It’s a sentence we’re all familiar with: “If you ever decide to sell it, let me know.” If you’re like us, you’ve spoken it more than you’ve heard it—but how many times has a friend actually parted ways with a car and let you know? It tends to be a rare occurrence, but that was not the case with Eric Ritz and his 1973 Datsun 240Z.
Spotted in Norwalk
The 240Z first caught our eye in Norwalk, Ohio, on day one of HOT ROD Power Tour 2021. It stood out from the crowd, not just because it was the only Datsun, but because of the amount of detail that was put into it. From afar, it’s impossible to mistake the timeless lines of Eric’s Z, and with each step closer you realize how far the car is from stock. Exterior modifications such as the carbon fiber bumpers, door handles, and taillight panel tied in with the body’s shaved side markers and pillar vents provide a sleek first impression. Another step closer and you notice large Wilwood brakes hiding behind a set of Minilite replica wheels, a classic choice for any Datsun. Standing beside it, we were blown away by the interior. Clearly, Eric had a vision going into this build, and after discovering his formal education was in transportation design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it all made sense.
Why a Datsun? Well, Eric was raised on ’em. His father, Larry Ritz, has owned about 50 Datsun 510s, so it was no surprise that Eric’s first car was a 1969 Datsun wagon. The only other Datsun he has owned since is this white 1973 240Z.
On the Hunt
The quest to find this car was initially taken on by Larry in 2007 for a family friend named Steve. Meticulous as he was, Steve decided to go with a 1973 body, as it was the lightest chassis with the most reinforcement. A non-rusty shell popped up for sale in California, and onto the rotisserie for inspection it went. Apart from a coin-sized rust spot near the hatch, the shell was perfect. He brought it to a local shop for sandblasting, and from there the car was taken to Mark McMahon (www.rollcageguy.com), who is known for tight-fitting and creative cage fabrication. Mark used 77 feet of tubing to make the Z’s work-of-art roll cage.
Back in the garage, Steve installed an LS2 engine and T56 transmission out of a 2006 Pontiac GTO with only 8k miles. Accompanying the new powerplant was a limited-slip rear axle housing from an Infiniti Q45, which was made to fit using a combo of Z and Q45 axles. Steve then sourced all-new suspension from Techno Toy Tuning, and big Wilwood brakes from Arizona Z Car. Engine management in the mid 2000s wasn’t as simple as it is today, so a custom harness and ECU were provided by Speartech. Finally, the car was on all fours thanks to new Rota RB wheels and Yokohama tires.
With the 240 in a good mechanical state, Steve put about 1,500 miles on it over about six years of ownership. Not driving it much, and faced with the daunting task of completely tearing the car down for paint, he was prompted to call Larry Ritz in 2017 with the idea of selling the car. The connection between Eric and the Z had already been established, and letting the opportunity to own it slip away was simply not an option for Larry. As the tale goes, a few strings were pulled, and the purchase was made.
One month into ownership and 500 miles later, Eric was ready for the teardown. First, the transmission was taken to Liberty Gears in Detroit for a complete overhaul while the car was back on a rotisserie for paint prep. In the belief that all Datsuns should be white, thanks to his dad’s race cars growing up, Larry elected to give the Z a fresh coat of white. In 2019, the Datsun arrived ready for reassembly.
With the engine out, LS guru Mike Mavrigian assisted with a COMP Cams rocker/trunnion upgrade on the engine. At this point, discussion began about displaying the car as a booth vehicle at the SEMA show in 2020, and with some renderings and networking, Eric started receiving sponsored products.
Once he had gotten the transmission back, the last round of assembly was in motion. The custom interior panels were covered with suede and the false floors painted with Steel-It paint. Other interior finishes extend to the carbon veneer and tube protectors. Finally, the body panels saw a last prime and paint thanks to good friend Steve Goldman at Eddie’s Autobody in Norton, Ohio.
Show and Drive
The result of Eric and Larry Ritz’s hard work was a well-deserved Top 40 Overall at the virtual 2020 SEMA360 show, and Top 10 Sport Compact in Battle of the Builders. Since completion of the 240Z in Fall 2020, Eric has taken the car to local shows and down the drag strip at HOT ROD Power Tour. Eric continues the trend in 2022, driving the car when possible, autocrossing, and hopefully taking another trip to the SEMA show. Only time will tell, but it’s looking good so far.
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