Gold Digger: 2003 Nissan 350Z
Photos by Luke Munnell
Being a veteran of numerous project builds, including a monstrous Nissan 240SX transformation, Hickman brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Itching to work on a Nissan 350Z ever since its release in 2003, his eyes lit up when one of his customers returned a Z having completed his ‘mid-life crisis.’ “I told him that he would not believe it when I’m finished,” says Hickman, who just put the finishing touches on the six-figure project in late February 2006.
But with the influx of Zs on the scene, Hickman was faced with the tough task of trying to set his Z33 apart from the crowd. Fortunately, his passion for tuning Nissans is unrivaled and he already had a unique concept in mind that would surely draw attention. And after Version 1.0 was so well-received at last year’s SEMA International Auto Salon in Atlantic City, NJ, few thought Hickman would invest the time and resources to follow up with Version 2.0. Fortunately for us, Mr. Hickman loves a challenge.
With an affinity for hardcore Japanese tuning, Hickman felt that a strict diet of Top Secret gear for his Z would be the best way to go. Top Secret is highly regarded as one of the top tuning companies in Japan, and products bearing its badge usually command top dollar. Top Secret manufactures one of the most sought-after widebody kits available for the 350Z, and Hickman lays claim to being one of the first to sport the voluptuous curves of this kit in North America. Flanked by a Top Secret carbon fibre hood in front, Top Secret carbon rear diffuser down below, and Varis carbon fibre wing atop the trunk lid, Hickman put together a styling package that would be a rare find on either side of the Pacific. The car actually sported much of its Top Secret wardrobe at its SEMA IAS debut last year, but was still coated in the factory Daytona Blue paint at the time
With Hickman’s sights set on building the most complete 350Z in North America, he let the crew at 4th Street Customs (Frederick Nissan’s Custom division) loose on the Z. The key was to pay homage to the Z’s Top Secret lineage, but add a little American twist. The end result is a base coat of Top Secret’s signature Gold paint protected by nine layers of clear coat. But bringing the exterior to life is the wild airbrushed graphics depicting a ripped exterior and the blueprint-like schematics of what lies beneath.
As much as Hickman loves to show off, he knows that aesthetics are just a piece of the puzzle. Ensuring that his 350Z had what it takes to back up its impressive looks, he turned his attention to the potent VQ35DE powerplant that spins the rear wheels. With forced induction on his mind, Hickman fell in love with the GReddy twin turbo system that features a pair of TD05H 18G turbines. One of the kit’s most appealing aspects is that it is a true bolt-on system, and comes with everything needed for a turn-key install. A pair of Airinx intakes draws the ambient air into the system, while a front-mount intercooler provides the charge with an icy chill before being fed into the engine. On the hot side, the GReddy manifold leads the combusted mixture through a GReddy down-pipe and out the Top Secret titanium exhaust. Turbo pressure levels are regulated via the GReddy Type RS blow-off valve and 38mm wastegate.
With the forced induction hardware in place, Hickman felt it necessary to prep the 3.5L motor for the boosted life. A set of forged pistons from JE Pistons set the compression ratio at 8.5:1, while beefy Carillo rods replace the OE pieces. Up top, Hickman went with a pair of S1 camshafts from Jim Wolf Technology to provide a much more rev-friendly powerband.
Chassis bracing comes in the form of Eibach sway bars down below, while a GT Spec front strut brace and custom roll cage (built by 4th Street Customs) work together to solidify things topside. Even the Z’s signature OE rear strut bar has been modified and welded into the custom cage.
Feeding the thirsty VQ is an upgraded fuel system featuring an Altered Atmosphere Motorsports (AAM) fuel rail and fuel pressure regulator. A GReddy e-Manage unit was plugged into the system to provide the custom mapping required to get optimum performance. With the help of Design Engineering Inc.’s CryO2 intercooler spray system, Hickman’s results from the AAM dyno in Gaithersburg, MD are quite intense: 630hp and 510lb/ft of torque!
With well over double the amount of horsepower at the wheels, keeping the Z under control can be a daunting task. And although Nissan engineers have designed a capable suspension setup for out-of-the-box performance, it was clear that improvements needed to be made. Hickman didn’t pull any punches here either, shelling out the coin to get his hands on the rare Top Secret-tuned Aragosta coil-over suspension. Furthermore, just in case there was any question of his baller status, he equipped the coil-overs with the optional Roberuta Cup Kit that allows for automatic ride height adjustment for up to three inches. The Cup Kit isn’t based on conventional hydraulics or air bag technology, and is used on many of Top Secret’s actual competition cars.
As with any outfit, footwear is always important and the Frederick Nissan 350Z doesn’t disappoint with a set of classic Professor SP1 from SSR. The three-piece rollers measure 18 x 10.5 inches up front and 18 x 12 in the rear, and originally came with a black finish. But in the spirit of taking it to the next level, Hickman had the wheels custom-painted to match the golden theme of Version 2.0.
There’s no doubt that 630 screaming horses can cook brakes faster than the Iron Chef does Kraft Dinner, so Hickman made sure that a set of massive brakes kept his baby out of harm’s way. An AP Racing big brake upgrade was bolted onto all four corners, featuring four-piston calipers and 13-inch two-piece rotors that bring the mighty Z to a halt.
Hickman called upon his 4th Street Customs crew to give the interior a serious twist, as the panels were re-skinned with a variety of new material including suede, leather and painted fibreglass. Instead of opting for a pair of aftermarket seats, Hickman chose to retain the comfort of the stock seats, but wrapped them in a high-quality two-tone suede / leather combination. A pair of Simpson Racing harnesses was installed for extra support. Helping in gear selection is a Nismo titanium shift knob, while the carpet is accented with the addition of Nismo floor mats. An army of GReddy gauges are housed in a custom pod to display boost, oil pressure, oil temperature, fuel pressure and EGT levels.
With so much performance under the hood of this creative concept, Hickman chose MTX Audio to provide high performance audio for the interior. Much like the rest of the vehicle, the multimedia system also fell victim to the wild imagination of 4th Street Customs. With an Eclipse AVN5435 all-in-one head unit controlling things up front, the system features an assortment of MTX Audio goodies to provide the hard-hitting acoustics. Power comes courtesy of a trio of MTX Audio Thunder TA amplifiers: one MTX Thunder3404 four-channel (mids and highs) and pair of MTX Thunder3401 mono-block amps for the woofers. Two pairs of MTX Audio TX6001 6.5-inch two-way components offer high performance reproduction of the mids and highs, while two MTX Audio T8510-44 10-inch subwoofers lower the boom on Hickman and his lucky passenger.
No less than four Micro 3.5-inch LCD monitors are mounted in the rear to supply the visual delight. An Optima Yellow Top battery sits at the top of power distribution chain, with StreetWires wiring, distribution blocks and fuse holder ensuring maximum power flow and connectivity. A Passport radar detecting system and Eclipse reverse camera round off Hickman’s extensive list of add-ons.