During the decade-long restoration of this slice of Seventies JDM perfection, Pat Soliman’s Shakotan-inspired Kenmeri Skyline has picked up a rather impressive engine swap along the way to make it some of the hottest property in Southern California right now…
Feature taken from Retro Cars Spring 2018 issue. Words: Sam Preston. Photos: RonV Photography
“Just last week, some guy was driving through the parking lot, staring at my car, totally not looking where he was going and he ended up creaming a central divider in the road.” Californian JDM tuning hero Patrick Soliman grins as we ask him just how much attention his latest project receives when it’s spotted by the general public.
But it’s hard to be that surprised at such reactions when you own a car as special as this: a faithfully restored yet heavily modified ’73 Kenmeri Skyline which has succeeded in kicking butts and generally taking the SoCal scene by storm since its recent reappearance on the streets.
Faithfully replicating the fabled Zukosha and Shakotan styles we’ve all seen on those historic YouTube videos (but rarely get to experience in the flesh anywhere outside the Land of the Rising Sun), it’s taken this US Navy mechanic the best part of a decade to slowly put this piece of JDM history back together the way he wanted. Still, it looks like it was well worth the wait, eh?
“Back in the Nineties, me and my friends would watch old vintage Japanese racing videos and dream of maybe one day owning an old Skyline,” Pat explains how it all began. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved all types of car models and styles, but the old-school Japanese cars were always something special.” Growing up during the infamous popularity explosion of JDM metal in the States also didn’t help, with Pat’s dad one of many to get his hands on as many retro Celicas, RX-7s and Datsuns as possible to see which could kick out the most power when a little heat was applied under the bonnet.
Another benefit of older metal for young Pat was, of course, its affordability. Swapping a couple of hundred dollars for a ropey ’72 240Z finished in metallic brown as his debutant car was a fantastic start in JDM ownership. “It was an auto with no reverse,” he laughs. “I planned on converting it to stick but that never happened. I primered it red, cut the springs, threw on a front lip, removed the front and rear bumpers and welded a cherry bomb muffler on it. It wasn’t the fastest thing on the street, but it looked awesome and spit out flames on deceleration.” And what more could you possibly need as a plucky teenage car fan?
With some light-fingered losers putting an end to his fun just months into ownership, the theft of Pat’s Datsun thankfully did nothing to deter him from classic Japanese car loving. “I’ve had lots of everything since; 260Zs, 280Zs, 280ZXs, a ‘74 Mazda RX-4, a Mitsubishi Cordia, Datsun 510… Oh, and the Skyline of course.” A decade and a half after losing the ill-fated 240Z, Pat finally hit the JDM goldmine by finding the Kenmeri classic of his dreams. “It’s a bit of a story,” he reveals. “The history of the car goes back to the Eighties. The truth of how it got to the USA, different engines it’s had, where it was raced and how many times it’s been painted is very fuzzy, though.”
Paul, the previous of this Seventies coupe, admitted to Pat that his true weakness was the previous-shape ‘Hakosuka’ Skyline, Pat got to work tempting him to part with his beloved Kenmeri Skyline. Recruiting the help of his friend Mike, who just so happened to own a tidy Hakosuka he wanted to get rid of, a rather convoluted deal ensued that Pat became the owner of the car he’d always dreamt of. Thankfully, little cash was involved, but Pat knew he’d have his work cut out once he’d given his new machine a once-over. “The thing was a nightmare to be honest,” he shrugs. “The interior – what there was of it – was not installed, lots of parts were in boxes, no brakes, no wires, the dashboard was removed with broken gauges, welded R180 diff, major rust, funky paint, the front bumper was crushed and cut, the rear window was gone… It was junk really, a major project for sure.”
Originally planning to stick to the same route many Kenmeri Skyline owners have gone down: a faithful restoration in either silver or white, possibly with some GT-R-inspired parts thrown in to add a little muscle, Pat soon figured that based on his car’s sorry state, and the fact it was a fairly lowly model in the range, could give him a little room to get creative instead of following the pack. “Since my car was already chopped up, rusty and wasn’t a real GT-R with a twin cam S20 engine, I decided to throw out the rulebook!”
“Mike had half installed an SR20DET when I got the car,” Pat explains. “I finished off the swap and actually drove it around for a while like that, but that motor had a tendency to blow up quite a lot.”
