Like your Z, this site is always underconstruction. :-)

Graber Velo Rossa

I am currently building a quasi-replica of one of the rarest and finest vehicles ever produced. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. It's not an exact replica because I decided to go with the Velo Rossa Spyder by VR Engineering. One of the most obvious external differences between the VR and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO is that the VR is a spyder and the original GTO is a coupe. The Velo Rossa re-body kit fits over a Datsun Z donor car. Any Z car manufactured between 1970 and 1978 will do as long as it's not a 2+2. I might add that in the minds of most, if not all automotive enthusiasts there can be no mechanical comparison between a Ferrari and a Datsun! Ferrari is in a league of it's own. The VR simply attemps to capture the stylistic essence of the 1962 250. Personally, I like the idea of cruising around town in a car that will turn the heads of... Everybody!!! The Z car is a true sports car in it's own right and adding a fantastic body like the VR just increases the pleasure.


I chose the 1978 280Z as my base platform for this project. I had heard that the later Z's had stronger and therefore more rigid unibodies than the earlier models. Since I was cutting the top off, this year made the most sense. John Washington of VR Engineering had a 78 Z sitting out behind his shop. It had not been moved since 1995 when it failed AZ emissions. The body had been used to pull molds for some other rebody projects he had done, and it looked absolutely abandoned. It was up on blocks because the wheels had been stolen many years before, paint was totally faded, no front fenders, not running and best of all, NO major RUST and never wrecked. This was the perfect car for my project. I paid him $500 for it and started tearing it apart that same afternoon.

Every once in a while I go out to the garage and document my progress with my camcorder. Then I head out to my office and do still captures of some of the more interesting photos. I divided the project into categories to save your bandwidth sanity. There are a lot of images under each category but I made thumbnails. You can click on the thumbnail to see a bigger view.

After the Knottsberry Farm Kit Car show I came back with some images of Rodney Schapel's 250 GTO coupe. This is one of the nicest interiors I have ever seen in a kit car! Leather seats, full roll-cage, Pro-Comp instrumentation and lots more. You simply cannot tell that this was a Z-Car in a previous life.

Engine and Drivetrain - Suspension and Steering - Interior - Exterior - Dash & Gauges

Ferrari 250 GTO rebodies for the Datsun Z-car chassis date back to the 80's with the Alpha and Eagle kits. Since that time other companies have improved on the concept and Velo Rossa, in Tempe AZ, now makes one of the best. They have proven to be popular and scarcely a kit car show goes by without having a few examples on hand. But at the Association of Handcrafted Automobiles show at Knott's Berry Farm this year, one stood out above the rest. Part of it was the subtle silver paint in place of the usual red, and part of itwas the real wire wheels. The closer we looked, the more impressed we were with the detailing and overall appearance. Owner Steve Graber is justifiably proud of his project. It is his first kit car and he started with a $500 '78 Datsun 280Z purchased from VR's John Washington. The Z was straight and rust free, but the engine was damaged and many body panels were missing, hence the low price. Graber, a computer artist and programmer by trade, added a VR GTO Spider body kit. One of the nice things about the Spider is that it is not another replica, as Ferrari never built a convertible version of the GTO.

