5 July 2016

Performance with passion: Z Car Garage

The Z Car Garage hides amid a nondescript combination of light industrial buildings and unadorned apartment complexes in San Jose, Calif. The specialty Nissan shop may be obscured, but it is a gem.

Step inside and ZCG founder and Datsun fanatic Rob Fuller can be heard chatting about the Japanese six-cylinder sports cars with unparalleled excitement. Maintaining the shop with the help of his talented social media manager, Alvin Gogineni, and a small team of dedicated mechanics (who also happen to be enthusiasts), Fuller has built his reputation via quality work in the saturated world of performance shops.

Fuller’s love affair with Datsuns reaches back as far as he’s willing to admit. In his early days as an automotive enthusiast, he took a liking to Datsun 510s. After purchasing his first “dime” in 1994, in a “totally disassembled” state, he got straight to work. As his knowledge and experience grew, Fuller began wrenching on his friends’ 510s, too. His reputation increased too, so much so that he was simply addressed as “Rob 510 from Atlanta.” He smiles recalling how popular roaring domestics were during his high school days. Always cheering for the underdog, Fuller never felt comfortable playing in that world.

Over the years he wrenched in exchange for labor credit, sometimes for free. Ultimately, Greg Scott, owner of a Santa Clara, Calif., based Z shop, contacted Fuller and offered him a job.

“In 1998,” Fuller says, “I came here with $200 and my tools and worked at Greg’s Z shop until he retired.” It was then, in April 2004, that Rob opened what is now known as Z Car Garage.

Although its exterior doesn’t merit comment, inside is a Datsun lover’s dreamland. In every corner live builds in various states of completion, each one possessing a unique story. Nearly all have sentimental backstories and Rob is the first to acknowledge this.

The cars shot during my visit to ZCG were all special for different reasons. It would take an encyclopedia to document the wonders beneath each bonnet in the shop – from completely stock L24s (the Datsun 240Z’s stock engine) to The Behemoth – a 240Z built by ZCG with an intricate OS Giken TC24-B1Z twin-cam cylinder head atop an L-series block. Fuller sees each Datsun as “a blank canvas on which you get to paint your picture.” And while we could discuss engine specs and numbers all day, it’s the passion behind ZCG that completes this story.

As a vintage automotive enthusiast (or simply “young person,” as I’m often called), I have immense respect for people like Fuller and his staff. To not only restore classics, but also discover and develop their beauty further, is something truly special. “These cars are very obtainable,” he explains on a ride in his Sahara Gold 240Z, dubbed Mrs. Butter-Z. “This is what an L-series can be.” There’s no V-8 swap, no meticulous engine bay wire tucking, no flashy bits in the cockpit. It was an original S30 (the Datsun 240Z first generation’s internal code) equipped with a nicely buttoned up L24, refreshed suspension and five-speed transmission conversion. Pretty simple overall, but the car is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

Towards the end of my visit, I happened upon a photo album in the lobby while photographing the entrance. “That’s the story of Z Car Garage,” Fuller says, smiling. He isn’t exaggerating; inside are photos starting from day one. The shop’s entire build process is documented, from painting the walls and fixing up the lobby to installing lifts and the first customer cars. Accompanying those photos is a series of ZCG customers’ portraits and their cars. Fuller names each of the owners and recounts exactly what work ZCG performed on their cars as we flip through the book. From the shop’s first 240 on, he remembers them all.

“The people are one of my favorite parts,” he says. “A lawyer, doctor or construction worker can all share the same passion for the Z.”

The philosophy guiding Fuller, his team and the shop are simple: Through quality work, they push to maintain the inarguable expression of joy and personality that comes from driving Z cars.

8 Reader Comments

  • 1
    BARRY GABY Illinois July 7, 2016 at 14:08
    I am the original owner of my 1977 280 Z and have loved the car for the past 39 years . It has only 39500 miles and drives like new.
  • 2
    Gregory S. Whitt East Tenn. July 7, 2016 at 14:38
    I've owned 4 240 Zs and 1 280ZX 2+2. I loved these cars, easy to maintain,handle great and go like hell. I am an automotive artist and would like to show my rendition of a 1972 Datsun 240 ZG ghost rendering, which is a see-thru of the car. I miss my Zs.
  • 3
    John T. Moore Jr. OR July 7, 2016 at 14:54
    I have a 1990 300zx tt and love it. It has been modified and drives like a bat out of hell. I want to continue to improve upon it over the years. I live in Oregon and there apparently is a Z specialist called Shelby in Salem Oregon. The previous owner had work done by him and I believe he was advised by the Portland Z Club as one of the best. I have called him for questions a couple of times. He says my engine is bullet proof. It handles well and very fun to drive and plenty of leg room unlike Mazada Miata and others. Don't know why many other sports cars do not consider tall and long legged folks. They would probably sell more cars.
  • 4
    Ray Raible Lafayette,Ca July 7, 2016 at 18:12
    Rob's the best, I've had the honor of knowing Rob, through ZONC (Z Owners of Northern California) since I bought my Z in 1970. He has been a trusted friend and reliable Z guru. Great article. Worthy of my time.
  • 5
    Harry Wells Ontario, Canada July 8, 2016 at 08:24
    Great story that shows a glimpse of the Z world that is out there and the interesting people living the Z life.
  • 6
    Brent Stewart Port Charlotte, FL July 10, 2016 at 04:05
    I owned a 1973 240 Z and a 1977 280 Z. The previous owner of the 240 Z had installed a tri-carburetor fuel system, an aggressive but elegant front air dam, and a "whale tail" rear spoiler. He also had it painted metallic brown with gold racing stripes. Maybe too radical for some, others loved it, and it looked gorgeous to me. Fast and fun! Sometimes I still miss it.
  • 7
    Jim Arnett Richardson TX July 18, 2016 at 15:24
    Great article about a shop I'd love to visit. I'm the original owner of a Series 1 240Z, fully restored and in the same color as Robb's. If you own a Z, you fully understand the passion!
  • 8
    Ed Saskatchewan November 20, 2016 at 15:08
    My first car was a Datsun 510 and my second a 240Z. I've raced and enjoyed them ever since. I currently have a series 1 undergoing fresh restoration.

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