1977 Datsun 280Z – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Japanese sports cars – especially those from the 1970s – are hot right now. The JDM scene is vibrant, and the desire to own one of these cars is huge. The only problem is that Japanese cars from the 1970s are not exactly known for their ability to resist the onslaught of rust. We did get the Z cars here in the UK, but those cars are very hard to find, as almost all of them have dissolved into brown, rusty puddles with Datsun badges. 

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So does that mean that we, as JDM loving Brits, have to miss out on some of the best sports cars ever made? Of course not. The Z cars were built for Japan, they were built for us here in the UK and Europe and they were also built for the Americans. The ‘60s and ‘70s were in fact a massive market for companies like Datsun. There was a real thirst for light, fast, fun cars and for many, the Z was at the top of the pile. And as such, there are plenty of ‘dry state’ cars out there that haven’t been eaten by rust. And this 1977 280Z is one of them. And the best bit? Someone has already shipped it to the UK. 

What is it? 

The S30 Z cars are an attractive proposition no matter what their spec. Japan wanted a slice of the sports car market, and as such, introduced the 240Z at a price worryingly (for MG) close to the B GT. The Japanese offering was sharper, it was more modern and it was infinitely more reliable. It was an instant hit, and one that had customers queuing out of the dealership door. 

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The Z was offered in a bewildering array of names and configurations worldwide. Japan had a 2.0 version, it also called it the Fairlady. There were limited editions, trim levels and all sorts of options offered. Nissan wanted it to be whatever the buyer desired. In the U.S, the launch models were the 240 and 260. Then, in a bid to counter the emissions requirements and so on, Datsun offered the 280Z. The U.S was the only market to get it. The logic was that the bigger engine would still offer the expected power, even with the emission restricting equipment. Whereas if they stuck with the 260, it would have been strangled. 

The rest of the world didn’t see a 280 until the next-generation ZX came out. America did though, and that’s what makes this car special. It was a more modern engine, with Bosch fuel injection. Remove all that ‘smog’ kit – and many did in later years – and it became a proper little hot rod. 

Why is it a project? 

It’s just a bit down at heel by the look of it. A car that time has ever so slightly caught up with, and as such, it needs a caring new owner to bring it back up to spec. The selling points here are many. Firstly, this car hasn’t ever been restored, meaning it’s honest and hopefully free from any bodges or poor repairs. It also appears to come from a dry state, which means there is no significant rust. Looking at the pictures, it looks to be incredibly solid. There is a bit of bubbling around the fuel filler and the leading edge of the bonnet, but other than that, there seems to be little to be concerned by. 

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The floors look excellent, which is remarkable for one of these cars. The interior looks to be near new in condition, and even the dash is intact and free from cracks. The book is solid, and even has the factory expanding spare and tool kit. It’s a brilliant little time capsule, and one that has escaped even a whiff of abuse or neglect. This is a remarkable find, truly. And it’s even going to be running and driving according to the vendor. Talk about ticking boxes!

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Five things to look for:

1) Trim

There is decent availability on a lot of stuff, due to the popularity of the Z. However, a lot of it is pattern, so it’s going to be better if you can save what’s there. So check it’s in good nick. 

2) Rust

It’s clean. You can tell that from the pictures. But the fact remains this is a car famed for rust, so check it thoroughly. Sills, A pillars and floors in particular should all get a good look over.

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3) Engine

The vendor states that this car, while not running now, was bought as a runner. Furthermore, they will ensure the buyer gets it as a running car. This means you can check the health of that 2.8 straight six engine. Happily, service parts are easy to come by, as are all the rebuild parts. 

4) Suspension

The heart of the Z isn’t its engine, it’s the way it handles. You’re almost certainly going to have to change things like shocks and bushes, but what about everything else? Does it look straight, is it free of any serious corrosion, has it been bodged in the past? 

5) Paperwork

Like the broken record that we are, it’s an imported car, so check the paperwork. Make sure there are no outstanding fees on it, and make sure it has been registered on the NOVA system

What should you do with it? 

The world is your oyster here, as there are myriad ways in which you could go. You could, of course, go for the full and original restoration. The car is pretty honest, and doesn’t seem to have been messed with over the years, so taking it back to factory specification would be worthwhile. Of course, we would suggest removing the awful federal add ons like the sticky-out bumpers and so on. They ruin the look of the car, so European equipment would be the way to go. 

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Of course, this being a sports car, you could go down the modified route. There is a huge amount of support out there for building a Z into the car of your dreams. Suspension upgrades, brakes, wheels, engine – there are off-the-shelf options for everything. You could build this into something truly spectacular. And, because the market for modified examples is just as strong as for standard cars, you wouldn’t ruin the value. So get on it, live a little, build the car of your dreams.

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