Although he was new to Datsuns and kit cars, Graber launched into the rebuild. He removed the unwanted body panels and cut off the roof. He added a VR reinforcing kit that runs down the sides in the cockpit area and triangulates up to the rear shock towers. It also spans the shock towers to tie everything together. The suspension was tired and needed to be lowered 2" as per VR specifications. Up front, Motorsport springs were used and the struts were cut and sectioned before rewelding the spring perches lower on the strut housings. Volkswagen Golf GTI cartridges were used with custom milled inserts at the top inside the housing under the gland nut. The rear suspension was lowered using Motorsport springs and by replacing the tall strut >isolator hats that were used on later Z-cars with short hats from a parts yard. The suspension was then upgraded for better handling. Suspension Techniques sway bars were added front and rear, and all struts are KYB. Motorsport Bump Steer spacers were added to aleviate> the geometry shift caused by lowering the front suspension. Finally, BAP dust boots were fitted with built-in rubber bump stops. The rest of the suspension and chassis were disassembled, cleaned sandblasted and repainted. All bushings were replaced with urethane units for more precide> operation. The wheelwells were sandblasted and covered with rubberized undercoating. The brakes were rebuilt and all wheel bearings replaced. Resisting the temptation to install a V8, Graber opted to rebuild the ailing Datsun inline six. Although he had never attempted a rebuild before, he bought a manual and started in. The block was taken to Greulich's Machine Shop in Scottsdale for cleaning and machine work. With advice from Brian Little's Datsun Z Car Garage and the website, Graber reassembled the engine with a few performance mods. It was bore .050 over and uses stock flattop pistons intended for an '83 280ZX, which gives about 10.3:1 compression. Graber ported and polished his cylinder head and had a three-angle competition valve job done. A performance cam works with the stock fuel injection, and Graber estimates it pumps out about 195 hp through the equal length tuned headers with Jet-Hot coating. The stock five-speed transmission works with a Centerforce II clutch and is mated to a 3.90 rear differential from an '83 280ZX. The engine compartment is trimmed out for show>, and Graber had the lettering milled off the stock valve cover and polished to a high luster. The $3,995 Velo Rossa body is made from hand-laid fiberglass with coremat reinforcement. The striking paint job was done by Frank Alderete's Body and Paint Shop with PPG '93 Ford Probe silver metallic paint with a fine-grain metallic component. The body was block-sanded, and a color coat was applied and coated with clear. It's more subtle than most silver paints in use today and very much in character with the '60's body lines. The trunk hinges are from an RX-7 hatch while the trunk latch is a VW Beetle hood latch. The fine finish is complemented by 8x15 reverse-laced chrome wire wheels (available from VR) that have the offset needed to fit under the fenders. 

The rear wheels have more offset than the front, which makes them look wider. (Note: Rear rims are reverse laced to the hubs giving them a deeper dish to fill out the wheel wells.) Tires are 215/60R15 front and 245/60R15 rear. The interior got it's share of attention, with two-tone leatherette vinyl in camel tan and ginger. Custom seats were made up, using the Datsun frames. A custom dash was made that used the stock Datsun instruments refaced in white. Graber created the faces and glued them over the Datsun ones. He also created a new instrument pod and an aluminum faceplate. A Grant wood steering wheel was used, and Graber fabricated a custom center console from plywood and fiberglass. Graber wanted a serious sound system, and it's provided by an Alpine head with remote and a 10-disc CD changer with Polk speakers and JBL amplifiers. All are concealed for increased security. Graber credits John Washington, Monte Jack, and Rob Dick with helping him finish the car in time for the AHA Kit Car Show at Knott's Berry Farm. To complicate the last minute push, Graber took ill and had to spend the week of the show in bed. When Washington sprang the news that the car was to be on our cover, he was elated. For a total expenditure of $11,500 and a year and a half of hard work, he has every reason to be proud! KC

The Engine and Drivetrain

The engine has been completed and is in the car. She runs really nice too. With a throaty growl out of a 6-2-1 Jet-Hot coated header, 2.25" mandrel bent exhaust, and no muffler, just a glass-pack in the tunnel and a Monza tip on the end. On the intake side I created a High-Flow K&N filter assembly . The only major problem I encountered happened after I adjusted the valves cold the very first time. As I warmed up the engine a huge amount of clatter came from the valvetrain. Oh SHIT! I shut down as fast as I could and then just sat there. I was certain I had just trashed my new engine. Turns out that 3 of the shims under the rockers had been thrown from their seats causing the valves to stop opening and shutting. Talk about depressed. After thinking how I should just take the whole thing to the dump, I decided to call Preston Pratt, president of the Arizona Z Club and a very nice guy. He directed me to the right people. John James, a surprisingly young Z guru came up to my place and assured me we could put it back together. 2 hours later it was all back together and running fine! A million thanks to John James.

Here are two photos taken just after the block has been re-installed in the engine bay. I used foil-backed insulation on the firewall then mounted all the accessories on top of it. The car will be painted in metallic silver and the engine bay will look awesome when it all comes together.


These two photos show the completely assembled engine bay. Notice the side rails above the wheel wells. When the fenders were removed, a very unsightly area of welds and seams was visible there. I filled those areas in and sanded them smooth. They will be painted the same as the body. Also notice the new wire rims.

There were only 54,000 miles on the odometer when I bought the car, but it had not been properly maintained. When I took the valve cover off for the first time I was surprised to find that oil had dried out and formed into long tubes of black charred tar-like goo inside the allen heads of all the bolts. In addition, the #1 intake valve was stuck open. This engine was definitely NOT starting until after the rebuild! I rented a hoist from the local rent-all and pulled the engine. Following the procedures outlined in the Haynes manual, I dismantled it all the way down to the block. The block and the head went to Greulich's Machine Shop in Scottsdale, AZ.


