The Story Of Unc’s Z

Many of you know I often discuss a certain 1990 Nissan 300ZX.  Some might say I have an infatuation with this particular car.  But few people actually know why, until now.

This is not some random sports car I am obsessed with (there are plenty of those).  Instead, there’s a real story behind this infatuation.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: This is Unc’s Z.  Not mine, not my fathers, but Unc’s.

See, I’m getting ahead of myself already.

In the 1980s, my Uncle Robert bought several Nissan Z cars and my parents brought me into this world.  Uncle Robert started in 1970 with the Datsun 240Z, skipped the 260Z, and then bought one of the first 280Zs produced, in 1975. He continued to drive Z cars (as they developed) as summer cars.

In fact, we became a “Datsun/Nissan” family, as a 610 wagon and then several Maximas joined the “Feder Fleet.”   Fast forward to 1989, when my Uncle Robert special-ordered a blue-on-blue 1990 Nissan 300ZX.  He ordered it with every option and waited for his new baby to be built and shipped to the local Datsun (later Nissan) dealership, FM Auto Mart in Fargo, ND.

Many ask me why this car is not a twin-turbo.  In fact some have pooh-poohed it for not being one.  My uncle wasn’t after pure speed; he planned to use it as a grand tourer. Thus he chose the 2+2 configuration for its longer wheelbase, with the small rear seats for nieces and nephews.  I was one of those nephews.

My uncle was a successful attorney.  He fought for what was right, and fought for justice. He was well respected and I looked up to him like no one’s business.  He was the definition of ”excellence” in every way. After losing a battle against cancer in 1997, his passing left a void in all of us, as well as the community.

He drove the 300ZX only during the summer months and stored it during the winter under the OEM car cover.  Most of the miles were put on by going between his house in Fargo and his cottage in Detroit Lakes, MN, a 45-minute highway drive.

When Uncle Robert passed in 1997, his 300ZX had a little more than 38,000 miles.  During the next 11 years, my aunt put a mere 4,000 miles put on the car.  The rest of the time, it sat in storage, just as my uncle had left it.

Why Unc’s Z? When my older cousins were children and just learning to talk, they couldn’t say “Uncle Robert” at first, and it was then that he became “Unc.” To an extent, my “Uncle Robert” was somewhat larger than life to all of us, and that’s how he became “Unc”

In the spring of 2008 my aunt agreed to sell Unc’s Z to my father and I. It hadn’t been started in years. The odometer registered just over 42,000 miles.

My father and my Uncle Jerry installed a new Interstate battery and pumped up the tires. When the original titanium key (yes, The 1990 300ZX came with a titanium key) was inserted, the injectors pressurized and the car fired instantly. No cranking required, just ignition, and it was running.

We had most of the rubber in the engine checked or replaced to insure against problems, and we had the timing belt changed. The wiring harness looked like new, so we decided not to pull the engine. We had the rest of the car’s drivetrain checked to make sure it was mechanically safe and sound.

All the fluids were flushed; they came out sparkling clean, except that the coolant was dirty, so we spent extra time flushing the cooling system.  Red Line fluid was installed in the transmission and differential, along with blue racing brake fluid.

The car is mostly stock with the exception of a few tasteful upgrades such as HID headlights, and upgraded brake lines.

I have memories of riding in that tiny back seat with my uncle to the local store to get the newspaper.  I remember watching my uncle hand-wash the car up north at the cottage.  I remember my uncle’s love for his Z.

Almost everything is original, though there was an, ahem, incident a few years before my father bought the car.  My aunt drove it to the cottage one weekend and a huge storm rolled through.  Before anyone could move the car to safety, a branch fell onto the hood.  It wasn’t ruined, but the hood definitely suffered minor damage, which we had repaired and repainted. Except for the hood, the paint is factory-original.

The original front brake rotors and pads were just replaced in 2010, as they had finally worn out.

There are now three blue-on-blue 1990 300ZXs in the Feder family. No, I’m not joking. My other uncle bought and restored two cars that are now duplicates of Unc’s. He gave one to my cousin and he still has the other one.

We try not to drive the car in the rain unless necessary, and it is not driven during the winter.  This past summer Unc’s Z clicked over 52,000 miles.  The engine compression is still at factory specs and the car drives terrific.  With only a few thousand miles put on a year (if that) I can only hope the car will last long enough for me to hand down to my son.

As many of you know, I now live in Portland. The car does still live in Minneapolis with my father. After some intense discussion, it was determined it was best if the car stayed in Minneapolis for now.

I have a ridiculous emotional attachment to this car. Karen and I drove away from our wedding in this car. The license plates and floor mats say “Uncs Z” (yes, we still have the factory blue “Z” mats, in perfect condition, in storage). This always has been, and always will be Unc’s Z.  I think of him every time I drive it.

This isn’t just another sports car.  It’s not the fastest thing in the world, it’s not the lightest thing in the world, but it is Unc’s car—and that’s something you can’t put a price on.

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4 Responses to “The Story Of Unc’s Z”

  1. Adam #

    Thats awesome! It’s truly never just about a car; it’s about the emotional attachments we make to them. Great story!

    01/16/2012 at 11:57 am Reply
  2. Great story, I too share the same passion for the “z” cars, but from my father teachings! When I was 13, I was offered a chance to go skiing in Europe with my school, or take on this project car with my dad. It was explained that the car needed help and would take alot of time to repair, but that my dad would teach me as we went. The car was a 1971 datsun 240z, rust had gotten a hold of almost all of it, we had bought a second as a “parts car”. For the next three years every night and every weekend he taught me all the skills I would need to repair this monster. Welding, the theory behind all the mechanical parts as we ripped into every system on the car. Tuning side draft webers by “ear”, which some nay Sayers can’t be done properly, but I tell you what, I’m 37 now, and have gone for all the training to become an ase certified mechanic, heavy diesel tech and bodyman. Nothing I learned in school was any better than what my father taught me. School taught me how to do it quicker, but my old man taught me to do it better. This year, my father and I stumbled across a 1990 300zx twin turbo drift spec. Car, right off the boat fr Japan. Some haggling and it’s in my garage now, my little guys and I are going to go thru it (with my dad!) rebuild it’s powertrain, straighten out the body and hang on to it until they are old enough to “wield” the keys! Cars aren’t just a mode of transportation to my family. They bring out imagination, late nite “bench racing” sessions, long after we should have been in bed, they cross generations, and unite us with people we’ve never met, and still have yet to. My dad is my hero. He’s lived a long life, teaching us right from wrong, and sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always doing the right thing. He’s taught me more than any school, college or university has. I hope I can be that “rock” for my boys as they grow older. I know/ feel everything your story said, sounds alot like my life! Thanks for posting!

    03/14/2012 at 11:41 pm Reply
  3. Thomas #

    Until now I’d only known bits of the story. Thanks for filling in the blanks and sharing some of your best work in the process.

    03/23/2012 at 8:50 pm Reply
  4. Wayne #

    Joel,

    Great history and story of your uncle’s blue baby.
    I have a 1996 Deep Purple 300ZX Non Turbo 22,000 miles.
    I am an uncle to 8 nieces and nephews who will someday acquire my baby also.

    “Enjoy the ride”

    06/21/2013 at 5:52 am Reply

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