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Under the hood: Daniel Miller

January 20th, 2010 by Nick

Pictured – Beat reporter, rocker and all around cool guy Daniel Miller and his 1972 Datsun 240Z

In a town known for fakes, phonies and fantastic tales projected at 2.39:1, a man whose job it is to find the truth has a tendency to fall out of focus behind the sheer number of those trying to pass off the fabricated as fact. But when that same man emerges, red-lining it, from the depths of obscurity, behind the wheel of an early 70’s exotic with stretched lines and sleek curves, that man gets noticed. Even if that exotic was paid for in Yen.

Sleek, sexy, and streamlined are adjectives historically reserved for automotive designs born in Europe; but, one glance at Daniel Miller’s Japanese-built 240Z will have you reaching for your thesaurus. Daniel is a reporter. He drives the dirty beats of Los Angeles, pounding the pavement, wrestling facts, and he does it all nestled comfortably in the leather buckets of his ivory-white Datsun. Cars may come from far more exotic lands, boast of handmade craftsmanship and fabled legends of race pedigree, but Daniel doesn’t sweat these things. He’s here for the facts, and those don’t lie. In 1972, Datsun released a 6-cylinder car capable of 0-60 in under 8 seconds – that could hold its own in a blindfolded fondling contest against any of Italy’s finest (costing ten times as much).

Just the facts.


I’m a reporter. I cover commercial real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. I’m also our newspaper’s de facto car guy, so I’ve been able to finagle my way into writing about and driving the Tesla and the electric Mini Cooper. Not a bad perk.


I’d call my style California grandpa. What I mean is, I think I am a pretty nostalgic person. Or maybe what I mean is I like old stuff — whether we are talking maps of L.A. from the ’20s, vintage guitars or cars. I love my Frye boots. I like watches with leather bands. I like Persol sunglasses, but I kept losing them so now I wear Ray Bans. From roughly 2004 to 2007 I went through a nautical phase and bought way too many jackets and shirts with epaulets. I have since imposed a personal moratorium on the purchase of any new clothing with epaulets.


It’s a stealthy classic, it’s not so obvious. But people who used to drive one or grew up with one in their house definitely appreciate it and let that be known, which is always fun. But that doesn’t happen so often. At the same time, people who aren’t familiar with it assume the Z is an old Ferrari or something else way more expensive and Italian. In L.A. it’s easy to go for a drive and spot a vintage Ferrari or maybe an old Jaguar E-type . Those are the prototypical classic cars, and I’m not saying a Datsun has anything on an E-type or a Ferrari, but I like that you don’t see many 240s. Most of the Zs from the ’70s you see in L.A. are newer or pretty rough looking, because they weren’t fancy cars and people drove them hard.


The car was my grandfather’s. After years of begging my dad for it I got it in December 2001 when I was a freshman at UCLA. My family used to own a car dealership in Culver City and originally we sold Datsuns but later other brands too. Around 1990 my grandfather got nostalgic for an old Z like the one he used to drive back in the day and tracked this one down and had it lightly restored. But after a few years he stopped driving it and it wound up at a storage lot at the dealership. I discovered it there when I was in high school and basically just incessantly bugged my dad about it until he relented. He told me the deal was that I could have it but it wouldn’t be restored — he had a mechanic at the dealership get the motor running but that was about it. I would have to live with the stenciled graphics on the hood and the dinged up fenders. I was of course OK with that. But a few weeks before I was supposed to get it, the car was sent to a nearby body shop the dealership worked with because it needed to have a dent in the door banged out so that it could close properly. The way my dad tells it, the body shop gave the car the royal treatment for free — new chrome, paint and an interior overhaul — as a way of saying thanks for all the business he gave them. I’m still not sure how it really went down.


I know this is lame, but I can’t remember. I got my license when I was sixteen and believe it or not, was dying for a Nissan Pathfinder, which the dealership sold. But I wasn’t ever allowed to drive new cars off the lot. I was given used cars to drive — often ones listed in advertisements — and would have to bring them back at a moment’s notice if a potential buyer was on the lot. So I was switching cars every couple of weeks and drove a lot of Nissan Altimas and Sentras. I do remember that I drove an ’90 Mazda Miata for a while early on — it was stick and I loved it. I think I learned how to drive stick on a Mazda MX6. There was a memorable Mitsubishi Montero Sport in dark blue. I also have fond memories of a red convertible Mitsubishi Eclipse. When the Z was in the shop just before my family sold the dealership in 2005 I was a little cavalier and grabbed a yellow Mazda RX-8 off the lot and then a week or so later an Audi S4. Those didn’t last long. For a car guy, there honestly could not have been a better family business. I was very, very lucky.


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