It wasn’t long before the holy grail of Nissan drivetrains made its way towards Pat through the SoCal grapevine: a tuned RB26DETT from an Nissan R33 GT-R, complete with a two-wheel-drive gearbox from the RB25. “It was really a case of cutting out all the existing motor and trans mounts, slicing open the transmission tunnel and firewall, dropping in the drivetrain and then fabricating everything to make it work… simple as that.” Pat then modestly explains how dumping this huge hunk of engine perfection into his humble Kenmeri Skyline came about, citing the then-patchy bodywork as a help rather than a hindrance. We expect tweaking with US fighter jets on a daily basis had something to do with his nonchalance towards this job!
Turning up the heat with a massive, single Precision turbo, as well as extensive internal and fueling upgrades, Pat explains how the car is now safely pushing over 550bhp out to those dished rear wheels now. “There’s nearer seven hundred in it, but five and a half keeps it reliable and I don’t really want to blow this one up by over working it.” The whole thing has also been packaged beautifully, with the tucked, shaved and polished bay looking like a work of art in itself, and just adding to the shock factor when Pat’s asked to pop that long bonnet to see what’s inside.
Getting that swooping body back up to scratch was slightly more challenging, and took up a larger part of Pat’s life with the Skyline. Friend Erik at West Jones Auto Claims Solutions in Rancho, Cucamonga got the call to save the rust-ravaged shell, with almost every panel requiring the kiss of life to bring back to life. “Some parts took literally years to find,” recalls Pat, “the rear glass, for example, was a six-year mission to find, buy and ship from Fiji of all places. If any parts weren’t available we fabricated new ones.”
Ordered directly from Japan, those works-style wide arches are Pat’s favourite part of the car, and it’s pretty hard to disagree with him – those unforgiving flares bringing so many retro JDM racer vibes to the party, especially with those period-perfect SSR splits poking out underneath. “I was coming out the bank and a guy was admiring a SR20DET-powered Datsun 510 I had a while ago. We talked for a few minutes and as luck would have it, he mentioned he had a set of SSR Techno Phantom wheels for sale,” reveals Pat. “I’d been looking for a set for ages; needless to say I ran back in the bank and we did the deal right there.”
The fact he still cites this car as a work-in-progress shows Pat’s attention to detail. A refresh of the interior in the shape of some retro Recaros, a Nardi steering wheel and Autometer gauges are already in the pipeline. So, it’s hardly surprising that he’s already filled up his garage with trophies too!
Tech Spec: Kenmeri Skyline
2.6-litre RB26DETT turbocharged straight six (from R33 Skyline GT-R), rear sump conversion, Precision 6262 ceramic ball-bearing turbocharger, Hybrid Performance turbo manifold, Precision 46mm wastegate, 50mm TiAL blow-off valve, 850cc fuel injectors, AEM 320lph fuel pump, custom intercooler, GReddy boost controller, NGK iridium spark plugs, Griffin dual-pass radiator, SPAL fan, NISMO fuel pressure regulator, Microtec LT-16c ECU, RB25DET six-speed manual gearbox, OS Giken dual-plate clutch, Wilwood clutch master cylinder, R200 limited-slip differential (from Z31 300ZX)
10×15-inch (front) and 12×15-inch (rear) SSR Techno Phantom split rims, 225/50/15 (front) and 235/50/15 (rear) tyres, Eibach springs (all round) with custom-mounted QA1 shocks (rear), TEIN camber plates, Techno Toy Tuning adjustable trailing arms, custom cross-member, 280ZX front brake conversion, 200SX rear disc brake conversion.
JDM ‘Works’ wide-body arch kit and front lip, GT-R grille
Recaro bucket seats with Sabelt harnesses, Nardi steering wheel, Autometer Ultra-Lite gauges Razo pedals
“I’d like to thank Paul Bischoff from Boss Garage for tuning and wiring, custom paint and bodywork by Erik from West Jones Auto Claims Solutions, custom wheel size by Araya Wheels, help from the homies Skyline Mike, Gill, Topher, 510Mel from Wild Cards, Jesse from FYS, Edd from Stack of Dimes, Matt, CRX Phil and last but not least I want to thank my wife Sterling and the kids for understanding my passion for cars.”