Life, death and Datsuns: One collector’s battle with West Nile Virus and [nearly] 200 Z Cars
When Kim Blough contracted West Nile Virus in 2013, everything at Idaho Z Car slammed to a halt. Just now able to work again, he presides over a time capsule of an operation. His business recalls when the first great Datsuns and Nissans hit American shores, but also to when he took good health for granted.
“What you see here,” says Blough, thumbing at the 180-odd Datsun Z cars that sprawl across this former poultry farm in Nampa, Idaho, “is a snapshot of my life three years ago when I got sick, at which point everything came to a halt.”
He started the business in 1976. At the time he fell ill, Blough was closing in on his fortieth year as the top executive, head wrench and – some might argue – chief hoarder at Idaho Z Car. When diagnosed in 2013, however, Blough’s doctors did not expect him to live more than a year – and there were certainly stretches of pain, insomnia and invasive medical tests that had Blough wondering if living still held any appeal.
Slowly and surprisingly, however, Blough’s health returned and he shows no visible signs of his brush with death. With renewed vigor has come a return to his shop and the beloved Datsuns and Nissans that first stole his heart in 1970.
“This all got started,” says Blough, “because my father took one look at the backseat of a 1956 Chevrolet and decided that no sixteen year-old boy should be entrusted with a backseat that big and comfortable.”
We are walking along a dirt drive when Blough stops in front of a garage door.
“And so,” says Blough, “I ended up with this.”
He rolls up the garage door to reveal a canary yellow 1966 Datsun Roadster. It was his very first car and one that he’s owned since 1970. It started life as a 1600 (named for its engine’s displacement: 1600-cc) model but, over the years, Blough – never content to leave well enough alone – muscled it up to 2000 cubic centimeters. The car has a worn, survivor air to it, but when Blough turns the key the engine immediately barks to life and settles into a smooth idle.
A “crackerjack engineer” by training (a title he self-applies, citing his incomplete college education), a young Blough was on track for a corporate American cubicle job but decided quickly that such a life held little appeal for him. Instead, he found himself repairing, building and tuning import cars. Starting with anything and everything produced beyond American shores, he eventually specialized in early Datsuns and Nissans. Their styling, the overhead cam engines, the dominance of teams like Brock Racing Enterprises on the track – it all gelled, making Blough an adherent.
By the late ‘80s, Blough needed a new location for his operation when he spied a ‘For Sale’ sign buried in the weeds at a crumbling poultry farm just off of Garrity Boulevard in Nampa. With some slick talk and shrewd negotiation skills, Blough bought the 18-acre plot and set about clearing out the knee-high stock of chicken manure from the buildings that would come to be his shop. Blough proudly notes that he sold the manure to a nearby mushroom operation.
“So I can honestly say that I successfully sold shit,” says Blough with a laugh, “and that the buyer was thrilled with what he got.”
During that era however, early Datsun Z cars were hardly the sought-after classics they are today. Quite the opposite: Blough frequently had owners drive a smoking 240Z into his driveway for repairs only to balk when they discovered that the necessary repairs would cost more than the car was worth. Better to just take what they could get for the car and simply move on. That’s how Blough began accumulating Z cars.
What started as a few scattered Datsuns gradually became dozens of cars. Eventually, the assemblage outgrew the numerous buildings and barns and spilled into the fields surrounding the shops. Inside the buildings, stashed around cars in various states of disassembly, are stockpiles of engine blocks, alternators, transmissions, suspension components and everything else that makes up a Datsun Z car. Idaho’s blazing summers and long, cold winters have given the cars a weather beating, but the dry climate has ensured their survival for future restorations.
Having survived forty years in business and a bout with West Nile Fever, Blough is now gearing up for his next challenge: relocation. The city of Nampa is planning to expand its airport facilities and Blough’s Datsuns sit squarely in the city planners’ path.
“Fortunately,” says Blough, with a mischievous smile, “they’re obliged to help me move my belongings.”
In keeping with his knack for repurposing agricultural buildings, Blough has his eye on a former produce warehouse deeper in the Treasure Valley’s rural expanse. It may not be quite as convenient, he admits, but it’s closer to his favorite Chukar partridge hunting grounds.
For now, though, Blough savors each day only how someone who has confronted death can enjoy it.
“Most of the time,” he says, “I don’t even decide what I’m going to do until I wake up in the morning. Whatever it is, though, it’s going to be something I love doing.”
And whatever Blough decides usually involves a Datsun.