Let the “Fixing” Begin!

Wanting to do our 280Z restoration right, it was clear the first thing we were going to need was the right information.  As mentioned before, we turned first to the Zcar.com forum to get pointed in the right direction.  One of the first sites we were referred to was XenonS30.  This is the best site we’ve found so far with Datsun 240Z, 260Z and 280Z reference information.  They have Datsun Z-car history, electronic versions of Datsun factory service manuals, Datsun color charts, Datsun engine information and etc.

We were also pointed to 2 other great reference tools available through Amazon.com.  The Haynes “Datsun 240Z, 260Z & 280Z, 1970-1978 Repair Manual” (OK, duh, I probably could have thought of that one) and “How to Restore Your Datsun Z Car”, written by Wick Hubble.  Between these and the factory service manuals, there are few repairs for which you won’t have a decent reference guide.

Clearly the first thing we needed to do with our 280Z was to get the motor out.  After brow-beating my son about how this wasn’t going to be like his last projects where parts are sorted into what he believes to be carefully planned piles, which to me appear to simply be parts strewn across the garage floor, we agreed that we were going to bag and tag everything.  As per Wick Hubble’s (who is this guy?) Datsun restoration guide, we put all of our component parts, nuts and bolts, etc. into labeled zip-lock bags.  Removing the motor was surprisingly easy.  Especially since my son did most of the work.  🙂

Datsun 280Z Restoration - Organizing Parts

Tagged and bagged!

Datsun 280Z Restoration Engine Removal
Upon tearing down our L28 motor, it became clear that someone ran their baby out of oil and then proceeded to drive it many more miles after this.  One piston push rod was seized onto the crank with no remaining bearing.  Ouch!  The matching N42 head was in decent shape but showing its age.  Clearly we were going to need to rebuild our motor and head.
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Taking Stock of Our Project

We  looked over our 280Z pretty carefully before buying it, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were dealing with, but a more careful inspection in the garage on jack stands gave us a better picture:

Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z
  • The car’s completely original.  It still has the Datsun L28 block with N42 head, original bumpers with overrider bars, all-original interior, dash, lighting and etc. and no evidence any young whipper-snapper has worked their bone-headed magic on it.  Phew!

1976 Datsun 280Z - Engine

  • Our motor was seized.  The starter wouldn’t turn the motor over after charging the battery and you couldn’t turn the motor by hand.  The rest of the drive train looks serviceable but we’ll go through it anyway.  All the suspension bushings look every bit of their 34 years.

  • The body of the car was in above average shape for a 34-year-old Datsun.  There’s maybe 6-10 small rust patches showing in the places you’d expect:  valance, bottom corners of the door frames, side of one headlight rim, etc .  It’s pretty clear the car has been restored at least once before and they did a decent job.  The Datsun and 280Z emblems can probably be refurbished.   The driver’s side door handle is hanging halfway off and will need to be replaced.

Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z - Hood Open

  • The bumpers are straight but the chrome and rubber are in pretty bad shape.  One bumper end on the front and one on the back have obviously been replaced and are still pliable.  The rest of the bumper rubber is brittle and falling apart.  We have overrider bars on the front and the back that are in decent shape (though hideously ugly :-).  They appear to be the type installed at Datsun dealerships back in the day.
1976 Datsun 280Z - Rear
  • The frame rails, as I’ve come to learn is common with 280Zs, are toast.  One has obviously been driven up on a rock.  Probably the same one that bashed in our lower center valance.  Both frame rails are rusted through in several places.  These will have to be replaced, along with the valance.

1976 Datsun 280Z - Passenger Door Frame Rust

1976 Datsun 280Z - Driver Door Frame Rust

  • The interior is surprisingly nice.  The door panels are relatively new and installed correctly.  The carpets have been replaced sometime along the way and will work fine for a daily driver.  The seats are OK but weathered with several rips.  The dash is terrible, with deep cracks in many places.

1976 Datsun 280Z - Dashboard1976 Datsun 280Z - Interior1976 Datsun 280Z - SeatSo far so good!  Stay tuned…I’m sure we’ll find lot’s more problems when we start ripping things apart.

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Getting Started


An initial assessment of our new 280Z made it clear we were going to need a lot of help.  As our first Z restoration, we needed to find good resources to help us figure out how to get started.Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z - Front

The great news is there are lots of Datsun Z lovers out there ready to help.  We became members of the “ZCAR” forum at Zcar.com. This site gives you access to Z-car forums for whatever Datsun model year you’re interested in, with many enthusiasts ready to jump in and give you advice.  But be warned:  These forums aren’t for the thin-skinned.  There’s a search function on the site that lets you look to see if the subject you’re interested in has already been discussed previously.  Nothing will invoke the wrath of ZCar forum curmudgeons faster than a newbie who jumps in asking questions they’ve already answered 27 times.

