The Z Specialties’ Story

Oliver Naugle – Z man

Prior to June of 1978 I primarily did mechanical work on most domestic cars, including quite a bit of specialty work on what is commonly referred to as good old Detroit muscle cars.  It didn’t matter which ones, Ford, GM, Chrysler, even Ramblers, and Jeeps.  I volunteered as an assistant teacher for an auto shop at a local high school in 1973, and got a couple of years experience doing body and paint at a body shop, and also out of my own shop through the years.

 In February of 78 I went to work for Bel-Kirk Motors in Kirkland Washington in the Volvo department, and in June, I was transferred to the Datsun division of the same company.  I seemed to fit in there like a favorite pair of sneakers, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I had found a new home.  It helped a lot having three mentors in the shop to guide me and teach me the ropes.  George Calhoun (the first master technicians in the nation for Datsun), Don Benson (a retired hydroplane driver), and Larry Klintworth.  All three had been working for Datsun anywhere from 10 to 18 years by the time that I started there. 

It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the Z car was a very unique and quality orientated vehicle and I really started appreciating them.  The boss/owner of Bel-Kirk Motors had a 1978 black pearl 280 Z as his demo and I quickly fell in love with it.  He was kind enough to work out a deal with me to purchase the car but I had to wait until it had about 6,500 miles on it.  At that time the car had about 4,000 miles on it, and it seemed like an eternity for the rest of the miles to be put on that black beauty.  At about 5,200 the boss informed me that he decided to let me have the car a little early, and of course I was ecstatic! Having built and/or resurrected every car that I’d ever owned at that time I thought I was on top of the world with a brand new 280 Z. 

The 1978 black pearl 280 Z was the only year that a black first generation Z car was ever produced for the US.  Nissan only allowed two of them per dealership.  This particular one was given a wide silver stripe down the middle of the car by the body shop at Bel-Kirk Motors, which made it even more unique.  At that time Bel-Kirk did an advertising campaign and had a poster put on the sides of quite a few Metro buses that went all over the greater Seattle area.  On the poster was a picture of a 264 Volvo and my black Z car, with the earth between them.  The caption said “Bel-Kirk Motors” “The Best of Both Worlds” Imagine the feeling of pulling up alongside a big bus and seeing a picture of the new car you’re driving on the side of it! Like Nissan’s ads from the 2000’s say, “Life’s a journey, Enjoy the Ride”.

My new Z was pretty cool but it had a multitude of running problems that numerous other Z cars were also experiencing and I knew that they were a better car than that and the problems had to be curable.  My mentors couldn’t come up with all of the answers, so when I went to the factory school on fuel injection I tried to learn as much as I possibly could.  The teachers for Nissan didn’t seem to have all the answers that I was hoping for either, and these guys were good. I took it upon myself to try and solve some of these problems.  Most of the solutions that I’d been taught by these people were very good but there were a few things that were circumventing the problems instead of actually solving them.  I literally attacked my own car on my own time and did a lot of trial and error, mostly error by trial.  After about a year of trying different combinations and settings I had learned quite a bit, some of which were things that didn’t pan out so I also learned what not to do.  Eventually though I started coming up with good results for a lot of different scenarios that would play a big part in my future with Z cars.  The teachers at the regional office realized I had a special knack with these cars so they started referring some mechanics to me for technical assistance with their drivability problems over the next few years. Even back then it wasn’t uncommon for me to be talking on the phone with someone from another state helping walk them through certain diagnostic procedures that I’d developed over the years.  As time went on I was sent to numerous Nissan factory schools at the regional headquarters near Portland, Oregon.  Without the obstacle of my own Z’s running problems I wouldn’t have had the challenge of solving the unknown and almost unobtainable task at hand, and I can honestly say I have found my true calling in life.  In 1986 I partially dismantled my 78 black Z and started the task of making it into a show car with the help of a couple of employees.  I entered it into it’s first show in January of 89 and continued to put it in a couple of shows a year for the next few years.  It’s now retired, and sitting in my garage waiting to be driven again.

