Featured: Here’s Why I Fell In Love With The Datsun 280Z

Here’s Why I Fell In Love With The Datsun 280Z

By Petrolicious Productions
December 7, 2015

Story by Gary Horn // Photos by Michael Mauro and Gary Horn

Why a Datsun 280Z? My life has crossed paths with Z-cars, beginning when I was eight years old driving my 240Z AFX car, a Bob Sharp Racing model, on my slot car track. That little thing just looked fast sitting still.

My first ride in a Z came when I was in Jr. high. A female acquaintance of mine and I took a ride in her Dad’s 260Z to the bowling alley. From the passenger seat, for the first time I saw how deep those gauges were. Wow. You can’t see anything from the passenger seat—by design, I bet.

I met my wife when we were both freshman at college, and found out pretty quickly, that her daily driver in high school was a 1977 280Z. Yes, I was hooked…on both the girl and the car. She let me drive her 280Z a few months after we started dating, a fact we kept from her father for many years. Well, until now…

As a result, I have always wanted one of my own. A 240, 280, even a 260 if it was nice enough, I didn’t care. But it had to be original, unmolested and not a rust bucket. Yeah, a unicorn.

One morning, on Craigslist in a suburb of Buffalo of all places, I find the car…about 15 years after I started searching! A 1977 280Z, the same year as my wife’s old car, except this one was in really nice shape, a 5-speed and had A/C instead of the “280 air” that her old car had. (You know: two windows down and 80 mph.)

So I call the owner. He sends me almost 50 pictures, tells me the story of how his wife saw this car at a show a few years ago, and it was exactly like the car she used to own (sound familiar?). They bought it but never drove it. We agreed on a price, and I had it shipped from Buffalo to NJ. This car was almost as described. It had a little more rust than expected, but nothing major. Everything in the engine compartment was original, as was the suspension. Perfect: that means no one has messed with it. Just what I was looking for.

So the renovation starts. I had a plan: if it was good enough for Nissan 38 years ago, it was good enough for me. If it’s not going to be reliable, I’m not interested.

I started in the engine compartment. Every electrical connection in the engine bay had some degree of corrosion. My experience with owning a Z32 had educated me on the evils of even a small amount of corrosion in the connections of a fuel injected engine.

The rubber boots on the injector connections were dried out and as hard as rocks. I was not surprised to see enough corrosion in the connection to resemble the Statue of Liberty. When my wife had her 280Z in the early ’80s, I remembered mention of a Z car specialist in the Washington D.C. metro area called Banzai Motorworks. During my searching for parts online, Banzai came up. On the website I see this: “TECH ASSISTANCE? Please call between 10AM and noon ET, M-F”. So I called. The owner, Mike McGinnis answered, and talked to me on the phone for over 30 minutes. I placed my first of many orders with Mike that day, and we had many conversations over the next three months. He saved me hours of diagnoses, and assisted me in restoring the wiring harness of our Z as close to factory as is currently possible. This 280Z would not be back on the road without Mike, and all the time he was willing to take to walk me through what needed to be done. Invaluable.

Soon, all fuel lines, fuel pump, injector connectors, injectors, cap, rotor, plugs, plug wires, radiator, coolant temp sensor, and thermo time switch had been replaced with Nissan OEM when available, or OEM equivalent if NLA. The car was running beautifully. A/C even worked.

Next up was suspension & brakes. Again, this was all original or really old, and the car handled like the Queen Mary and took almost as long to stop. Again, Banzai Motorworks came to the rescue. I think my exact words were, “Whatever you think Mike, you know these cars, if it’s rubber it’s shot, if it’s going to be worn out, it probably is, make me up a list.”

Mike came up with a full page and half of parts, it was impressive, and intimidating. I needed help.

When we had the Z32, we needed some work done, injectors, 02 sensors, etc. Dealer rates for repairs were expensive, but through a connection in the Z32 community, I was introduced to a Nissan master mechanic who worked on the Z32s in his spare time. He even owned a 750 horsepower Twin Turbo example himself. I called him.

We talked about my new project, and whether he was interested? Sure, he said. He cut his teeth doing valve adjustments on the S30s when he started with Nissan many years ago. He was enlisted to renovate the suspension and brake systems over the winter, whenever he had some free lift time in between Z32 work. I just needed him to have the car finished by this year’s spring driving season.

I am all for stock, but sometimes small improvements are OK.

You know, “while you’re in there,” just can’t be helped. The braking system is mostly stock. In the rear, the drums were trued up, and an updated set of shoes installed. In the front, re-manufactured stock calipers were mated with cross drilled rotors and performance pads. New rubber brake lines were installed all around.

