Matthew Ibrahim, 36, founder and chief executive of Garagistic, an online car-parts business, who lives in La Habra, Calif., on his 1975 Datsun 280Z, as told to A.J. Baime.

I was the first generation of my family born in America. My father came from Cairo when he was 9, and while I was growing up, I learned about cars and entrepreneurship from him. He owned businesses having to do with cars: gas stations, a limousine business, a car dealership. When I was 17, in high school, I bought a 1975 Datsun for under $500. It blew black smoke out the back and was so rusted, I could see through the floorboards.

With that car, I began to learn how to fabricate parts, and how to do restoration and bodywork. I eventually did a motor swap on it. I wanted to do candy-apple red paint—a really hard color to work with—so I made a paint booth in my parents’ backyard and just learned how to do it.

I drove this car through high school and college, and during that time, I ran out of financial aid. So I started my own business, basically using the tools I learned working on my Z and what I learned from my father. I got a website domain for $20 and put a couple products up that I had made myself. Now, 13 years later, I have 3-D scanners, CNC equipment, laser benders, and 12 employees. I have 14 cars, some of which I race. Meanwhile, I still have the Z that I bought now almost 20 years ago.

The Z car has such an interesting legacy. Nissan launched the Z to enter the sports-car market and racing, and in America, they called the brand Datsun. [Nissan of Japan launched the Datsun 240Z in the U.S. in 1969 as a 1970 model; in Japan, it was called the Nissan Fairlady Z. Nissan still sells a Z car today.] The company took inspiration from Jaguar and then created a budget car. The Z had the same power that you might find in a Corvette, but it was cheap. It was meant to be the best bang for the buck, at the time. But it’s also beautiful. To me, the lines and the shape are timeless. Even now, you can look at it and it’s so appealing and balanced from every angle.

My Z is unlike any other. I put a 5.7-liter Corvette V-8 engine in it, and with a six-speed manual transmission, the car cruises comfortably at 80 miles an hour on the highway, at low revs. To handle the extra power, I upgraded the brakes and axles. I put in a limited-slip differential from a Nissan Skyline. I put bigger tires on the Z, because it’s such a light car with a lot of power. It has a gas filler neck from a BMW E30. It also has a bunch of parts that I made myself.

I love this car because I love its story. But I also love it because it helped me to learn my business. I used the car to learn, but I learned while having fun.

When I bought this Z, I hung a cross from the rearview mirror. After nearly two decades, the strands holding this metal cross are starting to tear, just from the weight of it. I have a license plate on the car that says, “AZIZA.” In my dialect of Arabic, it is a female name that signifies “something of value.” That, to me, sums it up.

Write to A.J. Baime at [email protected].

2024-05-19T12:03:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd