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Datsun 240Z sleeper has a BMW M3 engine

By Chris Thompson, 19 Feb 2018 Features

BMW E36 M3 swap custom Datsun 240z rear

David Fettell’s Zed is a resto-mod delight for fans of fast things and chrome bumpers

Normally you wouldn’t associate a Datsun with a performance car publication like MOTOR, but this is no ordinary Datsun.

This ‘70s classic has been given the resto-mod treatment over the course of seven years by its owner, David Fettell.

He’s a qualified motor mechanic by trade, who has a lot of experience swapping engines for personal projects.

“I’ve done quite a few conversions in the past, but a lot of them were with carburettor-fed V8s,” David tells MOTOR.

Datsun 240Z has a BMW M3 engine
This time, he opted for something a little more modern. A 3.2-litre straight six out of an E36 BMW M3.

The M3 engine is the dual-Vanos equipped ‘Evolution’ version, which puts 239kW though the manual gearbox. In a 1080kg car.

“The engine choice came when I was working with Castrol. We were partnered with BMW… and we had access to a BMW experience day at Phillip Island.”

That’s when he first felt the M3’s engine at work, and knew he wanted to put one into something with a classic look.

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Datsun 240Z with BMW E36 M3 engine
“I was blown away by the power and low-down torque… I had never driven anything like it before.”

He says he kept returning to the idea of using a Datsun 240Z or 260Z as the transplant recipient, and it worked out better than you might have expected.

In terms of the aesthetics, most of the car is actually original. Inside, the original parts such as the dash and seats have been refreshed to look new, though the instruments and radio are new retro-look parts, and the centre console cover is a replica of the original, but made of carbon fibre.

One cheeky nod to the powertrain that lies underneath is the BMW M3 shifter.

Datsun 240Z interior restomod
“I wanted to stay true to the car’s original character with a straight six… it was a natural fit, the engine and the car.”

To help keep the car up to coping with the power increase, David swapped its steering system for a late-‘90s WRX steering rack, which is obviously much lighter, and the brakes and peripherals for a set of R33 Skyline front brakes, and R31 rears .

It’s also got an upgraded R200 diff from a 260Z, though suspension is all 240Z aside from the MCA coilovers.

David also told us about the security system issues that arose from the BMW ECU, and the clever solution he came up with to fix it. But for security’s sake, we won’t tell you how it works.

Datsun 240Z with BMW E36 M3 engine
“I was probably most worried about whether it would drive like I wanted… probably the thing I’m happiest with is how well it has all come together.

 “I’ve driven other 240Zs and 260Zs… they’re a little uninspiring. The steering especially feels very heavy to the point where if you need to change gear mid-corner, you would be struggling letting go of the wheel.”

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Since it was finished late last year, the Zed has been out on a few drives, covering a little over 1000km.

The original engine and running gear also remains in David’s possession, as the car can be returned to original-spec easily. He even chose the car’s original colour, Safari Gold.

“The end result is all that matters. It drives like a modern car, and the controls are nice and light, but from the outside it looks just like a 240Z.”