Fathers, sons, daughters, and a Black Pearl Datsun 280Z

Ronnie Schreiber

One of the relationships fundamental to human society is that of a parent and child. When it comes down to it, the only physical immortality we have is in our offspring, and the closest tie we have to the past is in our parents. The parent-child relationship, of course, does not end when a child reaches physical or legal adulthood. In most cases it deepens and grows. Because they have adult abilities, children who have matured into adulthood can express respect, honor, and love for a parent in ways that a minor child simply cannot.

When my son, Moshe, takes time away from his own wife and children to help me with something, that means so much more than when he gave me a hand when he was a young teenager without the responsibilities of his own family. My oldest, Sarah, is a foodie who supervises an institutional commisary, and she will gently mock some of my quickie recipes as “that’s not cooking.”  When my younger daughter, Tova, who is the activities coordinator for a large independent living facility for seniors (and asked that I mention all of her siblings in this story), sends me a link to a song or a story, she’s using an adult’s sensibilities about my interests. That’s how I found out about Ari Katz and what he calls his father’s 1978 Black Pearl Edition Datsun 280Z.

Tova sent me a link to an article in the Detroit Jewish News titled For the Love of Cars, about local enthusiasts and the vehicles they love, which the newspaper ran in connection with the 2022 North American International Auto Show. One of the car featured was the Katz family’s 280Z.

Steve Katz

Born in 1953, Steve Katz grew up in Detroit and its suburbs, so it was sort of natural that he was a car guy. When he finished high school his parents gave him a watch box that he thought was his graduation gift. Inside was a scale model of a Capri, a sporty European coupe with styling heavily influenced by the Mustang, which Ford had recently started importing for its Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Underneath the model Capri were the keys to a fullsize, brand-new 1971 Capri, the first of three Capris that Steve would own. He was the second owner of a 1973 Capri that he bought himself in 1974, driving it as a second, winter car for a couple of years until 1976, when he replaced it with a 1976 Capri.

That was the same year that he bought his first Datsun, a 1976 280Z, again using his Capri as a winter car for almost a decade, which helped preserve the Z. He liked the Datsun so much that when Nissan announced that it would be selling a limited edition (approximately 1200 units) Black Pearl version, in a lustrous black metallic finish, exclusively for the U.S. market for the 1978 model year—apparently to test if U.S. consumers would buy a black Z car—Steve traded up and bought one at Leo Adler Datsun, in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Ronnie Schreiber

It came with an optional five-speed manual transmission, a dealer installed sunroof, Ziebart rustproofing, and the Black Pearl Edition’s mandatory Sports Appearance Package, which included period-identifying black rear window louvers, dual side “racing mirrors,” and rather garish silver and red pinstriping along the belt line, rocker panels, hood bulge, deck lid, and around the headlamps. He would have paid between about $8500 or so (approximately $38,700 in 2022 dollars), depending on options like A/C, choice of transmission, and aluminum wheels. Katz removed the pinstripes, giving the car a much classier look, and added a Pioneer stereo, Cibie fog lamps, a deep front lip spoiler, and some very sharp Cromodora wheels.

Ronnie Schreiber

Fastidious is the word that probably best describes Steve Katz’s treatment of his 280Z. In a small notebook he recorded every repair, maintenance service, oil change, and even fuel fill ups. He’d never let anyone else but himself drive it, well, with one exception. Mutual friends fixed him up with a young lady named Joanne. Those friends immediately knew it was a good match when Steve asked her if she wanted to drive his Z on their first date. The car’s stick shift didn’t phase her a bit. They married in 1981 and started a family, with Ari coming along in 1983. When Ari got his own driver’s license, Steve made another exception so Ari could learn how to operate a manual transmission in the 280Z. While he owned other cars for daily drivers and winter cars, he still drove the Datsun regularly, eventually putting  about 77,000 miles on the odometer. Sadly, though, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (sometimes known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), took Steve ‘s life in 2003 at the way-too-young age of 50.


Like his late father, Ari Katz is a car guy. He’s attended every Detroit Grand Prix since he was nine years old. As he puts it, he “grew up in the back seat” of the 280Z, and the car was considered “a member of the family.” After his father’s passing, Ari inherited the Datsun and indeed treats it as a treasured family member, continuing to record every oil change and fill up in his father’s notebook, trying to keep the car in the same condition as his father left it.

The Z is still in mostly original condition, though it has been resprayed with the original Black Pearl color. That paint job might even make it look better than when Steve Katz took delivery as the modern clear coat over the color really makes the metallic and pearl pigments visually pop. I believe that Ari may have upgraded the audio gear, as I don’t think Infinity was selling car speakers back in the late 1970s. Otherwise, it’s a time capsule car—not some super low mileage museum piece, but rather a well-driven and well-loved automobile.

