The sumptuous leather of the skeletal bucket seat absorbs my frame like a well-worn glove. It’s unexpected if I’m honest, these sorts of sports saddles are rarely the most comfortable places to plonk one’s derriere. It’s a nice surprise, as it turned out, not the last pleasantry that this car would bestow on me during our short time together. The machine in question is a restomodded Datsun 240z that’s been crafted, and I mean crafted, by the team at MZR Roadsports (who I recently paid a visit to).
The Z is exquisite to look at, possesses a fabulous attention to detail, and its parking lot presence is undeniably “mean” looking, though not in the way that, say, a matte-black Merc might be. And while the form is all well and good, the cars that come out of MZR have a mandate to live up to their looks when it comes to on-road performance; I couldn’t wait to find out if the Datsun could deliver, but to be honest I think I knew the answer already.
Just like the seat that’s a piece of it, the overall interior of the machine is a wonderfully pleasant place to be. With luxurious heather loop carpet sourced from Switzerland and leather trim from Lamborghini, the surroundings of an MZR car are a million miles from the factory efforts of some fifty years or so ago, but you’d expect it to look different. It’s not showy stuff that will fall apart after the first thousand miles. Everything feels plush and well made, and you feel compelled to explore the cockpit with your hands, from the crafted mahogany and maple shifter knob, to the Napa-leather-clad wheel, it is quite literally sensational. There is plenty of room as well, the Tardis-like cabin is a welcome change to the claustrophobic spaces I often find myself in when driving classic sports cars.
Give the starter button a gentle press and the straight-six comes quickly and eagerly to life, the center-exit exhaust emitting some steam and a low rumble as it warms. This is no snarling, opened-up and straight-through racing system, but it’s got enough bite to let you know it’s there without annoying everyone in your neighborhood each time you take a drive.
Better still, once we get going, I can’t find a patch in the revs where it drones, so it’s not like you couldn’t take it on the highway for a more GT style of driving. The power plant is the period-correct L-series six, but with displacement increased here to three liters with the use of a stroker crank. The internals are uprated in the usual ways—forged pistons and rods and the like—and the motor kicks out a healthy and very useable 255bhp on a car with a curb weight of just over a metric ton. There are more impressive stats out there in the world of fast cars, and indeed for some of the client-specific cars that MZR builds (mine for the day is the company’s press-spec Z), bigger figures have been achieved, but to be perfectly frank I’m not interested in thrashing out a game of top trumps, because for me what really matters is how a car makes you feel when you drive it.
High up in the Yorkshire Dales, it is my turn to jump into the driver’s seat, and as I somewhat tentatively pull away from the side of the road, Rahail (the “R” in MZR), encourages me to give the engine a bit of stick. I don’t need asking twice, and as I bury my foot the car responds wonderfully. The anywhere-in-the-revs torque pairs with the modern fuel injection and ECU combine to deliver a smooth, broad dose of thrust, that is infectiously fun to play with in that way that only rev-happy naturally-aspirated cars can deliver. I’ve got an instant smile on my face as I watch the tach climb before selecting the next gear in the confidence-inspiring five-speed ‘box. It’s easy to drive, and I feel comfortable giving it more almost immediately, despite this bit of kit being priced well above my pay grade. That’s a cliche, but I say it as a testament to the car’s agreeability; it doesn’t lurch or shudder if you’re not perfect with every input, but you would never call it soft.
As my confidence builds even more I’m focusing more on the the right pedal and left pedals than the one in the middle, and “staying in it” like this is rewarded immediately as the car starts to show its potential at the top. The engine responds well to being pushed almost anywhere, but it likes to live high in the rev range. It’s a momentous, build-on-itself kind of power, but the relatively flat torque curve helps keep it moving along nicely in the city without the need to be constantly stabbing and manipulating the clutch.
While it handles the grid of traffic just fine, it’s definitely not the most fun environment for this Z, and as I cut a ribbon of green along the undulating and twisting roads of the dales, it handles everything I can throw at it without once getting upset. Surely I haven’t pushed it to its ragged edge, but the magic of responsive car like this is that you don’t need to. It navigates the damp roads with sure feet, the modern suspension and brakes coping brilliantly with the changes of direction and uneven grades. There is a slight squatting at the rear as I ask for just a little bit more speed than is technically legal, but a few clicks of adjustment on the easily accessible rear shocks and the problem is solved.
When my drive reaches its conclusion and its that sad time of the day when the keys are handed back to their owners, I’ve got the same smile on my face as I did when I first fired it up. I’m telling myself there’s no way I’ve just driven a near-50-year-old car, but then again, I sort of haven’t.
As I climb out of the cabin after some two hours inside this Z, I don’t ache, I don’t feel tired, and despite the performance-enhancing modifications to this car, it retains plenty of the charm of the original 240Z, and I can easily imagine taking this one on a long European cross-country cruise in addition to the weekend thrashings. Through MZR’s development and the carefully thought out spec applied to this demo machine, they have created something that deserves to be called an evolution rather than a restomod in my opinion.
It’s feisty, but it isn’t trying to fight you. It’s got classic charms but can cope with modern commuting. It’s a terrific little thing, built by people with the kind of passion you can’t fake. They are running a business for profit, but you can’t make things like this without genuinely caring about something more than money. They aren’t cheap, but as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. And what you’re paying for here is an iconic sports car, reimagined, built to spec, a damn fine looker and a blast to send down a country lane.