More Powder Coating & Engine Assembly

We’ve completed powder coating on most all our Datsun 280Z engine parts and we’ve now started assembling our motor.  As I’ve said before, we’re going stock on our drive train with L28 block and N42 head.  Here are some pictures of our progress.

Datsun 280Z Intake Manifold New

280Z intake manifold prep'd, taped with silicone plugs inserted for powder coating.


Datsun 280Z Valve Cover Ready for Powder Coat

280Z valve cover prep'd and ready for powder coat.


Datsun 280Z Valve Cover and Intake Manifold After Powder Coating

280Z valve cover and intake manifold after powder coating.


Datsun 280Z Engine Painted and Powder Coated

280Z engine painted, valve cover, intake and exhaust manifold powder coated, head, aluminum parts and block clear coated.

Datsun 280Z Engine Painted and Powder Coated




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Help us choose our paint colors!

We’re getting close to choosing the paint for our Datsun 280Z restoration project and we’re looking for your input.  Vote below for your favorite color combination.

Here are examples of the colors we’re considering:

Datsun 280Z restoration color choices - metallic red with black stripes

Choice 1: Metallic red with black stripes

Datsun 280Z restoration color choices - solid red with white stripes

Choice 2: Solid red with white stripes

Datsun 280Z restoration color choices - solid black with red stripes

Choice 3: Solid black with red stripes


What colors should we paint our car?

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Powder Coating

We did some research into what it would take to powder coat our own small 280Z parts and were surprised to see how cheap and easy it is to get started for us schmoes working in the garage.  A basic, starter powder coating system from Eastwood cost us about $130 and it even came with a few small containers of powder to get started.  That and a $30 used oven out of our local classified ads and we were in business!

Datsun 280Z brake drum powder coated

Datsun 280Z brake drum after powder coating.

I’m not going to bore you here with a long description of how to do powder coating.  There are plenty of other sites that have this information, not to mention the books that will come with most powder coating systems.  As the name implies, powder coating is a process of applying dry powder “paint” to the surface of metal using an electrostatic process that causes the powder to stick to the metal surface because of reversed charges between the metal part and the powder.  The metal part is then baked and cured at high heat, causing the powder to melt to the metal, creating a very tough surface.

Datsun 280Z brake caliper - powder coated

Datsun 280Z brake caliper after powder coating. All rubber parts have to be removed from assemblies before powder coating. All bores that need to remain unpainted must be masked with high-temp tape or blocked with high-temp silicone plugs.

The hardest step in the process is getting your parts completely stripped of all (and I mean all) dirt, oil, grease, paint, etc.  You also need to pre-bake any cast parts as there are often impurities that have penetrated the porous surface of the metal that will come out when you bake the part.  You don’t want this to happen when you’re cooking the Datsun 280Z valve cover that you’ve just spent several hours prepping and powder-coating.  There are no cutting corners on this step.  Either you do it right or you start over.

You’re going to need a 220 outlet for the oven and if you’re cheap like us and buy an old one, you are likely going to need to upgrade the cord to work with a modern 220 outlet.  Most powder coats “flow out” (melt onto the metal) at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit after about 10 minutes.  Then you continue to bake the part at around 350 degrees for another 20 minutes to cure it.  This will vary with the kind of powder you’re using.  High-temp powders (like what you would use on exhaust manifolds, etc.) bake and cure at a slightly higher temperature.

Datsun 280Z restoration powder coating oven

Judging from the stylish color, it's possible this oven is the same year as our 280Z!.

Needless to say, this is a major fire hazard.  If you don’t already have a high-quality fire extinguisher in your garage, don’t even think about doing powder coating until you get one.  And while we’re on the topic of safety, do not powder coat (or any other kind of painting for that matter) without some form of respirator.  It will greatly diminish the fun of driving your freshly restored Datsun Z-car if you have to carry an oxygen bottle around with you after you’re finished.

Also, to all you boneheads out there; I know what you’re thinking and the answer is an emphatic and unequivocal, “No!  You may not, under any circumstances, bake your first powder-coated part in your kitchen oven!”  Not only will you most likely set off every smoke detector in your entire house, but anything you cook in the oven after this will not be fit for human consumption!  And don’t get any stupid ideas about baking tasty snacks in your powder-coating oven in the garage either.  They won’t taste good and you’re going to sound like an idiot explaining to your doctor why you’re so sick.

