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“My dad brought me to the race track before my first birthday,” says Eric Ritz, an industrial designer from Akron, Ohio. “He raced Datsun 510s in SCCA, and we were there with him every weekend. So it’s in my blood.”
After a lengthy career in GT4 and ITC-class competition, Eric’s father decided to change gears in 1993, and sold all of his race cars to shift his focus toward customs. “He started building hot rods and street rods,” he explains. “And that kind of inspired me to start working on cleaner, street rod-style builds, too. He bought a ’53 Oldsmobile, and later we got a ’53 Chevrolet hardtop that was built out as kind of a lead sled. And when I was 16, I purchased a ’66 Impala that I turned into a custom lowrider type of deal. So we spent a lot of time messing around with those cars, but we always made sure we had a few Datsuns in the stable. My dad always has had one of every body style of the 510 at all times – so a wagon, a two door, and a four door. At least.”
The Ritz family soon gained a reputation in the area as Datsun specialists, which led to a family friend bringing a 1973 Datsun 240Z over to their garage to embark on a rebuild. “He started working on it with my dad about twelve years ago,” Eric notes. “We’d work on some stuff on the weekends, and he would come down during the week and work on it some more.”
The project eventually got to the point where the car was in primer and drivable, but it stayed in that state for several more years. “But he was hardly using the car at that point,” Eric recalls. “So one day he called us up and said he was going to sell it. I told him to take the ads down – I would buy it. The car had spent so much time with us, it had kind of become part of the family.”
Ritz notes that the Z’s Recaro seats, which were sourced from a Mitsubishi Evo 8, are one of the few interior items from the original restoration of the car which made the cut when he decided rebuild the Datsun from the ground up in 2017. The door panels, dashboard, and center console are all custom fabricated. “We built the dash out of sheet aluminum,” he explains. “And I incorporated extra segments of the carbon fiber cage protectors to make that bullnose.” The 240Z’s cage attaches to the suspension points of the car as well as the limited slip rear end’s mounting points, the latter of which was sourced from an Infiniti Q45.
Ritz took possession of the Z in the fall of 2017. Over the next few months he drove the car as it was, putting about 500 miles on the odometer before he decided to… well, start over. “It went back on the rotisserie,” he says with a laugh. “Part of it is because I was worried about rust – it’s a very rust-free car, and it had originally been sandblasted and then sprayed with metal etch primer, which really can’t get wet or it will start rusting. So it was one of things where I realized that if I wanted to actually use this car regularly, we were going to have to seal everything up the right way. And I’m a designer – I had to make it my own.”
Over the course of the next two and half years the Z was stripped down and rebuilt once again, this time with an even greater emphasis on delivering both form and function. “The roll cage is kind of the highlight of the car, in my opinion,” he points out. “It was done by McMahan Auto Sport here in Ohio, and it’s just a really trick piece – it goes out to all the suspension points and down to the rear end mounting points. It also fits beautifully – the work is just phenomenal.”
The rigid structure sets a foundation for serious corner carving. Tubular control arms and other suspension pieces come from Techno Toy Tuning, while Ground Control camber plates, QA1 springs, shortened struts and Bilstein inserts round out the track-proven suspension setup that was developed by Eric’s father. Big Wilwood disc brakes with Hawk Performance DTC rotors and pads also provide a massive improvement over the factory brake setup – and trust us, this car needs all the stopping power it can get.
The LS2 is outfitted with a custom-fabricated aluminum cold air intake that’s wrapped in heat shielding material. The ignition system has been upgraded with MSD coils and wiring to keep the LS2 happily humming along during high-performance driving events and the like. “It’s been fantastic, we’ve had no issues with this stuff at all. It’s an absolute monster, but it’s also very drivable.”
Motivation comes from an LS2 and a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission. With a couple of bolt-on upgrades under the hood, Ritz estimates the LS is good for about 400 horsepower at the wheels. And when you consider the fact that the diminutive Z tips the scales at a mere 2300 pounds with the LS powertrain in it, it’s a power-to-weight ratio that puts this Datsun on par with the new Mustang Shelby GT500.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the lightweight BMWs and their use of carbon parts, and I thought it would be really cool to incorporate some of that into this build,” Eric says. “But I wanted to keep it nice and kind of subdued until you really start looking at those details. I also like the idea of showing up at an autocross or track day, keeping the hood shut, and making people wonder what’s going on.”
Ritz completed the build last September just ahead of SEMA 360, where it placed in the top 10 among sport compacts in the all-virtual Battle of the Builders. “That was mind blowing, and super exciting,” Eric tells us.
And as he waits for springtime weather to reappear so he can bring the Z out to local track day events, autocross competitions, and various car shows, he reflects on putting the finishing touches on a father-and-son project that’s been a long time coming. “This was built in a pole barn behind my dad’s house. Since he’s retired and I'm working 9-to-5, there were many days when I went over there to find him assembling or wiring, and he has this amazing ability to figure out how to build the things that pop up in my designer brain. He and I have been building cars together since I was quite young, and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to share my passion with his. I couldn’t have done this without him.”
The factory front and rear steel bumpers have been swapped out for carbon fiber pieces from The Z Store. “I was a little worried because I had never seen them on a car, but when they came it was a pleasant surprise,” Eric says. “Good quality, and they fit with a little bit of massaging. A lot of people just remove the bumpers on these cars, but to my eye, it always looks like something is missing.” The carbon fiber rear panel is a prototype piece from TC3 Composites in Poland, Ritz notes. “We’ve been working them to develop some of the parts for the car – now you can just hop on the website and order these panels.”