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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

My car: Nona Dobbs’s 1976 Datsun 280Z

Dubai resident Nona Dobbs tells us the story behind her 1976 "Z" car.
Nona Dobbs in her 1976 Datsun 280Z. Satish Kumar / The National
Nona Dobbs in her 1976 Datsun 280Z. Satish Kumar / The National

Growing up in Canada in the 1990s surrounded by a family of petrolheads, Nona Dobbs was inevitably obsessed with cars. After moving to the UAE six years ago, that obsession ultimately led her to quit her cabin crew job with Emirates to work full-time at Hammerhead Auto Specialists in Al Quoz, Dubai. The latest manifestation of her motoring fascination, a 1976 Datsun 280Z that she has just finished restoring after buying it three years ago, is a labour of love – and, indeed, a love story.

“Since I’ve owned this ‘Z’, she’s cooked up quite a story,” Dobbs says. “She’s the reason I met my fiancé, Andy [Hammerhead’s shop manager], through Naz [Hammerhead’s general manager], who saw me when I took the car for its first registration.”

Dobbs, 25, had a predilection for American muscle cars when she was younger, until the Land of the Rising Sun shone its automotive light on her, particularly the cult-classic Datsun Z cars.

“I’ve loved cars since I was still learning how to walk, and that has only got stronger since then. There was always at least one cool car for me to beg rides in. My mom had a Pontiac Fiero GT, my dad an old Trans Am, and my opa [grandfather] cycled through many, but my favourites were a first-gen [Toyota] MR2, and a little red [Mazda MX-5] Miata.

“At first I was all about the American muscle, but when I discovered the Japanese finesse, the domestics just couldn’t compare,” she says. “Out of all of them, it was the [Datsun] 240Z that was my sweetheart from the beginning. I loved the way it looked, the way it sounded, and most of all the underdog story of conquering the American market in the 70s. From there, I began my hunt.”

However, after an exhausting search turned up a blank, she stumbled across an importer who helped her find a 280Z.

“I was roaming around the Ras Al Khor auto market when I came across one lot,” she says. “The owner explained to me that he was dealing in importing these cars from the US and Japan. He said all I had to do was find a car I liked in the local classifieds: he would check if it was legitimate, and bring it over to the UAE. The search went on for six months before I found the right candidate. From there, it was only a matter of waiting for it to arrive.”

And when it did, Dobbs was more than happy with her new beau.

“It has matching engine and chassis numbers,” she says. “As far as I know, it was totally stock, and it came with the original purchase papers and options from the factory. If nothing is missing in between, I am the third owner. Even though it wasn’t a 240Z, I was still extremely pleased. It was clean, no rust, and otherwise in great shape.”

She then set about getting the 280Z into running order, including a host of replacement mechanicals, a rebuilt engine, spruced-up seats and freshly painted bodywork.

“There are a few more things that I’ve been thinking of doing,” she explains, “but I’m happy to enjoy her for now. She’s guttural, brawny and delicious. Though she’s not fast like new sports cars, or tough to handle rough driving that much, the overall experience of driving a car like this is like no other, and always leaves a grin on my face.”

The fun doesn’t end there, with plenty of future motoring plans between her and her fiancé.

“Our next cars lined up are Andy’s 1985 Porsche 944 Turbo, and hopefully his [Porsche] 928 to follow,” she says. “We’re also always on the lookout for anything and everything in between.”

Aworkman@thenational.ae