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Advice: Used or Rebuilt Engine Swap (or V8?)


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Quick background... I bought this 75 Datsun 280Z last year. Body was crazy solid, interior in good shape, electrical was good... but she burned oil. I bought her anyways knowing that heads aren't a million bucks to get rebuilt or buy one already done.

 

My buddy that checked it out for me (I have very little mechanical experience) said it compression tested fine so should just be the head.

 

Well I finally got around to getting the head rebuilt and took it to my shop. They had some problems with it and when checking her out said that they think it is the bottom end, and didn't want to touch it. He only would rebuild heads, and didn't want to do the job if it was more than the head.

 

So he recommended another shop, and some of my SCCA guys also recommend for work on Datsuns... he had it for a week and messed around with it. He said he is pretty sure the bottom end needs work and has some stuck rings. He said the car is fouling up the plugs so fast it can't just be the head. He said compression dry was good, but wet was bad. It is currently only firing on 3 cylinders but runs. He doesn't want to, and said he doesn't have the time to try and rebuild the bottom end.

 

Now I know you all are gonna say, save the money and do it myself... I don't have the tools or the time. So I am looking for options.

 

They said they would swap the same motor or there is another shop in town that I am waiting on a quote to swap a V8 into the car.

 

So my question is... do I find just a running car and swap the motor? I know some places sell used engines in the 500 dollar range (any recommendations for a reputable place?) and then rebuilt ones I have seen starting at like 1500-1800 and going up for performance add ons (suggestions for reputable rebuilder?).

 

Or do I do... what I didn't want to do, but came to grips that I might do if the price is right and drop a V8 in there. I live in the midwest, grew up north of Detroit and know tons of guys and places that do work on those... not lots of guys here that work on Datsuns...

 

Thoughts suggestions?

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For comparison

 

I found a used L28 from a 77 online for $650 (need to get a shipping quote).

 

There is a rebuilt L28 on eBay right now for $1800 (300 shipping).

 

I have some local carb SBC I have seen for $400. Motor mount kits and what not look like about another 600, and then a trans for like 250 (didn't find many in my quick search). That is all local, no shipping.

 

None of those include cost to install. The rebuilt L28 is the most expensive and I bet the labor on that or a rebuilt motor will be a wash. The V8 will have a lot of work involved but the parts are cheaper (and lots more option... like a 6 speed).

 

I really don't care about power. I will autocross her for fun sometimes, but really just want a fun car to drive and I loved these since I was a little kid. So I guess whats under the hood doesn't matter to me.

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Are you interested in being competitive in your autocross class? If so swapping a V8 will put you in pretty fast class that will require lots of additional work to the car to be competitive. This may be just fine, but is something to keep in mind.

 

I personally think a properly done V8 swap is going to be more expensive than rebuilding your stock motor. The cost of the motor, transmission, motor mounts are all just one part of the swap. You

will have to source a custom driveshaft, buy some headers and get build custom exhaust. A carbed V8 has limited wiring so you should be able to fire it pretty easily, but there is more stuff to do before you get it running:

Even if you think your motor is in good shape how much faith in that do you really have? If you bought it from some guy on craigslist for cheap, how much do you trust his work? If you bought it from a junkyard, how long was it sitting in the rain/mud before they pulled it? If it were me I'd go through with at least a partial tear down of the motor to verify everything looks good. This means possibly new gaskets all around, spark plugs, wires, thermostat maybe oil pump and water pump... Also, if the motor is all stock, do you really want to leave the stock carb/intake/cam/ignition/etc? I'd at least get a edelbrock intake, decent holley carb, and msd ignition. The transmission also could need work, with a manual you will probably want a new clutch.

 

This may seem like a unreasonably long list but really can you afford NOT to do at least a few of the things I mentioned? Youre paying big money to put the engine in your car you might as well ensure everything ends well. You and your wallet will NOT like the frustration of having to re-diagnose some part of the swap, or have to pull the engine apart again because you find something wrong, down the road. Sure, you can probably reduce how you have to pay but ultimately I dont think your L28 rebuild will run much more than what you'd have to pay to put the V8 in your car (especially if you arent doing the work yourself). I'm not against the V8 swaps, they work great, but if youre on a budget the L28 motors are pretty strong, reliable, and make reasonable power. If you spent some time I doubt you couldn't find a used motor to put into your car and get running for pretty cheap, or use as a good core for a rebuild. If you havent looked there already check out car-part.com for used engines and transmissions

