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“Subtle as a chain-link jock strap”

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Photos by Scarab Engineering. 

The 2019 International Z-Car Convention (ZCON), presented by the Z Car Club of America (ZCCA), is set to host the largest Scarab Z-car reunion in history July 16-20 in Branson, Missouri.

Scarab Engineering produced Datsun Scarab automobiles from 1975 to 1981. With one or two exceptions, Scarabs began life as two-passenger Datsun Zs, and were infused with small-block Chevy V-8 power. Today, the name “Scarab” is used by some to describe any Datsun Z-car with a V-8 engine, regardless of which engine or who installed it.

The president of Scarab Engineering, Brian Morrow, and his production manager, Keith Bergey, will make their first appearance together in nearly 40 years. Like Carroll Shelby, Morrow would become an automotive pioneer in his own right, with one magazine writer in the mid-Seventies referring to him as “the new Shelby;” indeed, Scarab was registered as a manufacturer, much as the Shelby works was.

A Scarab was much more than simply a Datsun Z-car with a transplanted Chevrolet V-8 engine: It was a completely reengineered automobile. Cars were stripped to the shell and V-8 engines to the bare block to prepare them for rebuilding. Blocks received new forged cranks and big-valve, angle-plug heads directly from GM. Heads were ported, and blocks received forged TRW camshafts. Transmissions, brakes, engine cooling, suspension, wheels, and tires were all upgraded. Interiors received cloth and leather appointments as well as sound insulation.

The contemporary press had a field day with Scarab cars, calling them “subtle as a chain-link jock strap” and promising that “the Scarab will not only blow 99 percent of the cars on the road in the weeds, it’ll do it in style.” Motor Trend called it “…pure, unadulterated fun” and “easy to the point of being automatic, and yet so exciting as to not be quickly forgotten.”

Estimates vary, but between 25 and 35 factory-built Scarabs were assembled in the ’70s and early ’80s, with 15-18 known to exist today. With so few built over so long a time, there were only ever a few cars at the shop at any given time, so the ZCON event in Branson will be the largest Scarab gathering ever.

Morrow and Bergey will appear along with Randy Lewis, author of the newly published Cobra of the Seventies—The Real Datsun Scarab Story. The book will make its debut at ZCON. Hemmings will obtain a copy for review.

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