Greulich's Machine Shop performed the following work :

  • Clean the intake manifold
  • Valve job
  • Heli Arc repair erosion damage rear waterport on head
  • resurface cylinder head
  • remove 3 broken exhaust bolts
  • vat block
  • clean and polish crankshaft
  • Vat and glass bead clean all pistons
  • Power hone cylinder block

I also bought from them the following items:

  • Timing component kit
  • Expansion plug kit
  • Rod bearings/rings/gaskets
  • Main bearings
  • Oil filter relief valve

All other engine components stayed in my garage where I thoroughly and systematically cleaned every single part, bolt, washer, nut and lockwasher with hot water, degreaser and a toothbrush. I also used scotchbrite pads. (In retrospect I should have taken the whole damn batch down to the machine shop and had them clean it all for me in their tanks. That degreaser sure does a number on the skin.) Every assembly was bagged and tagged with a permanent marker so I would know where to put it when reassembling. All parts that did not look almost-new after cleaning were replaced with new parts.

Once I got all the parts back it was just a simple process of putting it all back together in the proper order and torque. I followed the Haynes book and made sure that every bolt had locktite and every pipe fitting had pipe sealer and every gasket had gasket sealer on both sides. I also did a lot of searching on the Internet for other people who had rebuilt Z engines. The Datsun Z Garage by Bryan Little is one of the best I found. I could go into excruciating detail about every step of the re-build but I'm no expert and therefore can't really say anything with any authority. In fact I don't even know if the damn thing is going to run! One thing I can say for sure. If you are planning on rebuilding an engine and don't have the process memorized make sure that you take plenty of pictures of the completely assembled engine and get them developed before dismantling it. Use more than one roll of film. I took 1/2 roll of film before I took everything apart and the developer ruined the negatives before they developed the pics. I had already taken the engine apart. All they gave me was a new roll of film and a "sorry, read the fine print, we're not liable." So putting it back together is going to be a real chore! Another fantastic source of information are the two main Z forums and Almost everything I have learned about Z cars came from

The Valvecover went to Southwest Polishing in Mesa, AZ. for an incredible mirror-like finish. I milled-off the words Nissan - OHC from the top of the cover before giving it to them. It's truly amazing how nice it turned out. Well worth the $100 bucks. They're even going to polish the bolts at no additional charge. This is a purely cosmetic upgrade but I am planning on showing the vehicle when it's finished and it really sets off the yellow block. With a flat black engine bay it'll look awesome!


Suspension and Steering

The car had a completely stock suspension setup when I bought it. In fact the struts and bushings were all original and in very poor condition. In order for the car to handle as well as it looks, the suspension needed to be upgraded. In addition the entire vehicle was lowered approximately 2" The front of the car was lowered using a combination of motorsport springs, cutting and sectioning the front struts then re-welding the perches lower on the strut housing, using Golf GTI cartridges with custom milled inserts at the top inside the housing and under the nut to hold the GTI cartridge in place. The rear of the vehicle was lowered by using motorsport springs and replacing the tall strut insulator hats which are standard on the later Z cars with shorter front strut hats. The air gap inside the struts between the cartridge and the housing were filled with antifreeze.

The upgrades performed to the vehicle were completed in April 1998 and consisted of the following items which were purchased at Victoria British, Motorsport and BAP Import Specialists in Phoenix, AZ.

  • Suspension Techniques swaybars - Front and Rear
  • KYB struts - Front struts : VW Golf GTI / Rear struts : 280Z upgraded replacement struts
  • Springs - Motorsport Lowering springs. (Note: I have seen the Suspension Techniques springs side by side with the motorsport springs and they are identical in height. The S/T springs are powder coated in a nice grey metallic finish and the MS springs are poorly painted blue with some raw metal showing through. The MS springs are much less expensive than the S/T ones and it's probably due to the finish. I will drive both vehicles and reach a handling conclusion at that time.)
  • Motorsport Bump Steer Spacers - These spacers are supposed to aleviate the geometry shift in the steering caused by lowering the front suspension.
  • BAP dust boots with built-in bump stops - These dust boots are very nice, the bump stop is molded right into the top of the boot. At $12.00/ea they're hard to beat.

