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RB-Powered Safari Gold Nissan 300ZX Wins SEMA’s Best Show Car
BY Sam Du //
January 31, 2022
Photography: Brandon Cody
Owner: Brandon Miller
  • Pit+Paddock and Meguiar’s join forces to award two elite builders at the 2021 SEMA Show for Best Show Car and Best Performance Car.
  • The recipient of Best Show Car for the SEMA Show Ultimate Build is Brandon Miller of Virginia with his 1986 Nissan 300ZX.
  • Brandon’s Z31 is inspired by the iconic Fairlady Z432R with the same Safari Gold paint and naturally aspirated powerplant in the form of an RB inline-six.

Many folks speculated that the 2021 SEMA Show wasn’t going to be any good due to safety concerns and increased travel restrictions. When it came to the numbers, this was undoubtedly the case with overall attendance and vendor count down from previous years. However, there were more than enough to admire in terms of standout builds. Narrowing down the “Best Show Car” was still a daunting assignment, but we sifted through hundreds of vehicles and concluded that Brandon Miller and his 1986 Nissan 300ZX deserved the crown in the inaugural Pit+Paddock x Meguiar’s SEMA Show Ultimate Build.

I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Brandon a couple years ago when I interviewed him about his previously owned HR30 Nissan Skyline. He’s an incredibly nice, genuine, and humble gentleman, not one to brag about his cars and gives credit where credit is due. He’s a hardcore Nissan guy as well, and his 300ZX, while not as popular as other Nissan/Datsun models, really made us appreciate the underrated Z31, not to mention all the copious amounts of custom work and little details he put into his project car. Between myself, RJ de Vera of Meguiar’s, artist Jon Sibal and the rest of the Pit+Paddock staff, we all agreed Brandon’s Z was the best of the best at SEMA, so we hope you enjoy our interview and stay tuned for our limited edition poster launch of his car shot by Cooled Collective. We also welcome you to read his three-part feature on Speedhunters that chronicles his build from concept to debut at the SEMA Show in the Toyo Tires Treadpass.


First off, let’s get a quick background behind the build… Why a Z31, and why naturally aspirated?
My dad owns five 240Zs and a Z32, so I didn’t want one of those. I was a child of the ‘80s, and although I was never a fan of the Z31 back then, they started to grow on me. I liked that not many people paid much attention to them. This also meant prime examples were cheap – I emphasize “were”. I chose the N/A engine because the ultimate goal of the car was to create a modern take on a restomod Z31 inspired by the S30 Z432R. I wanted a visceral experience with a focus on sound and rev response.

A project car like this doesn’t happen overnight, so can you enlighten us on its entire timeline?
I first bought the engine, then the car itself. I collected engine parts while tearing the car completely apart over several months. My best friend installed the S14 subframe, and then the chassis went off to bodywork and paint. That took about 18-20 months, and the engine build took about the same. The car came back to my friend’s house where the engine and trans were installed, the suspension and brakes installed, and the chassis wiring done. We also installed all of the underside dash components. The car was then towed to Freed Engineering, where the exhaust, cooling, fans, power steering, and driveshaft were done. From there, it came back to my house for final assembly. All in, nearly four years to the day of where I began. Everything had to be perfect, and I relied on many expert craftsmen that I knew personally. Most people who do the best work take the longest time, unfortunately, but to be honest, I really didn’t mind. I wanted to focus on attention to detail and took my time on every component.

At first glance, the untrained eye might just see an RB engine with Kevlar ITBs in a shaved engine bay. Tell us some of the cooler details that lie under the hood.
I would say the main overlooked item is the modified cam covers. The notch for the intercooler pipe and the ignitor location were shaved. Each side is a mirror image of the other. It was a detail I chose from the beginning, and it was executed flawlessly. The other item is the custom power steering reservoir. It’s hidden in the frame and painted to match. Many people don’t realize it’s there. It’s been funny where one person posted on 1320video’s Instagram that they thought it was ridiculous to build a car like this that couldn’t run. I found that to be a fantastic compliment, but I still even find it hard to believe this is a running and driving car when looking at the bay today.

The same goes for the body and interior…
The body has some very subtle but significant changes. The rear bumper is stock but has been cut into seven pieces, shortened, and shaved. I wanted to get the proportions of the ‘90s GT-R bumpers, and it makes a huge difference. It’s several inches shorter than stock. The front bumper and hood had these thin trim pieces that stuck out, and those were bonded to the car and shaved. Lastly, the rear trim, U.S. side markers, and antenna were all shaved. JDM side markers were added, and the front end and side skirts have been updated to the ‘87-’89-spec. The interior is largely stock, but the main goal was to use the Bride Stradia II Kevlar seats as the fabric, similar to the Recaros used in the Z31 Shiro [Special]. The Kevlar ties into the intakes on the RB as well as picking up the yellow tones from the car a bit.