With your parts cleaned and the safety issues addressed, the rest isn’t much harder than the shrinky-dinks you used to paint and bake when you were a kid.  As I said, a regular oven will only fit small parts but the results are stunning.  We’ve already coated our Datsun 280Z brake calipers, drums, valve cover, exhaust manifold and other small parts for our motor.  We’re so happy with the results that we’re seriously considering using this process to refurbish the original Datsun 280ZX wheels that came with our 260Z parts car, assuming they’ll fit in our oven.

Datsun 280Z exhaust manifold before powder coat

Datsun 280Z exhaust manifold before final cleaning and pre-bake.

Datsun 280Z exhaust manifold powder coated

Datsun 280Z exhaust manifold after high-temp powder coating. Most high-temp powders are either flat or satin finish.

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Your options for Datsun 280Z suspension updates are too long a list for this blog so I’m just going to stick with what we’re doing to our car.

As I’ve indicated in previous blog entries, we made the decision early on in our 280Z restoration to completely tear down the car to make sure we’ve addressed all potential problem areas.  Our aim in this restoration is to rebuild a nice, stock-with-a-few-minor-alterations driver car.  Therefore, with our suspension as with other assemblies, we wanted to make sure everything was in good working condition.

As with any vehicle that’s 30+ years old, you can be pretty sure that any of your 280Z non-metal suspension parts that haven’t been replaced previously are now junk.  Ours were no exception.  Our original Datsun sway bars, springs, strut assemblies and other metal parts seem usable.  We were also happy to learn that our car had fairly new Tokiko replacement struts installed.  However, all the rubber bushings appeared to be original, having become extremely soft and shrunken (I’ve written and deleted several innuendos here.  I’ll spare you. :-)).  You can only imagine how much handling and power is lost in the sloppy movement of all these assemblies held in place by rubber with the consistency of a stiff sponge!

We ordered a complete set of Energy Suspension 280Z polyurethane replacement bushings from Motor Sport Auto.  The kit is very complete, containing all the new bushings, inner sleeves and washers needed for every assembly underneath your Datsun Z, including the transmission & differential cross members as well as the bushings in the steering column.  My only complaint is that the new bushings come with minimal instructions.  That’s somewhat expected, since this is a fairly advanced project.  However, the Energy Suspension bushings don’t always fit into the assemblies the same way as the stock bushings so one would expect a little more guidance in some cases.

In many of the Datsun 280Z suspension assemblies, the original bushings are cemented inside a metal ring that’s pressed into the assembly (transverse links, etc.).  The Energy Suspension parts sometimes take the place of these metal rings and sometimes they fit inside them.  This means that in some cases you will need to just remove the rubber part of the bushing but leave the metal outer ring in place.  Other times you will remove the outer sleeve also.  The only real way to tell whether removal of this outer ring is necessary is to hold the new rubber bushing up to the old one to see if it’s intended to fit inside the ring or to replace it completely.

When we were in the process of getting our bushings out, I came across the Atlantic Z Car Club website.  The Datsun Z “Tech Tips” section of this site has outstanding photos of the process of getting the bushings out (along with lots of other projects).  Because they’ve already provided pictures with instructions and I’ve provided you the link, it’s pretty pointless for me to explain further how to get the old bushings out and the new ones back in.  I’ll let them take it from here.

We used various wire wheels on an angle grinder, drills, etc. to strip all our suspension parts and most of the dealer undercoating from the bottom of our car.  We painted our undercarriage black and we chose the bright red Energy Suspension parts.  The contrast looks great.

