MTI Racing, located in Marietta, GA, is a well-known Chevrolet performance specialty shop, listing Corvette, Camaro, and even GM truck parts as their forte. The quality of the race application parts that they design and build in-house for these domestic monsters, as well as the work that is carried out at their facility, has earned them a reputation as the authority on all cars wearing the Bow Tie badge. Currently, much of their focus is on the new C7 Corvette, having acquired one to use as a testbed for developing parts and, of course, to race. Unlike this C7 Corvette, a brand-new project, they also race a Datsun 240Z. Naturally, the old Datsun is no longer powered by the straight-six L24 that it came equipped with when it was built half a world away four decades ago. As a Chevy specialty shop, there was little doubt that the fastest way to get this little import around a road course would be with a big-block V-8 under the hood.
The owner of this S30 Datsun 240Z, Matt Isbell, is also part owner of MTI Racing, and has been fascinated by all things automotive from a young age. He describes his childhood as being completely centered around cars, racing whatever he could afford, starting with Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars—which may not be an officially recognized motorsport class yet, but we won't let that little detail keep Matt from listing it on his resume. Eventually racing Hot Wheels gave way to racing slot cars, and the joy of controlling a self-propelled object had him hooked for life. The slot cars led him straight into the transition to a short stint with radio-controlled cars that kept him thoroughly occupied until he was actually racing cars from within them, at many autocross events and finally Road Atlanta the local (and world famous) road course.
The list of Matt's previously and currently owned cars is, without a doubt, impressive. The abridged version of this list as described by the man himself goes something like: "Quite a few AC Cobras, a Shelby GT500, VW Beetles, lots of trucks, and lots of Z's." The fact that he seems to have trouble recalling the exact quantities of these cars raised a few concerns, but we decided to let them slide. Whether or not this list of cars is considered "healthy" can probably be debated by a panel of overpaid "experts" in white coats who have never driven a proper car, but we'll nip that discussion in the bud here and (despite our lack of white coats) declare him "totally fine and exhibiting signs of awesomeness." As car guys tend to do, Matt cycled through cars on a regular basis, buying, tinkering with, racing, and ultimately selling many amazing machines. He eventually noticed a trend. Regardless of how many he bought and sold, he always found himself back in an old Datsun Z car—there was something special about these small, sleek, lightweight imports. He decided to keep one around, which was much easier said than done, so he resorted to the only way he knew how—he would start a no-holds-barred, full-out race car build.
The S30 project officially began in 2008, the mission statement was simple, clear, and left nothing in question: Create the fastest road racing 240Z. A lofty goal, but Matt was confident that it was within his reach. The base platform was chosen, a '71 240Z, not an especially desirable year of the S30 chassis in terms of collector value, but it would be the perfect candidate for what Matt and the crew at MTI had planned. As we mentioned earlier, this Datsun is no longer powered by a Japanese straight-six, but by an American V-8—or to be more specific, the American V-8. The LS family of GM-built engines have proven their worth time and time again, and have been shoehorned into pretty much everything that one could physically fit within, for good reason. This particular powerplant started its life as a typical LS7, normally found in '06-13 Corvette Z06s and '14-and-newer Camaro Z28s, cars that weigh double of what this 240Z registers on the scales. The combination of 505 hp, 470 lb-ft of twist and a sub-2,000-pound car would be enough for most people to call it a day and move onto figuring out how to drive such a monstrosity, but Matt was not interested in simply building a terrifying 240Z, but the fastest 240Z. The LS7 was torn apart, the heads were ported, a Comp camshaft and MTI Racing dual valvesprings were installed along with Mahle pistons, a Callies crankshaft and connecting rods, the fortified engine was buttoned up using ARP hardware. A custom MTI intake pipe leads air through a 102mm throttle body into an LSX FAST manifold to be compressed and ignited before exiting though a fully custom exhaust system built in-house at MTI. This formula is good for some very impressive numbers, 650 whp and 625 lb-ft of torque to be exact. Matt then shifted his attention to the suspension, as putting this much power to the ground and keeping the car stable at the speeds it was now capable was going to take some serious work.
The rate of acceleration this car was now capable of was the least of Matt's worries at this point, but the idea of "good enough" is all but completely foreign to him, so he chopped the front half of the car completely off and fabricated a full tubular front end to house the LS7 and serve as mounting points for the front suspension components. Bilstein double adjustable struts paired with Eibach springs regulate the movement of a mixture of Arizona Z Car and MTI custom fabricated arms with Aurora Heim joints, which serve to allow adjustments to be made as well as keep the alignment perfectly true while driving. A set of monstrous 17x10.5 and 17x12.5 CCW Classics wrapped in 315 and 335 width Hoosiers keep the car secured to the pavement. As you can probably imagine, there are no bolt-on flares in existence that can house such a wheel-and-tire combination, so the guys over the Z Car Customs were commissioned to build a full carbon-fiber widebody kit, from a 35-year-old original IMSA race car mold, no less! The interior is kept as simple as possible, only the absolute necessities remain in an effort to keep weight down. A full rollcage was fabricated and welded to the chassis in-house at MTI, the iconic diamond pattern vinyl has been replaced by a simple coat of white paint, and the only remaining pieces even remotely resembling any sort of comfort are the pair of Racetech carbon-fiber seats and the MOMO steering wheel.
Being the fastest is such a simple yet beautiful concept; it's an absolute that can be questioned at any time, yet requires solid proof to be challenged. One of the great things about racing is the fundamental idea that we start at a set point, follow a set course, and the first one back is the fastest." It's indisputable with no room for opinions or personal preferences, just straight unadulterated facts. By combining a classic lightweight Japanese chassis with modern American power and a more than capable suspension, Matt may just have the winning combination of parts to hold the title of the fastest S30 Datsun 240Z ever. Anybody looking to dispute that crown, however, may have to wait a few months. The car met a wall at 80 mph shortly after these photographs were taken due to a bolt failing in the front suspension. The car is currently being rebuilt, and it's likely Matt is already working on ways to go even faster when the car is back on the track.