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luke87gt

What is it about the Datsun Z that is so damn cool?

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Posted (edited)

I have this love affair with the Datsun Z.

 

I always noticed them growing up but most of my life have been an avid muscle car enthusiast (classic Camaro/Chevelle/Mustang)

 

But I have always gravitated back to the Z.

 

What is it about these cars that is so special for you?

 

For me:

 

- body shape is beautiful. The cars look amazing with a slight drop and wider wheels.

 

- lightweight... not many cars out there that you can get that are sub 2500lbs

 

- v8 swaps O plenty, lots of kits out there. An LS in one of these makes them gobs of fun. 

 

How did you fall in love with the Z and what made you purchase yours?

Edited by luke87gt

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When I bought my current Z in 1997, I did it because it was a CHEAP, light, easy to modify autox car. In that order. Now that they aren't cheap anymore, if I were looking for a car to mess around with and modify/race, I wouldn't choose an S30. Probably go Miata, BRZ, or 350Z. The S30 downsides of rust, age, crappy handling out of the box, and hard to get/expensive parts makes it a loser for my particular purposes at today's prices. YMMV.

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When I was first looking for a cheap (<$1000) project car circa 2006 it had to have RWD, a manual gearbox, and fastback styling. My first target was the Porsche 944. Thankfully, I struck out on a few of those and expanded my search to A70 Supras and S30 Z-cars. Ended up getting a 240Z and didn't look back.

 

Similarly to Jon, I ended up with a Z because it fit my criteria and was dirt cheap at the time. If I were searching now under similar budgetary and performance constraints, I bet I'd end up with some sort of E36. 

 

That said, the Z has been a great platform to learn on and play around with. The added bonus is that it has a timelessness that the 944 and A70 Supra could only dream of.

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Always thought they were neat, but rust issues really kept me away from them.

 

When I seriously started looking for a project car, I was looking closely at British cars.  Why? They know how to style a car.

 

Everyone knows how hard it is to find the perfect vehicle. One day I stumbled on my Z. Decently priced before the huge surge, automatic (which helped the price) and rust free. 

 

Despite me not really liking the style that much, I took it home. It has been an amazing platform to learn on, I’m learned so much and spent so much money too. I won’t get rid of it due to the blood sweat a tears (multiple people have asked to “name my price”). I’ve never done so.  Love my little car, even though it really wasn’t my #1 choice.

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I saw a patched together 240Z with a SBC at a "track" and for running old bald tires the thing was scary fast. I'd never taken notice of a datsun before, had no idea about the brand, the history, or what a "z" car was. (I was 13 at the time and had mostly worked on my neighbor's 10 second del sol when he needed a hand, and helped keep vehicles like the family GM pickup running giving my brother a helping hand and such). So I did what any good kid would do, I started researching. I quickly found out it was likely a 240Z I saw, and soon after found hybridz. I was memorized. Not by the cars, per say, but rather by the variety of builds/swaps. Dot's V12 just blew my mind. I wanted one, badly. This was a blank canvas of a car, relatively cheap, and can easily get away without paying ricer tax (even at this time I already had plenty of 1st and 2nd hand stories of cops treating imports differently than muscle cars).

 

So I started saving pennies and watching the ads. By the time I was 15 and about to get my permit I'd realized that a clean pre smog S30 was slightly out of reach for me. CA still had a "rolling smog" law and so I figured I'd get one of the much cheaper S130's and while waiting for it to be pre-smog I'd focus on suspension, weight reduction, brakes, etc. It was a good plan. Right about my 16th birthday I bought a mint 1980 280ZX from it's original owner for $2200. It felt like way too much money to spend on a car, but this thing was perfect... except the ebrake which would stick...

 

...so after that car popped out of gear parked on a hill, and was killed by a tree (hence my nick here) I found a 1981 non-running for $500. The guy even towed it to me for that price. I swapped enough parts to get it running again, swapped a bunch of interior parts and watch the local yard come pick up my first car. In hindsight I wish I'd kept a lot more of that car... but I didn't have space.

