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Building a 1976 Datsun 280Z Just Might Turn You Into a Master Classic Tuner

How does a kid from NYC end up tuning classic Z-cars for a living? Getting rid of the Subaru WRX, to start.
Tom Gorelik

It’s one thing to have an interesting chat over a stranger’s car at your local Cars & Coffee. It’s another to step inside the mind of a fellow enthusiast and hear the full story of who they are, what their car means to them, and how they see their place in the broader culture we all share. When you get down to it, there’s a lot more that connects than divides us when it comes to this crazy obsession of ours.

Today, we’re dropping the first video in a new YouTube series we’re calling Carisma where we do exactly that, hear from everyday enthusiasts about the cars that make them tick. How does a young kid from New York City with a passion for art and DIY end up falling down the rabbit hole of 1970s Japanese tuning culture and becoming a sought-after classic Z-Car mechanic? Well, it starts with selling a 2002 Subaru WRX and buying a 1976 Datsun 280Z. Let John Roman explain:

As he immersed himself in the history of his new Z, he realized he had stepped into a story and culture going back decades. If he was going to carry it forward, he needed to fully understand it.

“Enter this community and this culture with an understanding of your position in it, and if you’re gonna contribute, you gotta have some education in that,” he says. “It’s just a matter of respect. Somebody built this car before I rebuilt it. You know, that matters.”

Over the next 12 years, that journey led him to building out his 280Z as a period-correct tuner car and a rolling portfolio for his skills—which in turn led him to opening his own shop and starting a career as an old-school Z-car tuner himself. Now, his life’s work is preserving the body of knowledge around these cars that was built up before him and sharing it with the world, so whoever comes after him can truly understand it.

“Car culture will always have that element of guys, just throwing their checkbook at it and posturing. You gotta snuff that out,” he says. “That’s not it. That’s not making anybody better, that’s not helping anybody grow, that’s short-sighted ego shit.”

“Building a community, talking to people, knowing your shit, and sharing that selflessly, that’s how this is gonna keep going. Otherwise this is all gonna turn to dust, everyone’s ego is going to die with them, and they’re not gonna leave anything behind. They didn’t teach anybody anything, they didn’t help anybody with anything, they didn’t anything on their own. They came and went, and all they did was take.”

Hear hear, John. Thanks for doing what you do.