SECRET SUBURBAN SPEED
Amateur drifter, skilled tradesman; the story of a boy and his shitbox
By Sam Dubiner
On a numbingly cold winter night, a worn and tired Nissan 350Z “Fairlady Z(Z33)” awakens from a dust-covered hibernation. As the machine rattles itself to life, an unmounted licence plate collides with an exposed bit of metal doorframe, echoing a ping-panging sound into the quiet air.
The Japanese-made car groans for more time to get itself adjusted to the Canadian climate. Still groggy, it blinks on two iconic elongated headlights that spread their light across a narrow, snow-covered, pot-hole-ridden road.
Tonight, the deep orange of the moonlit sky; a product of light pollution, and the almost knee-deep snow, matches the warm glow of the car’s analog gauges. Behind the car’s sacred leather wheel sits 19-year-old Brayden Frotten, a marble-restoration professional just two years out of high school. The 350Z’s cockpit-style interior and frame have placed him in a position of complete command. The driver, a fraction of the age of the car’s original owner and no older than the car itself, jiggles the gear stick and prepares to launch.
Reflecting from his rearview mirror now is a visage of youth that displays boldly in a smirking array of confidence and cockiness. As he engages the clutch and shifts into first gear, his deadset eyes are absent of fear; of any doubt in his mind that such a car was made for someone like him.
If you had told a 16-year-old Frotten that he would eventually move on from his beloved first car, a four-door 2006 BMW 325i E46, and onto a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) car, he would’ve laughed at the idea. This was the case for the roughly two years that Frotten and his automotive ex, the BMW sports sedan, spent careening through the roads of his childhood community of Leaside until seven months ago when he found an older, sexier, foreign-er sports car purpose-built for his street racing visions.
It was last summer when Frotten was sitting by a warm Muskoka campfire with his friends that he heard shouts from a neighbouring cottage. The drunk and curious teenager got up and went to investigate, looking for a fight or something interesting. Stumbling to the fence he found an old man who needed help moving a battery to his car.
“I thought we were bringing the battery to a Camry or something boring,” Frotten says laughing.
“When I walked into the garage I was definitely not expecting to see that car. I couldn’t believe it. It was a fucking 350Z,” he says.
Article continues below.
The Nissan Z family is a line of iconic Japanese sports cars that have dominated motorsports and media. The first Z car, the Datsun 240Z, was introduced in 1969 as a halo car for the automaker in hopes of boosting the company’s consumer image. After delivering on promises of superb build quality and affordability without sacrificing power, the 240Z became an instant success with the international market and would lead to six more generations of the Z car.
Car wireframe and 3D model from "Nissan Fairlady Z S30(240Z) 1978" by Lexyc16 via SketchFab
Throughout its history, the Z car lineage has maintained a consistent and straightforward formula: a lightweight body, manual transmission, and a powerful six-cylinder engine that drives the rear wheels. This formula has remained unchanged to this day, with each iteration of the Z car maintaining the same basic principles that made the 240Z a beloved sports car among enthusiasts.
Car wireframe and 3D model from "Nissan Fairlady Z S30(240Z) 1978" by Lexyc16 via SketchFab "Datsun 260Z Badge" by Shane K via www.flickr.com
Although Frotten is a long-time lover of the Fast and Furious franchise (a series of action-driving movies that featured the 350Z and other tuner cars), he had never considered owning a 350Z until he saw it sitting in the old man’s garage.
“[The owner] couldn’t drive the car anymore and thought his grandkid would’ve died behind the wheel. So he sold it to me for a fraction of its black book value,” says Frotten, who bought the car – worth around $16000 – for just $5000.
“The car was well maintained, but the owner had a heart attack a year before and could only drive it up and down his long gravel driveway,” Frotten says as what’s left of his door panels rattle through a turn. When he purchased the 350Z, the only damage Frotten saw was a missing chunk of the passenger side mirror and a sizable dent on the rear of the driver’s side.
“He must’ve hit something hard and fast because when I took the front bumper off, the impact bar sitting behind it was really dented,” Frotten says.
As a teenager who grew up with a car enthusiast grandfather and was surrounded by other car enthusiasts, Frotten was able to diagnose the car and do any basic maintenance that didn’t require heavy equipment. He says the 350Z’s internal mechanisms were saved from destruction by the large, now warped “impact bar,” which was designed to distribute the load of a collision over a wide surface area.
In the few months that Frotten has owned the 350Z, he has fallen in love with the car, casting aside his spacier BMW for the smaller, two-door Nissan.