 

By this time, CA laws had changed and my future with S130's was screwed. No easy swaps for me. BAR swap laws were becoming well defined but stories of success in my circle of friends were still non-existent. I started shifting my gaze towards the turbo L option since it was relatively easy to legalize and/or finding a 280ZX turbo and use that car as a project base. After my '81 decided to punt it's head gasket I hunted for a turbo engine and found one here, on hybridz, from @rayaapp2. I think I paid him about $1500 for a '83 turbo 2+2 which had enough back fees I wasn't terribly interested in driving it as-is (note: big mistake). It was also a 2+2, which means no legal HOV lane usage with just me and a buddy (though folding the seats down I doubt a cop would have ever pulled me over and hassled me about it, but I also didn't like the corner glass window shape difference either). So I proceeded to swap engines over the course of a winter, outside, in the mud.... Easily one of the dumber things I've done. But I got it done. Getting the hoist in place was a valiant effort, and once the engine was in I started swapping the electrical, from car to car in it's entirety. I didn't want to splice the harness differences, since going to the blade fuses and other 82+ differences seemed worth the swap in my mind. After swapping it all, every system checked out, except the engine. Trying to start it would immediately result in a blown fusible link. I must have gone through a dozen fusable links trying to track down the culprit. By this time I was needed a car to start a new job, so my days of borrowing were coming to an end. I scrapped some money together and bought a friend's CRX with the promise to sell it back once I didn't need it. I didn't have much time to figure out the problem with the car, and I wasn't exactly motivated. I did eventually figure out that it was a misplaced ground near the distributor causing 12V to ground out. With the new victory came an immediate obstacle. I swapped the transmission with the engine, because my assumptions at the time were that the nissan 5 speeds just wouldn't be up to the task (another mistake). I brought the extra long 2+2 driveshaft to a few different local driveline shops and they all said the same thing: "I can't rebuild this because of the joint types, I'd have to make a new one", and the lowest quote was $900. Feeling a huge boulder of defeat, because I just couldn't justify spending that much more than I already had into the swap. Around this time the CRX transmission went out, the friend bought it back as agreed, and I was in need of a car again. Then the heavens parted, and angels cried out, and craigslist threw me a bone. I found a '75 already turbo swapped! And for a mere $1200 asking price. I called the guy, and picked it up the next morning after a quick test drive. I had to work that day, so I picked it up at around 6am and drove it to work the same day. I was ecstatic. And the rest, they say, is history.

 

 

The tldr; summary:

 

The S30 is a classically handsome car. Maybe not the most gorgeous, but not bad by and standard. It's a wonderful base that generally just works and is outrageously well balanced and tunable and there's plenty of examples of low powered S30's tearing it up on the track. Their potential is very much limited only by the builder. As I've gotten older, and maybe a bit wiser, I've started to realize that this potential aspect is true of most cars. Any engine can fit in any car, and you're only limited by your determination and skills. If you don't believe it, go watch project binky, then go buy some fabrication tools and make stuff. Even if it's bad, make stuff. The S30 does strike an unusual balance though, and for years was a poor man's Ferrari (GTO anyone?). Unfortunately, it feels like those days are gone. The S30's have skyrocketed in price, and the "good deal" I found on a $1200 S30 would today be "giving it away". 

 

Like @Leon if I was repeating my history today I likely would never have gotten into Z cars. But being in CA I wouldn't have ended up with an E36 like Leon, I'd likely have gone with the only OTHER lightweight presmog cars often on craigslist, British roadsters.