It was your first SEMA Show, not just as an exhibitor/builder but an attendee. Tough question, but how do you think your car fared and compared to the rest of the builds?
I was shocked to see how well the car was received. I figured people would appreciate it, but with so many quality builds, I really didn’t think it would be that impactful. It’s kind of an odd build, especially when it seems everything today has at least 500hp. It was so great to meet and interact with so many great like-minded people, and I had a blast hanging out with a few key fellow car build owners.

Favorite build other than yours?
Kazushige Sakamoto’s full carbon Garage Active GT-R.

I’m delighted to hear that you actually drive your car and it’s not just for show; however, I’m sorry to hear about a cylinder recently going out. Is a rebuild or new setup on the way?
I didn’t plan on driving the car that much, but after SEMA, I threw caution to the wind and started driving the hell out of it. The car was great other than how loud it was. Truly needs a resonator or two at a minimum. But it was pretty quick, and the ride quality and handling were outstanding. My son and I went for a 30-minute drive on Christmas Day, and sadly, it dropped an intake valve in cylinder #5 at about 8,000rpm. I am not sure what caused it yet and was pretty devastated at first, but I will press on and rebuild. I hope to improve upon the engine as well. Before the failure, the car made 250whp and 185 ft-lb. It was making peak numbers around 8,400rpm. I would love to see 300whp out of it, but RB’s are just not very good for N/A power, it seems. I think we could see 275whp, but I think I want to focus on low-end torque this time, perhaps. We will see what the experts say. I am reaching out to a few suggested specialists. I’ve already gotten some great offers on support with parts and referrals. Lots of great messages as well, which are greatly appreciated.

Brandon Miller | 1986 Nissan 300ZX (Z31)

POWER:250whp (peak power at 8,400rpm); 185 lb-ft of torque
ENGINE:RB25 block; port and polished RB26DETT head with modified combustion chamber; CP-Carrillo oversized 11.6:1 pistons with WPC-treated skirts and ceramic-coated domes; Nitto 77.7mm forged stroker crank with H-beam rods; Tomei 273° 10.25 cams and cam gears; Supertech valves and springs with Ti retainers; ARP hardware; R34 N1 water and oil pump with billet oil gears; Ross Performance damper, pulleys, crank fire ignition; RB25 power steering pump; PRP LS alternator swap; Haltech Elite 2500 ECU and sensors with tune by SHUEtuning; Wiring Specialties harness; Radium Engineering fuel rail and fuel pressure regulator; Aeromotive 340lph fuel pump; flex fuel sensor; R35 coils; enlarged throttle bodies by EFI Hardware; custom titanium header, titanium exhaust, cooling system, power steering reservoir and VIN plate by Billy Freed of Freed Engineering; carbon-Kevlar velocity stacks by Niklas Hagen of HN Engineering; custom throttle linkage by Innovative Engine Engineering; engine internals sourced from Raw Brokerage; shaved engine bay by Seamus Rogers of Concept Color; Ian Penedos of Remade restored all the aluminum and supplied all the CAD-plated hardware; custom valve cover with intercooler pipe notch and ignitor delete; Enjuku Racing rear sump oil pan
DRIVETRAIN:NOS R34 GT-S five-speed transmission; Competition clutch and flywheel; Infiniti J30 limited-slip differential with 3.9 final ratio
SUSPENSION & CHASSIS:Feal Suspension coilovers; Techno Toy Tuning arms; S14 rear subframe swap; Parts Shop Max adjustable arms and knuckles; JDM 200ZR crossmember
BRAKES:Wilwood front and rear brakes; Techno Toy Tuning front big brake kit; S13 slim brake booster; R33 Skyline master cylinder
WHEELS & TIRES:16x8-inch front, 16x8.5-inch rear RS Watanabe R Type wheels from Binh Nguyen of The Lonely Driver Company; 205/55R16 front, 225/50R16 rear Toyo R1R tires
EXTERIOR:Custom rear bumper, bodywork, and paint by Seamus Rogers of Concept Color; Safari Gold 920 paint; NOS T-tops, door handles, fog lights, and Euro front signals
INTERIOR:Bride Japan Stradia II carbon-Kevlar seats; Renown 130R steering wheel; Imperial floor and cargo mats; Haltech iC-7 display dash in Mako Motorsports cluster; NOS armrest cover





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