“I have a small penis. Three hundred horsepower is extremely appealing,” Frotten says, pulling the car into a large, empty parking lot. As he drifts through a corner, a small raggedy teddy bear hanging from the rearview mirror, named “Fifi,” after his girlfriend, sways from side to side as if she was the first stuffed animal to enter astronaut training.
By the time Fifi has stopped moving, Frotten approaches a straight section of the road, downshifts to first gear and stops the car. He breathes in, then out, and in an instant, he steps on the gas and the car barrels forward.
The car’s revolutions per minute (RPM) shoot from 800 to 3000, then to 4000, then 6000, forcing the six-cylinder engine’s crankshaft to spin faster and faster, purring and whirring as it converts crucial linear motion to the rotational motion necessary to drive the rear wheels. 20 km/h… 40 km/h… 60… 80… then, 100 km/h. He slaps a button, pulls the handbrake, enters an e-brake drift and stops. The small timer measuring his acceleration reads 5.9 seconds. His smile is wider than the car.
For people like Frotten, that rush of sudden acceleration is what it’s like to be alive – to feel raw asphalt and smell burning rubber amidst a dance, a conversation, with their beloved cars.
“My first time really driving this car was at a private drift meet,” Frotten reminisces. “It was fucking crazy. I showed up there with only one set of tires because I didn’t expect to be drifting. They were my daily driving tires.”
It was 22-year-old Alex Davis, an enthusiast and mechanic who invited Frotten to the drift event. When he’s not maintaining rare Ferraris or transmission-swapping a 2017 Ford GT for a private collection, Davis likes to build and crash his own cars. “I bought my slammed beemer, took that to the track and blew about five axles and six fuel pumps. It was a 2003 E46 sedan. I love my E46s.” Davis says, smiling.
After the drift event with Davis, Frotten says his tires had no traction and were nearly destroyed: “It was the most terrifying drive of my life. Going back, if I went highway speeds I’d do a burnout.”
A burnout, also known as a peel-out or power brake, is a technique involving the intentional loss of traction from spinning a vehicle’s drive tires while the car stays stationary. In Frotten’s case, his worn-down tires combined with a sudden acceleration or the slightest bump would’ve led to his car spinning out on the highway.
Article continues below.
Play “ENTER THE ZONE,” a p5js-coded infinite scroller game! WASD keys to move, hold shift to slow down. (Sam Dubiner/T•)
“When you’re driving a Z you feel every bump in the road. You can feel the shifter merging with the gears. It’s the best thing, it’s like driving a race car. You feel planted. Every move you make, every time you touch a pedal, every time you shift a gear – there’s consequences, and you can feel that,” Frotten says.
“That’s what makes a 350Z worth driving, because everything else about this car makes no fucking sense,” he laughs, admitting there’s no practicality behind daily driving a two-seater car without enough storage space. Frotten, who regularly travels across Ontario and Quebec forces his work equipment and hockey gear into the tiny space behind the driver and passenger seats.
Car wireframe and 3D model from "Nissan Fairlady Z" by BadKarma™ via SketchFab
Frotten doesn’t seem to mind the car’s cons, as he and Davis share a bond over their love for the easily abusable and affordable “shitbox” second-hand cars they turn into their projects. Although Frotten doesn’t drive his E46 anymore, he and Davis still take to the streets in his 350Z and Davis’s current project car, a “slammed,” (lowered suspension) 2004 straight-piped (a removed catalytic converter and muffler) BMW E46 that he’s modified to shoot flames from its exhaust.
Davis’ modified E46 lights up the night with half-a-metre-long flames. His car can be heard approaching from blocks away. (Sam Dubiner/T•)
“All my friends own E46s,” Davis says, “we beat the living shit out of [the BMWs] and they go up to 400 thousand kilometres. Right now because the car scene is a bit of a trendy topic, everyone is buying them.”
Together they drive through Leaside, pulling over and getting pulled over by other equally-minded car enthusiasts who have taken to the area as an ideal nightly driving playground.
As for the police? Frotten says they don’t seem to worry so much about back-alley drivers as they do about highway and expressway stunt drivers.
The thrill of speeding past their nostalgic memories is a dream fulfilled for Leaside’s adrenaline-seeking racers. (Sam Dubiner/T•)
Tonight, Frotten's challenger is a purring dragon - a tuned BMW E46 330i that shoots foot-long flames from its exhaust. The two cars make a strikingly loud impression as they sprint through the city suburb of Leaside, echoing for kilometres in a symphony of youth, adrenaline and horsepower... (Sam Dubiner/T•)
Footage and editing by Sam Dubiner. Music from Kohta Takahashi @kohtasolid.