The car’s general condition and yellow plastic plugs in the door and hatch jambs give testimony to the effectiveness of the Ziebart process—well, at least with cars that have been fastidiously kept. And how fastidiously do the Katzes keep their cars? When I called Ari to clarify some details about what I thought was the one Capri that Steve owned, he said, “Let me go get dad’s file on the Capri.” Ari knew the story about the watch box, scale model, and keys, but until I asked about his dad’s Capri and he read its file for the first time, he hadn’t known that it was one of three that Steve had owned.

Ronnie Schreiber

Ari also inherited the car guy gene from both of his parents. As an adult, he started showing the car as a tribute and memorial to his father, and Steve and his father’s 280Z have been invited to participate in the region’s premier automotive events like the Concours of America (now the Detroit Concours) and the Eyes on Design show. Ari has even organized charity car events to raise money to support ALS research in Steve’s memory.

Ronnie Schreiber

After reading For the Love of Cars, I thought to myself that if I would be able to contact Ari for an interview, it could be the basis of a story that you, our genuinely treasured readers, would enjoy. If you’re reading this you’re likely a gearhead, but as much as some people like technology and machines, most people read stories about people, not cubic inches. Fortuitously, in the publicity materials for this year’s American Speed Festival at the M1 Concourse facility in Pontiac, just north of Detroit, one of the cars scheduled to be appearing in the ASF’s judged car show was the Katz family’s 280Z. As I was already covering the ASF for Hagerty, I made a point to go back on Sunday to see if I could meet Ari.

Ronnie Schreiber

For some reason, organizers put the Import Performance class down at the far end of the portion of the M1’s track being used for the cars in ths show. Having walked all the way down there twice without talking to Ari I was starting to worry, but I headed down a final time after the awards ceremony. Owners were already leaving with their cars, which increased my concern, but the 280Z was still there, so I decided to hang out and wait. Eventually Ari showed up, proudly carrying a trophy for winning the car’s class. We spoke about the car and his father until the Datsun was the last car on the show field. He handed me his phone and asked me to take a photo of him with the trophy and his father’s car, with a huge ASF sign on one of the facility’s buildings as a backdrop. Somewhere, Steve Katz was surely smiling as broadly as his son.

Ronnie Schreiber

Ari, who earned an MBA and is a financial planner, now has a family of his own … which includes the Datsun. He and his wife, Julie, have two young daughters, Sadie and Libby, who are budding car gals themselves. The 280Z is no trailer queen; Ari drove it to the show, while Julie brought the girls in the family daily driver. It’s a solid bet that the 280Z will remain a Katz family member for generations to come. If ever a car was “NOT FOR SALE,” this is it.

Ronnie Schreiber

In case you want to have one like it, though, a look at auction and dealer sites shows that most Black Pearl Edition 280Zs sell for between $20,000 and $27,500, though I did find one that sold for as little as $15K, and another for as much as $57,500, but that car is literally a museum piece, having been on display in the Datsun Heritage Museum in California.

Ronnie Schreiber

Ari has put another 7,000 or so miles on it since he’s been the Z’s custodian but for a 45 year old car with eighty-four thousand miles the Datsun is in remarkable shape. The dashboard, treated with decades of love and Armor All, looks pristine. The upholstery, save for a slight bit of wear on the door side of the driver’s seat, looks as good or better than that of my five year old Honda.

Ronnie Schreiber

On display under the louvers was the original owners manual and other period paperwork. Ari says that the original floor mats could stand to be replaced, but my guess is that if he does get new ones, the originals will get stored somewhere safe, just like his father’s files. The black paint on the round Datsun badge on the hood has long since been sun bleached but I don’t think that’s going to be replaced, ever.

Some things, like a child’s love for a parent, just can’t be replaced.

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Verstappen did it for Didi, glorious Ghias, cops close in on computer-savvy car theft ring


    I wish the author would have mentioned Steve’s daughter Michele Gershonowicz (Katz), she was obviously a huge part of Steve’s legacy and she should have been included. This was a huge oversight. I think there should be a correction mentioning Michele.

    No slight was intended towards Ms. Gershonowicz, who most certainly must be a very nice person to inspire such loyalty among her friends. I’m sure that Steve Katz loved her as much as Avi and that she has her own stories about Steve’s 280Z. I simply forgot to ask Avi about siblings. I’ll try to remember that the next time I do a story about a family car. I can’t promise that we’ll run a revision, but I will run it by my editors. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I met Ari when I was representing Eyes on Design and part of the Vehicle Selection Committee choosing Japanese classics for the show. We spoke on numerous occasions about his car and my 1972 240Z that had been in the 2016 Eyes on Design show. We shared the love of Z’s. I have owned the 240 since February 2003. It is all original except for the upholstery of the seats which is now leather. These are great cars.

    I have a 1978 280z car with the black pearl paint. It does not have the red & silver pin stripping on it. It also has a factory sun roof. It is in great shape. I have owned it since 2000 and was a gift from my brother from California. I also have Hagerty insurance on it. I am thinking about selling it. Have any idea’s for me on price and where to advertise?

    I owned the exact same Z. I purchased the car from a dentist in Clinton, NJ in 1983. Loved that car. After I sold the car, I regretted having done so. Would love to have that car again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *