I first encountered Brandon Miller's work nearly 15 years ago. Photos of his gorgeous white E34, perched atop AC-Schnitzer Type 3s and photographed beautifully beneath a bridge, are permanently embedded into my mind. The photos marked the start of years of back-and-forth between us, ranging from photography to cars and everything in between. In the decade-and-a-half since, I've had the joy of watching the caliber of his work has continue to rise in every regard, yielding a handful of builds that have gone on to become recognized throughout the community as paramount examples of true attention to detail. His last build, a supercharged S62-swapped E38, took things to an unparalleled level, earning a place on the pages of nearly every automotive site across the web. Today, he's ready to share the beginning of an all-new chapter in his book of builds, and it begins with his newly-acquired 1984 R30 Skyline.
This new chapter, in many ways, is a return to Brandon's roots. His father's burning passion for Japanese classics, and Datsun Zs in particular, helped to shape Brandon's earliest automotive memories and tastes. Most of us have always known Brandon to be a diehard BMW fanatic, having began his E34 build in college and having followed that with an LSX-swapped E39 Touring, an E39 M5, and two E38s, but the genesis for his automotive enthusiasm certainly stems for the land of the rising sun, and doubly so when you taken into consideration that his first build was an SR-swapped S14 back in 2001.
With five immaculate 240Zs and a Z32 of his own, it makes sense that Brandon's father always hoped his son would follow in Z-driving suit; however, Brandon was never particularly fond of the idea of driving the same car as his father. Leaving only the Z31 or modern Z chassis to choose from, it comes as no surprise that Brandon departed the "Z train" entirely, at least for the past two decades. Recently, though, a sense of inspiration struck, and a newfound love for the Z31 manifested within him. After a year of searching, Brandon jumped on the perfect candidate for an all-0ut ground-up build, and got to work.
Perfection takes time, though. The Z31 has been under the knife for nearly two years now, with the finish line still far in the distance. Brandon admits it's the most ambitious and extensive project he's undertaken thus far, which speaks volumes to anyone familiar with his prior work. Important at the moment, though, is that the Z31 signals the return to his Japanese roots after years of toying with German steel.
Brandon's first brush with the largely-unloved R30/R31 platforms came around the same time as he began his search for the Z31. A local ad for an R30 skyline imported by Driver Motorsports grabbed his attention, but fear of disdain for the right-hand-drive layout kept him from pursuing the car. It wasn't until friends at Japanese Classics got him behind the wheel of a few RHD JDM cars that he opened up to the idea, ultimately leading to regret of not buying the R30 he previously crossed paths with. Eventually, though, an R31 surfaced for sale, locally, and not wanting to live with regret, he threw caution to the wind and purchased the car. It surpassed expectations, and impressively so, leaving Brandon with a sense of surprise with regard to just how much he enjoyed driving the classic Japanese coupe. The example itself, though, left a bit to be desired. Armed with newfound experience, he set out to find the right car.
Brandon reached out to a number of US importers, explicitly outlining exactly what he was looking for, but every company seemed to fall short on leads, leading Brandon to search for himself. His daily scouring of auction sites, dealer sites, and Yahoo Japan yielded a lot of options, with Brandon's ideal example being an original RS Turbo "Iron Mask" car in the classic red and black two-tone colorway. Brandon continously found himself coming back to this particular example, though, extensively modified and finished in the R34's Millennium Jade Metallic. Although he wanted to build his own car, this one seemed to have all the right pieces, and landed closely to what Brandon would want for himself in the end, leading him to consider it as a viable option. Eventually, he asked a DJ friend of his living in Japan to help find someone to see the car in person. "The next morning I woke up to about 75 photos, 2 videos and a message that said "Buy it!" So I did," he says.
Brandon utilized the services of Japan Parts Service to broker the deal. They paid for the car, picked it up, transported it to the US, and handled all of the documentation and paperwork. It took nearly five months for the car to land at his door, but it was a worthwhile wait, and when the car arrived, it was almost twice as good as Brandon had anticipated.
Upon arrival, Brandon was finally able to scour the car for himself. It seems as though nearly every car imported from Japan comes with at least a few horror stories, but Brandon insists that's far from the case. "The car was and is incredible. There is no rust under the car, and all hardware is cad plated. It looks like they replaced every possible component with high end quality parts. It’s built to the nines." It also gave him the opportunity to see what has actually been done to the car.
Under the hood, the car sports the predecessor to the famous SR20: The FJ20 4-cylinder turbo. The turbocharger itself has been upgraded with an aftermarket Garret upgrade, as well as an individual coil conversion, Apexi PowerFC control, and an SR20 ECU and all-new wiring. Behind the engine is an OS Giken twin-disc clutch, and power is routed out through a Nismo 2-way diff. Brandon feels that the car likely makes around 250whp: enough to be a ton of fun, while still driving like the classic Japanese sports car that it truly is.
For suspension, the car arrived equipped with a set of Blitz coilovers, bump steer spacers, and upgraded sway bars front and rear. Adjustable components like heim-jointed tension rods and adjustable rear camber/toe brackets help keep things in balance, and lastly, the rear brakes have been upgraded to R32 units. Barramundi design Raycod wheels measuring out to 16x8 and 17x10 are wrapped in Yokohama Advans, completing the running gear for the R30.
On the outside of the car, the most notable change is the Millennium Jade paint, which has been carried well throughout the car. 240Z flares and a Jenisis front lip complete the exterior, and on the inside, things are kept OEM+, with bits and pieces such as a Recaro bucket, a bolt-in roll cage, and a Nardi steering wheel acting as centerpieces. Period correct gauges, a vintage Denon headunit, and Bose 2-way speakers round things off, making for a well-sorted car in its entirety, and leaving little to be desired, in Brandon's opinion.
That doesn't mean he's left the car alone, though. Since it arrived, he's gone though and made a handful of changes and improvements. The turbo's wastegate has been routed into the exhaust, the turbo drain line has been upgraded to a stainless hardline, an AFR gauge has been fitted, and of course, all of the car's fluids have been flushed and upgraded. On the outside of the car, the most notable change has been the addition of vinyl: gunmetal grey now lines the lower half of the car, harking to the two-tone colorway he initially imagined he'd own. Gold lettering sits atop the grey, completing a phenomenal color palette that builds upon the beauty of the Jade paint.
He's not done either: as of today, there's a set of 16" Watanabe Rs on the way, and he's planning on some engine bay tidying too: all part of curating what might be one of, if not the best R30 stateside. Fortunately, the car needs little as a whole. After all, there's a Z31 that still needs building, and we can't have the R30 distracting Brandon from that. So now, we patiently wait for the chance to see Brandon's "magnum opus" upon the 300ZX's completion, when he will undoubtedly change the mind of anyone who's ever questioned the Z31 platform. And hey, that includes me.
"I must give thanks to a few people who made this happen. Chris Bishop, Daniel Pellegrino, Mike Poore, DJ Manifesto and of course my amazing wife who always supports my automotive passion!"