bucket seats
  • Takata 4 point harness
  • NotionsAndDevotions Shift and E-brake boots
  • New Vintage Toggle Panel
  • DIY Flocked dash
  • Mr. Grip custom Waterflower window knobs

Exterior Modifications -

  • Skillard Automotive Side Splitters (aggressive), Front Grill, Hood Vents, Front Lip Splitter (4in), Rear Diffuser
  • Speed Forme Ducktail
  • Hella 4004 GT mirrors
  • TC3 Carbon Fiber Rear Light Panel
  • Zleds LED Turn signals, Tail Lights
  • Klearz Front and Rear lenses
  • Mil-Spec Olive Drab CARC paint

Work was done by myself with some long nights and weekends in my garage. Although, I have to give a shout out to @mathewzellars for being the PO of the 280z and hooking me up with stretching the tires and getting the T3 suspension dialled at his shop.

The next big step is MegaSquirt installed with LS coil packs from Godzilla Raceworks because that Datsun wiring is scary and solid-state old school. I wanted to clean up the engine bay as best I can because sitting in my garage is a Toyota 1GZ-FE 5.0 litre V12. Why not bring it back around to Cannonball Run, Reynolds style? Yes, paint is in the works but I need to get the 240z back on the ground and spend some real time with it to finish the swap and restoration soon. I guess I like staying busy.

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Car culture has always been in my blood and it’s helped me hone skills for my career in aerospace. I connect more with cars than I do with people due to social anxieties so most of my life is alone in the garage. Bringing Wenchi out to a meet and stepping back helps put that focus on the car and not me so I can relax a little and catch reactions. My motivation is that it inspires another generation to not be afraid to get dirty for the results you want and try to humour yourself. You’ll make connections with like-minded people and that will lead you to some amazing paths in life.

My dream car is a Toyota 2000GT with the 1GZ-FE swap. There is a digital rendering of one slammed on the ground with deep RS Watanabes. Roll up with that and the world stops.

I often use the hashtag #staygritty. Gritty is having the courage to face unknowns without flinching or compromise but also describes creativity that is raw and realistic. It sums up my approach to this build and how I tackle problems. Make a plan and research accordingly, but when it comes down to it if you don’t make a move because you are scared of what others think. You’ll never stand out or worse yet, your vision becomes a compromised mess.

What do you think?

Please leave your comments in the comments section at the bottom of the page

'The future is bright as long as we can still Smell the Fumes'

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