Suspension wise, we installed a set of Eibach progressive springs that dropped the ride height 1-inch, and added a set of 15×7 wheels. Bushing and struts are OEM replacement. Last fall, the transmission and differential fluid were replaced with full synthetic fluids.

We achieved what I think is a pretty good compromise between a full restoration, and adding an improved driving experience. A couple of hours of labor and the stock springs & wheels can be put back on and it’s right back to stock. This past spring we finished the interior, added a new OEM console as the old one was cracked, replaced the rubber shifter boots that were badly deteriorated. Had the steering wheel leather wrapped, and a new radio with Bluetooth installed because it seemed that every time we get in the car our phones ring. The best part is, that no matter how long the car sits, it starts every time, runs beautifully, and when it’s hot, ice cold A/C keeps us cool. And just like 1977…..of course “280air” is always available.

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Adam Wilmouth
Adam Wilmouth(@adamsfacebookemail)
5 years ago

Started a project myself just recently, 78 280. I saw the paint job and decided it was the car for me. Quite a handful of electrical problems, wires that go to nowhere and holes through the floor that werent properly repaired all things i am currently repairing myself. The goal is a track car that is just barely street legal so i can drive it to the track about 3 hours away. Coilovers, 6 piston calipurs, 14 inch rotors, bucket seats, 6 point roll cage and i think im going to run a mostly stock engine except some extra cooling till all that other stuff is done. Last thing will be a NA RB25 swap with ITB’s. Decided that over turbo because I love how raw and linear the power is. Lots of money and time going into it but i love every second of it.

Pete W.
Pete W.(@pete-w)
5 years ago

Got pretty much the exact same car in my garage as I write this. No AC, and ditched the original cow catcher bumpers for early 260Z units. but otherwise, the same.

And Mike McGuinness was a big help it’s restoration back in 2000.

And it’s still a hoot to drive, all these years later.

5 years ago

I lovvved my 77 280 … Bought it from my best friends Dad with 100k on the clock , he was a salesman , oil changed EVERY 3k , drove the shit out of it , did a major Reno,no rust , no bumpers , new deeper gold paint , frt aired am and rear kick up spoiler and many performance tweeks … drove and did really well in the local RoadRally and AutoCross scenes. after I got married and got a 84 Celica GT-S coupe as my daily driver ( another great car btw) i relented and sold it to a younger guy who totaled it 3 months later….. ? Man , I missss that Z

Khalid Sadary
Khalid Sadary(@moabeb3)
5 years ago

You know what I too had a 280ZX I loved the car but somehow the damn police was always on my back as the local police hated all drivers of 280ZX. I got so many tickets that eventually I sold my beauty. Till today I wish I can buy one 280 ZX 1981 model, manual gear four seater.

Steve Arambula
Steve Arambula(@oldschool240)
5 years ago

I completely understand. My addiction started with 3 510’s until I found this gem: one owner california car, with all docs, including window sticker!

Leonard Woolsey
Leonard Woolsey(@woolzone)
5 years ago

A 1975 280Z taught me to drive. I learned to operate a stick, feel the road, and become one with a mechanical object. To this day that car is still my co-pilot…(current driver: 2006 G35 6MT).

Leonard Woolsey
Leonard Woolsey(@woolzone)
5 years ago

A 1975 280Z taught me to drive. I learned to operate a stick, feel the road, and become one with a mechanical object. To this day that car is still my co-pilot…(current driver: 2016 G35 6MT).

Norbert Krasovski
Norbert Krasovski(@norbertk)
6 years ago

Beautiful Z! And i highly reccomend this Lithuanian Chap restoring classic japanese cars!

Perhaps an opportunity for an article 🙂


Szymon Sargalski
Szymon Sargalski(@szsargalski)
6 years ago

Could you please specify wheels ET and tire size?

Gary Horn
Gary Horn(@ghphoto)
6 years ago

Wheels are 15×7 Koenig Rewinds with zero offset as I recall. Tires are 215/60/15. These wheels are readily available at the larger Z car specialty online retailers in both 15 & 16″ sizes. We spent most of the winter going back & forth between 15 & 16″ and finally decided on the 15″ because we thought they looked more appropriate for the vintage and we wanted a little more sidewall for ride comfort.

Szymon Sargalski
Szymon Sargalski(@szsargalski)
6 years ago

Gary- indeed 15″ look stunning. Amount of rubber, wheel size and a small drop gives this car a perfect stance! Thanks for answer

6 years ago

It’s a beautiful car Gary. Enjoy it in good health.