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When I was 14 my mom bought a 6 yr old 280z 2+2, it was nothing special, but I spent a lot of time in it going to school.   When I turned 15 with the promise that my dad would teach me to drive.  I was looking for a Z.   I ended up with a Ford Pinto because it was $50 bucks.  I fixed it and by the time I turned 16 I had my license.  I drove the pinto to school a bit, and I was cool because I had a car vs all the shmucks on the bus. though not that cool.  I was still drooling since my mom would let me drive hers when she wasn't going to be using it, one or 2 days a week. That was fun.  I was hooked.   I kept looking and soon found a 74' 260z for $250 about 4 months before I turned 17, it didn't run initially, but my dad and I were able to coax it to start. It smoked worse than mt st. helens in 1980.  but rather than let it die, I smogged half the town getting it home.  I parked it in the drive and took the next 3 months to  rebuild the L26. This is where I learned the most about Z cars since this one needed about everything.  it was Silver with a black vinyl top, 1/2 way decent interior. It was ~13 years old at that point. A little rust.  I got it put together and turned the key expecting big issues, and vroom started right up, purred, perfect.  I set timing and went to back it out of the garage remembering how sluggish it was when I drove it home, and I laid 5 ft of rubber out of the garage.  Mom was not happy. Anyhow, I drove it for near 3 years, but always had vapor lock issues.  I was feeling pretty pissed off being stranded a few too many times in the summer, and I came home and told my mom, I'd trade her.  She to my surprise said, sure.  Little did I know that following weekend they took my 260z and traded it in. Sad...  The 280z 2+2 was mine though and little did I figure, it was full of gremlins. apparently it was once dumped in a ditch and partially flooded before we got it. I found this out because I went to replace the seals on the tail lights, and found a water line across the lenses, and rust all on one side.  I had thermotime issues in the winter before we really understood that issue. Starter trouble, My brother hit a fence with it, and my mom flat spotted the tires trying not to hit a deer one night.  so with a lack of funds to pay to fix everything, I parked it while I was in college. Girlfriends had z31's so I was still in the Z's and my brother had a 74' 2+2, then an 84' 50th anniv turbo. Meanwhile I got into RX-7's.   after a couple of those, I bought an 86' 300zx. The prettiest... it lived 21 days before a truck ran it over. It set me back a ways, so I got the 280z running again and drove it till the clutch died...  Parked it again at my parents.  From there I bought a 81 Honda civic, I'd rebuilt those for my dad a couple times, and again it was cheap, $100 bucks...   I drove that to school and work but one day I was driving to work and whoomp! head gasket blew and steam everywhere...  The then was compounded 3 blocks later while I was limping to work, by being pulled over by a cop and ticketed for driving an "unsafe" vehicle. No, it was legal, just pouring steam out the tailpipe. Stupid oh well..   That very day I walked across the street to the Nissan dealer to see what they had and what I could qualify for.  They had a 7yr old 92' 300zx, white, awesome, 3% on 13K was a deal and I was driving... I think I sold the Honda for $100 bucks. I still drive that Z32 nearly 20 years later as my DD.   The 280z, one of my buddies said he wanted to rebuild, so I gave it to him, and promptly it "disappeared" I dunno, he probably sold it for beer, Who knows, he still won't tell me even today.   I have a 280z VQ35 project that's been in progress for like 8 years, and 3 years ago I picked up my 70' 240z.   I've helped tons or people fix their Z's in our local Z car club.  I've also got a 92' D21, an 87 Jeep YJ, 97 Mitsu Eclipse GST, and a 06 Hyundai Sonata.  I'm not a mechanic by trade, but I've rebuilt a lot of engines mainly helping friends and family keep their cars on the road.  So you could say Z cars are pretty well engrained in my blood, I love them and hate them. The looks are awesome, the engineering, well it's good for the time, being designed w/o computers and with thinner metal, but rust is so common, likely due to the salt bath they all took on the way to the US.

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In Germany engine-swaps are not really an option, but around here (while rare) the old Zs are still quite beloved (3XX Z, not so much).
It's often attributed to the classic design (long hood and short, relatively far back cabin), great driving characteristic and no-nonsense drivetrain (NA I6 in the front, manual box, rear wheel drive).
Also, they manage to stick out without being any bit obnoxious.
They used to be a low-priced entry into sports car driving, but for the 240/260Z those days are over.

