Word & Photography by Raj Hunjan
As a 350Z owner I have always been interested in the history of the Z name. The first car to use the iconic Z label was the Nissan Fairlady Z, or Datsun 240Z as it was known outside of Japan. Released in 1969 the Z was a monumental success, selling over half a million cars worldwide up until 1978. The Z line of sportscars has become the best selling sportscar of all time, with sales of over 1.5 million to date, it is revered around the world as an affordable sportscar for the masses.
The original Z combined low cost, high performance and comfort. It has a 2.4 litre straight six, fed by twin carburettors that produces 150bhp. Weighing in at just over 1000kg, there is enough power to accelerate the 240Z to 60mph in 8 seconds. Independent suspension and a 50:50 weight distribution ensure that the car can handle too. On the inside the car offered; sports seats, carpets, stereo, climate control and optional air conditioning. The Z was leagues ahead of the competition of the time, Nissan had produced a sportscar that was both reliable and affordable.
It wasn’t long before owners started fettling with their 240Z’s. A UK based engine tuner called Spike Anderson knew the 240Z would respond well to some engine work, having previously worked on his Datsun Sunny with great results. He bought a new 240Z with the number plate FFA 196L and was soon modifying it. He gas flowed the cylinder head (his area of expertise), fitted a new inlet with triple twin choke carburettors, fitted a lower chin spoiler, lowered the suspension and fitted Koni dampers to the rear of the car. Janspeed built him a six branch manifold with straight-through exhaust system. Later it also received uprated brakes, vented discs with 4 pot callipers from a Range Rover. These changes transformed the 240Z, the engine was now producing 190bhp instead of the standard 150bhp, which made it capable of 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds and had a top speed of 140mph. Spike had the car painted Nissan Red 110 and bronze (Routes Tango), with a white line to separate the colours. To complete the road racer look it was also fitted with Midland Metallics alloy wheels. He named it Super Samuri because his previous project Datsun Sunny was nicknamed ‘Samuri’ and it was only fitting that the 240Z was the ‘Super’ version.
With this being his everyday car, it attracted a lot of attention, including the sub editor of Motor Sport Magazine, Clive Richardson. Thanks to Clive, the Super Samuri was featured in Motoring News and Motor Sport Magazine, it was dubbed a revelation in the sportscar world. Spike was soon receiving calls from other owners to carry out the same work to their cars. Samuri Motor Company was born. Samuri is a deliberate misspelling of Samurai, which was already trademarked by a Japanese company. The omission of the ‘a’ was officially cemented when a signwriter came to put the name on the car, neither he or Spike could recall the correct order for the last two letters in Samurai!
In order to attract more business, Spike started to enter the FFA 196L into motorsport, the first event it took part in was a hillclimb, where it finished second in class. The car was driven to and from the competition by Spike and this was always the case at future events too.
FFA 196L was raced regularly, along with a second car based on a factory 240Z rally car called Big Sam, in the hands of renowned racing driver Win Percy. Both cars were raced in the British Modsports Championship until 1981, finishing first or second in class for several years. Other Samuris were successfully raced in the HSCC Improved, Standard, Novice and Classic championships during the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Super Samuri is the definition of underdog, racing against factory teams in Porsche 911s, Spike ran on a shoe-string budget, carrying out the work himself and even driving FFA to each race meeting. FFA 196L has covered more than 175,000 miles and competed in sixty races and twenty hillclimbs during its racing career. Over the space of twenty years, a total of 74 Super Samuris had been built, 62 original specification cars, 7 enhanced road racers and 5 competition cars. The only non road legal Super Samuri was Big Sam.
The Donington Historic Festival was the first time I came across a Super Samuri in the metal. On the ZClub stand a bright red and bronze paintwork 240Z caught my eye. It was clearly a race prepared car, with bucket seats, stripped interior and full rollcage. I was peering through the window at the purposeful interior when the owner, Rob Crofton, approached and asked if I would like to have a proper look inside – of course I did! The car was fitted with timing gear and a fire extinguisher in the footwell. Clearly this car was actually raced rather than made to look like a racing car. The paintwork was near concourse, indicating the car had been recently built or restored. The number plate was familiar too, it was FFA 196G.
I soon learned from Rob that this was the last Super Samuri to be built, number 75. He was just about to take the car out on the Donington track and he invited me to join him on the parade lap together with cars from all the other clubs in attendance. The parade lap is only designed to be a leisurely drive around the circuit but occasionally a gap formed to the cars in front so Rob could open up the Super Samuri. There was plenty of power on tap, the handling was surefooted with absolutely no body roll and the brakes did a great job of slowing us down. This is no surprise as I later learn that number 75 (the sixth and final Super Samuri competition car) is the fastest in existence, even compared against the famous Big Sam race car.
After a fourteen year break from working on Super Samuris, Spike got the Z bug again and wanted to own one last Super Samuri, number 75. In 2007, he won an auction for a left hand drive 1973 240Z on eBay, with the help of UK Z specialist Dave Jarman, Martin Ryland (bodywork restoration) and Bill Galliers (front airdam work), a Group 4 FIA Historic Racing Specification car was built. The no expense spared build was financed by Spike’s friend, Mike Lee, with the agreement that he would buy the car from Spike once the work had been completed and ensure it was used as intended, to go racing.
The hope was to get Win Percy back into a Super Samuri and compete in the Spa 6 Hour classic race, unfortunately ill health prevented Win from ever piloting the car. Mike still wanted the car to be raced, so he approached Derek Hood, MD of JD Classics, and asked if they would like to add Number 75 to their collection, as they already owned FFA 196L and Big Sam. Derek knew Rob was on the lookout for a historic racing car to compete at Spa and soon a deal was done for Mike to sell the car to Rob. JD Classics re-commissioned the car, fitting new fuel lines, balancing the prop shafts and making sure the car was reliable and ready to race.
Rob has owned the car for just a few months, but has already taken it on the HERO Scottish Malts, a five day, 1,200 mile reliability trial across Scotland. The event was the perfect opportunity to carry out a shakedown test of the car as it also included test stages along the way. In terms of future plans, Rob will compete in the Masters Series 70’s Celebration and ultimately in the Spa 6 hours invitation class. It was inevitable that Rob would get into motorsport, his father raced production saloons in the late 70s and early 80s. His earliest memory is being taken around the paddocks at Snetterton during the Willhire 24 hour race. Rob previously raced a Caterham 7 in the Roadsport ‘B’ Championship and currently competes in various events with a Ginetta G40. Given the Super Samuri history and Rob’s own background, they make the perfect partnership for historic racing and hillclimbs, with the car doing what it was built to do…Race. The story of the Super Samuri has come full circle.
UPDATE 16 December 2014: 75 was supposed to be the last ever Super Samuri but Win Percy was so upset that he couldn’t race 75 that he convinced Spike to break his rule and make a 76th, the only automatic Super Samuri. More details to follow.