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With SEMA 2021 just around the corner, automakers are starting to tease what showgoers will get to see. And Nissan is no exception. It plans to show off several project cars at the show, and not just factory-built ones. One of the displays, an homage to Datsun 240Z rally cars past, comes courtesy of Fast and Furious star Sung Kang.

Fast and Furious star Sung Kang’s ‘Doc Z’ pays tribute to an iconic Datsun 240Z rally car

The liveried red-and-black 1971 Datsun 240Z East African Safari Rally car drifting around a dirt hill corner
1971 Datsun 240Z East African Safari Rally car side view | Nissan

Sung Kang doesn’t fake car passion when he’s playing beloved Fast and Furious character Han Seoul-Oh. For one, he was into cars long before he appeared as Han in Tokyo Drift. And these days, he’s often found building projects with a team of friends at his business Sung’s Garage. The ‘Doc Z’ that’s set to appear at SEMA 2021 is one of the team’s latest builds. And not only does it draw inspiration from rallying, but from a historic Datsun 240Z rally car.

While the idea of rally-racing sports cars might seem odd today, history is chock full of them. Back in the 1980s, for example, Porsche turned the 911 loose in the dirt. There was also a Ferrari 308 GT4 rally car in development at one point. And the most expensive Japanese car ever sold at auction, a Datsun 240Z Z432R, is a rally homologation special.

That’s right, the Datsun 240Z didn’t just compete on racetracks and road courses: it went off-roading, too. And because it was based on the 510 sports sedan, it was rather good at it, Silodrome notes. A 240Z won both the 1971 and 1973 East African Safari Rally and remained a strong competitor throughout the 1970-1973 seasons. Not only did this establish the Japanese sports car’s credentials, but it now serves as the inspiration for other rally car builds.

Builds, for example, like the one Sung Kang and his team just built.

The doctor is in (to rally): how Sung Kang and his team got a 1971 Datsun 240Z ready for the dirt

The rear 3/4 view of Sung Kang's red-and-black 1971 'Doc Z' Datsun 240Z
Sung Kang’s 1971 ‘Doc Z’ Datsun 240Z rear 3/4 view | Nissan

As standard, the 1971 Datsun 240Z had a 2.4-liter ‘L24’ inline-six engine rated at 151 hp. In East African Rally spec, the rear-wheel-drive sports car made 215 hp. But Kang’s Doc Z undoubtedly makes significantly more power and torque. That’s because its L24 is stroked to 2.8 liters and wears custom heads, a new exhaust, and triple Weber carburetors. Nissan describes the output as “healthy.”

But racing through the desert requires more than just extra horsepower. While it’s unclear if Sung Kang lifted the Datsun 240Z as Nissan did with the Frontier Nismo, Doc Z does have new suspension and brakes. Plus, it rides on new Michelin off-road tires wrapped around 16” Kobe Seiko-style wheels. These are the same kinds of wheels that the Z432 and the original 240Z rally car wore.

In addition, Doc Z has a roof-mounted rack with a spare tire-and-wheel combo. And it has custom two-tone paint courtesy of Coastline Autosport. In short, this is a far different car than the rusty 1971 Z that Sung Kang and his crew started with.

Can you make your own Safari-style Z?

As noted earlier, the original East African Safari Rally Datsun 240Z has inspired numerous off-road builds, not just the Doc Z. And while recreating Sung Kang’s exact build might be pricey, you can get at least part of the way there.

These days, a good-condition 1971 240Z costs about $31K, Hagerty says, though fair-condition examples are about half that price. A set of reproduction Kobe Seiko wheels costs about $1150. Unfortunately, while you can get Mini Cooper lift kits, there don’t appear to be any Datsun 240Z lift kits available commercially. Ditto a sturdy skid plate. But that doesn’t mean a shop can’t build you a custom setup as well as a matching roll cage for serious competition.

Hopefully, seeing the Doc Z in the metal will inspire some more enthusiasts to keep the 240Z off-road racing tradition going.

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