Edited by h4nsm0l3m4n
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I put a V8 in mine because that's the direction I wanted to go. But if you want to get it done the fastest and the cheapest go with the rebuilt Z engine. Everything will work with no modifications and the install will be much easier and faster. Used engine are a crap shoot, you never really know what you're getting especially if you're getting it on-line. A V8 swap seems easy on the surface and it is to a point. But trust me there are things you haven't even thought about and they will take time and money, lots of time and money. Don't take me wrong I love my LT1 and would trade it for anything.....well maybe a LSX!!!!

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How reputable is this guy? I don't have a local shop that will rebuild one for me. Only a shop that will rebuild heads. I am wondering maybe a shop in Chicago or Indy? Both are pretty close (1.5 hours to Chicago and 3 to Indy).

 

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Datsun-Z-240Z-260Z-280Z-N42-L28-Long-Block-Engine-Motor-_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQhashZitem256349d451QQitemZ160579572817QQptZMotorsQ5fCarQ5fTruckQ5fPartsQ5fAccessories

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I am in the same boat right now, and have been searching for some answers myself. I have an LT-1 and a T-56 that I pulled from a strong-running Pontiac trans am 1994, and would like to put it in my 73 or 78. Lots of people recommend the 280 because it is supposed to be stronger structurally. But, here's the real question; what about mounts for the new engine? make 'em or try to buy 'em? Do any of you have first-hand experience at this,and I have questions on the injection hookup too. thanks. Are there archives on this?

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Well for the money I'd recommend just rebuilding. For the price of a new, you can buy the tools and a chiltons/haynes manual. You really don't need a lot of skill to rebuild an L28. Sure you'll need some parts, but the manuals are actually really good about things. You can borrow or rent a cherry picker, but it's possible to replace rings and all with the engine in the car but you won't get to replace all the seals. It's best to pull the engine and just go through it. Just label everything you disconnect, hoses/wires. You'll know your engine really well and you'll be able to say, "Yeah I built that". There's nothing like rebuilding an engine, putting it back in and turning the key to hear the VROOM on the first go.

 

If you swap in an L28, get one from an 82-83 280ZX. But if you're doing the swap, why not think about going with a Turbo L28. Granted it might be beyond your skill level, but we all had to learn somewhere. 90% of us on here are weekend garage mechanics with no formal training. The Turbo L28 is mostly just bolt in, the harder part is a few changed to the exhaust and intake routing, not to mention an intercooler if you prefer.

 

If you go with a V8, Definitely you should read all you can about a swap, (in the V8 forum on here) The engine may be cheaper to get, but the swap is a lot more work. I would definitely recommend BUYING the mounting kit from somewhere like Mckinney Motorsports. it takes a lot of the physical aspect of putting the engine in place out of the equation. It still leaves the wiring and such but that's relatively easy in comparison to trying to space out your own mounts and get things centered and situated. Not to mention it removes the need to know how to WELD. All they said about an online motor is true, unless it says it's been rebuilt, then you'll need to assume it needs to be rebuilt. Shipping won't be cheap, so try to avoid that. The best way is to find an intact RUNNING donor car. wreaked is fine so long as you can hear the motor run. This way you can get the engine/tranny along with any other misc parts that you might need. A lot of online motors are missing accessories like Alternators or starters which can ramp up the cost by hundreds depending on what's missing, not to mention finding the bolts to mount things too.

 

Sure you can have a ship do all the work for you, but that's going to cost a bit too since mechanics don't work free. (least w/o a lot of beer)

 

I would recommend you look up any local Z clubs and see who they might recommend for a rebuild if you're still afraid to do it yourself. I could not imagine nobody in Chicago would touch a L28, they're simple compared to a modern V8.

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I am in the same boat right now, and have been searching for some answers myself. I have an LT-1 and a T-56 that I pulled from a strong-running Pontiac trans am 1994, and would like to put it in my 73 or 78. Lots of people recommend the 280 because it is supposed to be stronger structurally. But, here's the real question; what about mounts for the new engine? make 'em or try to buy 'em? Do any of you have first-hand experience at this,and I have questions on the injection hookup too. thanks. Are there archives on this?