Moving right along, I stayed at Bel-Kirk Motors until early 84, and took the rest of the year off. Then I went to work at another local dealership called Rood Nissan.  After about 5 months of working there I got seriously fed up at my lack of recognition and lack of decent pay, and decided to quit and start my own shop.  At that time I had a whole 2 customers and no money in the bank.  Not a very promising start but I was determined.  After two months I located a 2 car garage for rent in a residential area and proceeded to set up shop there.  It was a very rocky start and I had a very serious cash flow problem but continued to stick with it.  The majority of people that I knew said that I would “NEVER MAKE IT” by working on just Z cars, I’d have to work on other cars too.  My reply to them was I HAD A DREAM! I also told them that if I couldn’t make it by working strictly on Z cars and a few other Datsuns, then I’d have to find another line of work to get into.  Here it is over 40 years later and I’m still working on those z cars.

 After a year and a half in the garage I was forced into moving my shop to a real commercial location and hired a body man/painter to start the body shop out and a helper for myself.  By this time many of my customers started calling me “Z-man”, for obvious reasons.  The handle  caught on and stuck so I decided to adopt it officially and ended up putting it on my business cards. I made it through the economic crunch that lasted from 1990-94 and by then I was doing complete restorations, as well as full mechanical repairs, and had been selling parts over the counter more and more.  The business was doing much better, and I was continually adapting to the changes that would pop up concerning Z cars as they got older and older.

 I’ve resurrected a lot of Z cars that were dead for many months, many years, and even a few decades.  We’ve rebuilt Z’s that have gone through fires, floods, major collisions, abuse, neglect, wind storms, and a lot of stolen recoveries, even some that were gutted.  We’ve also stripped out many a wrecked and/or rotten one over the years too.  I refer to them as organ donors.  They must die so that other Z’s may live.  Over the past couple of years a new problem has been added to the list.  More and more parts are going obsolete every year.  I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last 20+ years helping other companies develop new parts for these cars and even develop some by myself. I also rebuild numerous parts on these cars that have gone obsolete. My past experiences with Detroit muscle cars comes in handy when we do V-8 conversions.

 I’d never had any help to speak of in the office and I’d needed it desperately years before.  Sometimes it’s a wonder that I ever accomplished anything at all.  Then in December 97, my wife lost her job as an inventory clerk in a major pharmacy supply company.  Beginning the second week of January 1998 she took over the office and the phones, the company had it’s first CFO and a new head whip cracker.  These were all things that the company and myself needed desperately.  Within a couple of months we bought an almost new computer and started learning how to set up a company on computer.  It’s a continual learning experience but we made major leaps and bounds thanks to one of our friends, who was our computer whiz, webmaster, and resident Mr.  Science.  Jim even designed and setup our very first web site, which has since been changed 3 times, but we haven’t forgotten him.  Many thanks Jim.

As of 2020, I’ve been working on cars for over 50 years, and 42 of those years it’s been almost entirely z cars.  I’ll continue to love these cars, and evolve with them as they change through time.  I strive to have the highest quality control possible in our repairs, restorations, parts, and service as always. In 2010 I downsized the company back down to just myself and my wife and in 2013 she had to quit working so it’s just me for the rest of my career.

 When it comes down to it I’ve really got it made.  Most people only dream about what I have, just like I did when I was younger.  Don’t take that the wrong way, what I mean is: I’ve taken my hobby and it’s become my life’s work, and has evolved into a successful business, and I love it. As I get closer to the end of my career I have slowed down a lot but I’m still wrenching on Z’s. I hope to be able to keep it up until 2030 when I plan on retiring. The Lord has come into my heart and into my life and made all of this possible.  If only more people could find the happiness and fulfillment that I know, the world would be a much better place.  Dreams really can come true.