Datsun 280Z Rear Suspension Parts

Rear Suspension Disassembled

Datsun 280Z Rear Suspension Parts

Other side

Datsun 280Z Front Suspension

Front suspension with new bushings, painted and reassembled

Datsun 280Z Rear Suspension

Rear suspension reassembled, drum powder coated

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Spindle Pins

Ah, spindle pins!  The very words cause the seasoned Datsun Z restorer’s blood to run cold.  Most blog entries you’ll read on this topic sound more like a comedy of errors than car repair.  Spindle pins are the connecting / adjustment rods that hold together the Datsun 280Z transverse links in the rear independent suspension (see picture below).  Many people will simply tell you not to touch them, ever.  It’s possible to drop the entire rear-end, struts and all, out of a Datsun Z-car without disassembling any of the suspension components.  So if you’re replacing struts, contrary to what the 280Z factory manual says, you can do this without taking out the dreaded spindle pins.  However, if you’re a glutton for punishment, like us, and as part of your Datsun restoration you want to replace all of the 30-year-old rubber bushings in your suspension that now look like black sponges, these puppies have to come out.

Datsun 280Z Spindle Pin Assembly

From the Datsun 280Z factory manual.

You might be asking why I’m making this sound so terrible.  After all, the Datsun 280Z factory manual provides the very simple-sounding instructions to remove the spindle pin locking bolt and the nuts from both ends and then just “remove them”.  The manual even includes the helpful picture below, showing a spindle pin being pulled out with your hand.  Well, anyone who’s actually tried this exercise knows that these instructions and diagram are a cruel joke.  I can imagine a bunch of Japanese mechanics rolling on the ground in hysterical laughter as they wrote these instructions.  They likely howled with glee picturing middle-aged American men cursing and smashing their hands, repeatedly going back to their tool boxes for larger and larger hammers to get these @#%& things out!  In short:  They’re stuck.  And you have a snowballs chance in the proverbial of getting them out without destroying them.

Datsun 280Z Spindle Pin Removal Diagram

Yeah right!

Here are your options:  1) Beat them out with a large hammer, using a long punch or other metal rod to push them through.  You should douse the pin and pivot assembly with WD40 first and let it sit for a while.  Also, don’t get too crazy in your hammering to the point that you mushroom out the end of the pin, making it so that it won’t fit through the pivot assembly.  Once the pins are out, replace them, they’re toast.  2) Invest in or rent a spindle pin puller and try to take them out without damaging the pins.  If you type in “Datsun 280Z spindle pin puller” on Google, you’ll get a bunch of options for this.  But here’s the rub:  From what I read from people who’ve used them (yes, I used option 1), your chances of getting the spindle pins out without damage using these pullers is still only about 50 / 50.  Considering there are 2 spindle pins to pull, that’s a high likelihood you’re going to pay for a puller and then still have to pay for at least 1 new spindle pin.

Let’s do the math:

Cost of 2 new Datsun 280Z spindle pins:  $60

Cost of spindle pin puller (I’m guessing here, I can’t actually find one for sale on the web):  $30

Cost of spindle pin puller + 1 spindle pin:  $60

Cost of spindle pin puller + 2 spindle pins:  $90

My advice:  Purchase 2 new Nissan / Datsun spindle pins from Motor Sport Auto, or some other reputable Datsun parts dealer, and use the hammer approach.  Now I can imagine some Datsun Z-car spindle-pin-removal junkie is going to tell me I’m full of it on this one but here’s my reasoning:  Datsun Z spindle pins serve 2 very important functions.  1) They provide a key pivot point for the 280Z independent suspension and 2) they’re used to adjust the rear-wheel alignment.  Now I’m no mechanical engineer but I’m pretty sure that if these pins are so frozen in place that you can hardly remove them with a large hammer, they probably aren’t serving either of these functions well.  What’s more, if you’re going to all the trouble to put brand new bushings throughout your suspension to improve performance, why would you put these crusty, corroded pieces of junk back in your car?

Regardless of your chosen method for getting them out, if your aim is to replace all your 280Z suspension bushings, it seems easiest to remove the entire rear-end in one piece.  Then you can do your suspension disassembly on the comfort of your work bench.  If you don’t want to wrestle with the entire rear-end, you can take loose the drive shafts from each wheel and then remove the hub/drum, strut and transverse link in one piece from each side.

Have fun!  Once you’ve replaced spindle pins, in my opinion you’re a seasoned Datsun restoration veteran!

Datsun 280Z Rear Suspension Assembly

Datsun 280Z Rear Suspension Assembly

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