In 2018 one of the deadliest floods in the country’s history swept through southwestern Japan. Twenty-three prefectures received evacuation notices, over 200 people perished, and damages to infrastructure, farms, and property totaled about $20 billion. One family lost an S130 Nissan Fairlady Z that was priceless due to the tremendous sentimental value it held. Now students at Nissan Kyoto Automobile College are helping restore the flooded car.
While S130 Nissan Fairlady Z, known as the Datsun 280ZX in the US, is not among the most valuable cars in the pantheon of Japanese classics, this particular example is irreplaceable to the Mabi, Okayama family it belongs to. It was the prize possession of their son who passed away 20 years ago in a car accident. Since then, the kept the Z in their garage until the 2018 flood, which submerged the car in water and mud.
Normally that level of damage would total a car, but the family didn’t want to part with it. According to Best Car‘s reporting on the restoration, the family initially reached out to the nearby Toyota Kobe Automobile College. In what the magazine called a “relay that transcended manufacturers” the instructor there placed a call to the Nissan Kyoto Automobile College, saying “Although the car is a valuable educational tool, I think the owner would be happier if Nissan professionals restored the car.”
The Nissan technical school graciously took the car in and begin the long process of restoring the “Mabi Z” in 2019. In 2020 the pandemic hampered their progress with remote learning, but as things began to open up in fall of 2021 students were able to reconvene in person to continue the project. Though a base model equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-6, the red Z had apparently been loved. Touches like a set of SSR MkI rims and a Momo steering wheel personalized the car and gave it a deeper connection to its owner.
However, not everything will be restored to its pre-flood state. For example, when students removed the paint they found a dent that had been filled with a thick layer of Bondo. Determining that the owner probably intended to have it fixed to its factory originality but couldn’t due to financial constraints, the students decided to take the opportunity to learn metal work from the school’s many experienced teachers.
On the other hand, the students treated parts like the engine differently. The Z’s entire motor had been buried and its cylinders filled with mud. It would have been much easier to simply swap in another L20, and the school did have one lying around, but the students told Best Car, “If you replace the heart of the car, it won’t be that owner’s car anymore. We want to use the original engine as much as possible.”
Within the Nissan Kyoto Automobile College is a customization department. It’s responsible for some of the wilder creations built for events like the Tokyo Auto Salon. With expertise in welding, metal shaping, bodywork, and paint, they helped the students get the Z’s panels back to a brilliant shine.
As of now the engine and transmission have been rebuilt and some sections of the body restored. Students opened the fuel tank to find it coated in rust, so that’ll have to be restored as well. Parts such as the wiring harness and interior are still being worked on.
In the Best Car article a school representative was asked why Nissan isn’t promoting this story more, as it would certainly be a good marketing move. The reply came humbly: “We’re restoring the car because we want the owner to see it in heaven. We’re restoring the car so that it can be returned to the owner and his family. We’re not restoring it to show off.” The school is undertaking the project free of charge to the family.
The Fairlady Z restoration has echos of the story about how the Honda community that together to rebuild a 1990 CRX Si for the family who lost a father to cancer 20 years after it had been sold. There are also parallels to the story of the TE27 Toyota Corolla that had been destroyed in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. That car also saw car enthusiasts across Japan pitching in to help bring it back to its former glory. It’s another reminder that despite the negative aspects of car culture that get amplified online, there are high notes that should be getting a lot more attention. You can follow the Z’s progress on the Nissan Kyoto Automobile College’s social media accoount.
Images: Nissan Kyoto Automobile College