 I would like to wrap this up by thanking our lord and savior for all that he has done for me.  Without his influence and love in my life I would be just another lost soul.  Also a special thanks to my mentors from Bel-Kirk Motors, Don, Larry, and George.  They have no idea how much good that they did for me, and I shall always treasure what they taught me.  Bill Petter of Bel-Kirk Motors for giving me the job in the first place.  My older brother Howard for setting up my job interview at Bel-Kirk Motors, for being such a good role model to me throughout my life, and putting up with me in my younger years. My wife Pam for her continued love, support, understanding, and continued interest in the business and Z cars. Yes, she too drives a z and loves them.  My parents for having me and raising me as best they could.  My customers for trusting and believing in me all these years, and sending me referrals. 

Pam Naugle – CFO aka wife

 When Pam got married to the Z man back in the 90’s, she was driving a (choke, gasp, wheeze) 1987 Pontiac Grand Am with a 4 cylinder engine and front wheel drive.  A few years after she got married, she decided that it was time to get rid of her car and get one that she really wanted, a bright red 2 seater sports car.  It had to have power steering, power windows, auto transmission, and it had to either be a convertible or have t-tops.  She was considering perhaps a Mazda Miata or something like that.

 Her husband gave her two options:  #1 Buy a Miata or other new car, and she can be making her own payments for the next 4 or 5 years while the car depreciates.  Has to find someone to work on it for her because her husband won’t work on anything that doesn’t say Datsun on it unless it’s older than 1972.  Pay for more expensive insurance herself.

 Second choice was: Let her husband build her a 280ZX to her liking for free.  Then she will never have to pay for car repairs and maintenance.  It will be a promotional car so she won’t have to pay for insurance.

 She thought about it long and hard, probably only took a day is all and then gave him her answer.  It was the answer that he expected, she wanted a ZX.  Now she was going to get hooked.  muahahahaha

 He had already picked out a really ugly 1980 car that he had on his lot.  It had been wrecked pretty hard by a former customer, and had a terrible paint job on it.  The interior was beat up as well, but there was hardly any rust on the car and it ran good.

 About 10 months later she finally got her ZX after it was all cleaned up, had a fresh paint job and was ready to go.  She’s been driving it ever since.  It has been promoted to a good weather only, garage queen and Pam of course really loves her car.  She was bitten hard by the Z bug, and loves driving her ZX every chance she gets.  She’s always wanting more improvements on her car, including adding additional horsepower.  She got that and now she wants even more.  She never was a horsepower junkie until she started driving z’s.

 On the warm sunny days she can usually be seen driving the car topless.  Whooo hooooo

 In 1997 Pam lost her job as an inventory clerk for a large medical supply corporation that she had held for many years.  She then went to work with her husband here at Z Specialties, taking over the office, and working the phones.  Notice I said with her husband, not for her husband.  There is a difference.  Pam became the CFO, bookkeeper, and head whip cracker at Z Specialties.  Pam was a much needed breath of fresh air to the company, and fit right in like it was meant to be.  She even started accurately diagnosing some problems over the phone on these cars, even though she had never touched a wrench in her life, much less worked on cars.  She worked here until just after the attacks on the twin towers in 2001.  The economy went into the toilet of course and about a month after the attacks Pam had to get a job at a local Toyota dealership to help make ends meet.  She learned a lot at the dealership and that experience made her even more in demand for a position in the automotive field.  Her positions in that company consisted of cashier, receptionist, office worker, bookkeeper, invoicing, and customer relations.  A couple of years went by and she had gotten tired of working at a dealership and dealing with some of the politics that go on in places like that.

Pam came back to work here about June of 2006. She has helped develop the parts department into what it is today.  Besides doing most of the office work, bookkeeping, answering the phones and helping run the parts department, she also helps clean up around here, and puts parts away.  She has also helped in organizing a bin location setup, and a transferred all the data into a brand new database system with inventory control to make the parts department run much more smoothly.  She has also been going through piles and piles and piles of boxes full of misc.  parts, sorting through them and finding a home for every little piece there is.  Believe me when I say there were a lot of boxes of misc parts, that is a big understatement.  Words can’t describe just how many parts that there are in this place.  Matter of fact, it takes 3 buildings to house all of the parts that we have. Late in 2013 she was in a car accident and wasn’t able to work at Z Specialties anymore. She now works part time in the health care industry.  It was sure good while it lasted.