The entire front of the car was taken apart. Every piece of metal was sandblasted and every piece of rubber except the steering insulator was replaced with either new rubber or urethane. Wheel bearings and races were replaced and repacked, rotors were turned and brake calipers were sandblasted and painted with aluminum paint


Like I said, Not too much to see here yet, Just been working on the dash and gauges. Had to create a structure to hold the gauges. Really wanted something removeable from the front of the dash so when I need to fix a gauge, it's only a few bolts away...


Here are some shots of the car exterior before I started putting the VR Kit on.


I really wanted to change the look of the interior so that no one could look at it and say, "That's a z-car" Not that I don't like the Z car, it's just that I'm making a Ferrari. The Dash and gauges are difficult to change over. Most people who make a Velo Rossa just leave the stock dash in place. It does work after all. All that said, here's what I am doing to my Dash:

These two photos show the metal frame of the original Z dash and the fiberglass shell that mounts onto it using bolts and expanding foam.

I wanted to be able to remove the gauges from the front of the dash should the need arise in the future. So I created this 'Pod". All the instruments attach to this fiberglass piece. and this slips into the dash shell.

It's going to be fairly attractive when it's done... You can see that I've already mounted one of my white gauge faces.

You can have these white face gauges.

Includes all gauges in a set

Click here to download the White Gauges for 280Z-

Click here to download the White Gauges for 240Z-

These zips contain high resolution tif image files. If you don't know what that is, don't download them. Please read all the instructions below before downloading and installing them. If you like them and wish to send a contribution... You can do that.

Or if you want me to print them out and send them to you. Send me a check, money order or cash in a security envelope for the amount of $40.00. That should cover my expenses for time and materials.

Steve Graber
3021 East Wahalla Ln
Phoenix, AZ 85050

Instructions for installation.
I've only done it once though, so you may be able to find a better way to do it.

The hardest part (IMO) is getting the gauges out of the dash. (Actually, the hardest part was putting the odometer back together after I reset it to 000001!) From there it's a matter of removing a couple of screws to get the bezels off.

Pry the needles off the speedo and tach - careful not to bent or distress the pin. Then take aluminum plates off (2 screws). Regarding the odometer and trip holes; using flat white spray paint that closely matches the white color of the paper face, paint the odometer/trip area of the original aluminum speedo dial - unless you want to have black. Cut the odo/trip boxes out of the paper. Use a straight edge and exacto-knife. Make your cuts nice and square because you'll be staring at your handiwork for a looong time and if you're like me, you'll stare directly at the part that doesn't look right! Temporarily fit the new faces on - check fit - check fit - check fit again. Take them back off and lightly spray 3M adhesive on the backs of the paper. (Do them one at a time so the adhesive doesn't dry before you get them together) The next step (and probably the most critical) is to permanently afix the decal onto the aluminum panel. It's totaly permanent. so it helps to have steady hands. No drugs or alcohol... OK, that rules out most of you! :) Keep it aligned with the original markings. I stared through the little holes I poked in the paper for the screws as I put the decal. Don't use your bare finger to press the paper to the aluminum, I used a soft cloth over my thumb so as not to oil the new face. (Even after you wash your hands your skin will be oily.) You need to press fairly hard so that the adhesive bonds permanently. make sure that the edges are making good contact and that you don't have wrinkles. Too much adhesive will cause ripples as well. At this point, if you have wrinkles in the paper, I wouldn't know how to fix it. :( Anyhow, you do them all in the same fashion except for the Gauge with the voltmeter. Don't take the face off this gauge. The screws that hold the face on also hold the electromechanical components together. I made the mistake of pulling mine apart before checking on the assemly and will never figure out how they got those phonelic washers sandwiched down there between the components! Japanese fingers. You will want to paint the pointer a contrasting color because white on white just doesn't cut it. I used flourescent orange spray paint from home depot. It's very high tech. You could use red or black too I suppose. Take the little black cap off before you paint them. You'll have to use adhesive to glue them back on once the needles have been put back on. In any case, you're just left with putting it all back together again. Make sure you remember how it all goes back together. It may help to just take one gauge apart at a time so as not to confuse the pieces. In any case - Best of luck to all who wish to attempt this.

Steve Graber

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Finished VR Image Gallery

Still in the shop getting prepped for the Knotsberry farm car show...

The Bonnet in the upright position has gorgeous lines...

Minutes till taking off for the show in California...

On the road to Knott's...

At the Knott's show...

USA check
Made in the USA for reduced ordering time and less expensive shipping.
Ask a question
1000 characters left
Back to top