The angry mechanics who do most of the heavy-lifting on the site have happy dreams about these chances to provide a the goofy new Z owner a humiliating kick in the crotch.  In one such encounter, an obviously-young Z owner was asking how to make his car “…go faster…”.  The responses ranged from, “Put rocket fuel in the gas tank.” to “Set your speedometer forward by 10 mph so it always looks like you’re going faster.”  Ouch!

The 2nd greatest offense on any forum is to pretend you know what you’re talking about when you really don’t know your backside from a hot rock.  If you’re just getting started, admit you’re an idiot up front.  Everyone likes to help a retard.  No one likes to help a jackass.  Finally, Zcar.com is about restoring original Datsun Z cars.  If you really want to get a boot in the rear from the site regulars, start asking questions about putting a V8 in your Z.  Besides calling you various colorful names and dissin’ your mother, they’ll tell you to go to HybridZ.org, which is the place for the more unorthodox Datsun Z modifications.

If you’re new to Datsun restoration, like we were, you don’t know what you don’t know.  That’s where the forums are a great resource.  Many a newbie has been in the same place you’re in and you get the benefit of reading the questions and answers from all those who’ve been flamed by the Datsun Z-forum gurus before you.  With some study and a little practice using search, you may even avoid making a complete dillweed of yourself, though it’s pretty unlikely.  More importantly, you can very quickly find important information like where to get Datsun Z-car manuals,  parts, reference sites, etc. etc.

Speaking of which, we’re developing a list of the more useful Datsun Z web pages on our website at www.oldriceautos.com.

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She’s a Beaut!

Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z - SideWe’re now the proud owners of a 1976 Datsun 280Z with fuel injection and automatic transmission.  We took a gamble knowing the car didn’t run.  The previous owner said his mechanic thought it was either a connector-rod bearing or a broken rod.  We were praying for the former.  But the body seems to be in OK shape.  The car’s obviously been repainted once before but the body work doesn’t seem too bad.  We’ll know better once we start getting some of the paint off.   There are 5 or 6 rust places showing and the frame rails are clearly going to need to be replaced.

Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z - Rear
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Our First Datsun Z-car

They say every journey begins with a first step.  The first step in our Datsun Z restoration started with a road-trip.   We live in Utah and my son and I stopped to look at a 1976 280Z in Boise on our way back home from visiting my parents in Seattle.   It didn’t run but it was the most promising car we’d been able to find with a straight body and what appeared to be minimal rust.   We showed up at the poor guys house at around 8:30 at night and begin poking and prodding what he’s already told us is his baby.  We then proceed to put the screws to him about the price.  Needless to say, he didn’t feel  much like selling it to us at this point.  In hindsight it was probably a lot like trying to find a home for his favorite hound, which he really didn’t want to get rid of but circumstances insisted.  We weren’t the right home.

Trying to put a good face on things, the Z owner told us to give him a call back in a few days, since he had another potential buyer, and he might reconsider our offer.  When I did, he told me it was sold.  Not willing to give up this easy, a few days later I had my wife go back and take a look for the his ad on Craig’s List.  Sure enough, it was still there.  This time, rather than have the hard-charging knuckleheads call him, I turned it over to my wife.  She called, told him how much she loved the car and what great shape it appeared to be in and that she’d give him what he wanted for it.  Done deal.

Now we just needed to get to back to Boise and pick the thing up.  After some research, we figured out that renting a trailer in our own town and taking it round trip was less expensive than taking it one way.  Saturday morning we packed up the kids, picked up the car trailer at our local rental outlet (OK, we didn’t tell them we were crossing state lines.  I’m pretty sure this would have voided my damage waiver. :-), and we hit the road.
All the way there we rehearsed the various ways we’d work the transaction so that the guy wouldn’t figure out that he was selling his beloved Datsun 280Z to the same clowns he already decided weren’t worthy of his ride.  We discussed everything from disguises to simply jumping out of the car after my wife sealed the deal and loading up the car before he knew what was happening.  In the end he wasn’t home and we dealt with his wife who hadn’t met us before.  If the guy who sold us his car is reading this and feeling bamboozled, know this:  Your 280Z is in a good, loving home and we promise to treat it with all the respect it deserves, though unfortunately this is going to first require ripping its guts out.
Silver 1976 Datsun 280Z on trailer

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