Max

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My dad had a 260 when I was in high school in 1984.  He let me drive it a few times.  I fell in love with the styling and handling/feel of the car.  I was driving a 1979 Subaru DL at the time so just about anything felt better, haha!.  Anyway, one day just before I went off for college, my step father came to me with a proposition:  trade the 1984 Toyota SR5 mini-truck I was driving at the time for his friend's well cared for 1975 280z.  It was completely stock except for some cheesy fake wire wheels.  I agreed and fell in love with the Z all over again. I drove it for many years just as it was, completely stock.  Once I landed my first job, I started following the Z-car mailing list and looking at Black Dragon and Motorsport Auto catalogs.  I was soon bit by the resto-mod bug and never looked back.  I pulled off the heavy crash bumpers, added a Schneider cam, header and 2.5" exhaust.  Drove it like that for several years until it overheated one day.  After that,  I purchased a Honda Accord, lost interest in the Z and sold it.  In 2005 I purchased a 1988 Z31t Shiro and caught the bug again.  I quickly realized that the Z31 didn't have the same sports car soul that the S30 does so I dumped it after a year or so.  I like the car but it just didn't do it for me.  In 2008 I got bug again, started searching around online, landed on Classic Zcar website.  Reading there got me interested in stock zcars again.  I ended up finding my current Z, a 1972 240z locally, purchased it and fell in love again.  I fully intended in keeping it stock.  After a week of driving, I decided to give it a valve adjustment that it desperately needed to get rid of a loud tick coming from the valve train.  turns out it had a bent valve caused by bad head work to "fix" what I can only guess what a severely warped head.  The cam bound up in the head and #6 valves were contacting the piston.  Sooooo, I started looking at an upgraded engine and ended up with the beast I have currently.  Some days I wish I just had a simple, stock 240z again, but oh well it is what it is at this point.  

 

Ross

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My love affair with these cars goes back to their release.  They came out when I was a kid about 9 years old, and from the start I always thought their lines were about perfect.  As a teenager I used to watch the Zs in the IMSA and SCCA races at Laguna Seca and (then) Sears Point, driven by Paul Newman, Don Devendorf, Sam Posey, etc.  As cool as they were, the wide-bodied Z cars that raced there were not quite as sexy as the Porsche 935s, but I knew I could never afford a 935 and the Z always seemed more attainable.

 

I still remember...at the Laguna Seca IMSA race in May 1979 or 1980, all the competitive Datsun GTU racers had switched over to the 280ZX.  Frank Leary's "last year's" 280Z was parked in the Pits with a "for sale" sign on it.  He was asking $8000, but there was no interest and I bet $5K would have bought it.  But back then even $5K might as well have been $5 million for me.   I bet today that car....with genuine race history...is worth big bucks to the "rich-guy-historic-racer" crowd....this car:

 

QBDj0DT.jpg

 

I looked at several 240Zs in the early 1990s in the quest for a project car.  Most of them even then were rusty turds, but I finally found a clean 1972 model with no rust that would have been great.  Owner wanted $2500....I was only willing to pay $2000...so we couldn't make a deal.

 

More recently, I had been looking for a project track car, and living in CA it was pretty much essential to find something that would be smog exempt.  I didn't want to have to trailer it.  I have a 1990 BMW track car (E30M3) that I bought in 2001, and getting it through the bi-annual smog check is such a PITA I have been on the verge of selling it numerous times.  It has also severely constrained what modifications I could do to it.  The E30M3 is becoming sufficiently valuable, and parts sufficiently rare and expensive, that I started questioning its future as a track toy.

 

So a 1975 or earlier Datsun seemed the obvious choice for me.  Performance parts for them are easily available and relatively affordable, and there are always a lot of Zs for sale...even though most of them are roaches.  I knew I was going to do an engine swap and complete rebuild, so my plan was to find a relatively "undesirable" example (260Z with an automatic) to keep purchase price down and also keep my level of guilt down since I knew I was going to completely bastardize it.  I spent a few months searching, and found one that had spent its life in Palm Springs (Mojave desert) and thus was about as rust free as these cars get.

 

No question, the CA smog laws were a big factor in my ultimate purchase.  Without them, I might have opted for a newer (and more rigid) chassis than a 1975 Z to start with.

 

The question I am wrestling with now:  When the Z is done, do I sell the BMW?

Edited by Ironhead

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