 

JTR, the LT1 uses the standard SBC mounting. You can make them but for the price you can't beat JTR. They also have Sanderson headers, the diff conversion flange, radiator, just about eveything you'll need. Get the JTR manual it is an awesome source.

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He said compression dry was good, but wet was bad.

 

Does this sound strange to anyone else? Typically, low compression when dry followed by high compression when wet indicates a problem with the rings sealing.

 

You have one mechanic telling you the head is bad, and one telling you the bottom end is bad. I'm not sure I believe either of them.

 

It was running but smoking when you bought it, and now it's running on three cylinders after the mechanics played with it?

 

My guess is the ancient EFI wiring and components (or has it been swapped to carbs?) are not working or dirty or adjusted wrong or otherwise fooked up and that is why your car is not running well. You need to either educate yourself (this site, zcar.com, FSM etc) or be prepared to pay a LOT of money to maybe get a running car out of the deal.

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all my mechanics (it has been to three shops) say that the head is bad. Two of the mechanics don't rebuild heads, so I took it to a third. When they messed with it he said he thinks the bottom end is bad as well and doesn't want to rebuild the head if the bottom is bad (he won't rebuild the bottom). So I am either looking for a shop that can rebuild my motor, or a shop to swap the engine. There is a local shop here that will swap the motor for a the same motor... so I was trying to get info on what could be easily swapped in or if I just ditch the L28.

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I'd recommend looking for another shop... Like I said, I can't imagine there's nobody in detroit who could do a good job rebuilding an L28 Cheap. Hell if you ship it to NM, my mechanic would be happy to rebuild it. they're really not that hard to do, you could do it yourself. honest... The head it might be worth buying one already rebuilt (or at least pulled from a running car) off Ebay. Rebuilt you'd get the machine work done for you, like planing and a good valve job. The N42 head is decent for a 280NA but it might be worth sticking with what you have. The only hesitation I have about your rebuilding your own head is the cam bearings are a pain in the ass. Depend on what's wrong with your head tho, if it's just valves then those are easy. be sure to use the viton seals tho.

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  • 1 month later...

You live close to me, I am in Indy. I am actually kinda feeling the same pressure as my L28 burns oil really bad, but I am not hitting only 3. It runs on all 6 just fine, but decel down shifting smokes up a storm. Let us all know which direction you go. When I do my build I am planning on doing an F54/p90 turbo setup, and building it in my garage, minus machine work on the block which I have a shop to do that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My project is a lame duck right now... I am debating going for an electric car conversion... or spending the money on the motor swap. I just have no local shops that want to work on my Datsun. Two shops I called have Datsons (one has a 510 and one a Z) that I guess owners brought in and now aren't paying on them or they can find parts to finish them. So they won't want to take on more potential problems I guess....

 

Thanks for the continued suggestions... just wish something local was an option.

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Shipping on that set up would run a few hundred bucks and then I have to figure out install... the wiring from 75 to 76 is different enough to give a shop trouble and I have no one with experience on these around here.

 

I hate that my car is just sitting.... but I can't justify spending a few thousand to drop a used motor in it... and trying to learn or buy all the tools to do it myself is out of the question at this point. the V8 swap looks easier than getting a L6 back into her.

 

 

 

 

Forgot to mention it has the 4 speed and a whole MagnaFlow exhaust that would be yours if you want.

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If we can figure out gas money or something I'll find the time, you find an engine. I'll make the long ass drive from Indianapolis and help you pull it and put a new one in. I live on the west side of Indy. I actually just put another one in my 240z gotta finish the work up. The only issue is finding one.

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Thats my problem finding an engine. I appreciate the help! Gas would be no problem and we got a guest room at my house. I have a good friend that lives in Plainfield that I visit once in a while. I got some stuff from a forum member in that area (and I sold some stuff to someone down there to).

 

I will post when I figure out whats up. One of my friends is trying to talk me into just going electric.. ha.

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A hybrid swap (cross-manufacturer) is NEVER the economical route to getting a wounded project car back on the street. Do a swap to increase performance, at your leisure, when everything else is settled and you have acquired the time, the tools, the skills and the contacts.

 

Best option would be to park the thing while you mull over your options, and look for closer Craigslist deals.

 

Second best option would be to have a shop rebuild your engine. There is no shame in having a professional do a job that you are presently just not equipped to readily do. Just make sure that the professional is trustworthy.

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