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Project Phoenix


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Alright it is time that I introduce my car. I have a 1978 280z 2+2. I am the technically the second owner. The original owner is my best friend from high school. His dad drove it until about 95, he got involved in a hit and run and the insurance wanted to total the car (for a damaged door and a small dent in the fender). He decided not to total it and let his son work on the car. Growing up we would alternate working at my house on my car (56 Ford) and then at his house on the Z. Here is a picture of the Z back in 2002 on our senior year of high school.


The car at that time had a turbo block with flat top pistons n42 head (I think) with a camshaft that came from Nissan back in early 80’s. Also, if anyone happens to know about these camshafts let me know. What I have been told by the original owner is back in the early 80’s Nissan offered a performance camshaft that could be ordered through the dealer. He got this then had it installed but no longer has the specs for the camshaft.

Here is the sad part, the reason why this car has some bad karma, in 2003 it appears that the brake line leaked and shot fluid onto the header and started a fire. Would have not been so bad if the battery did not explode as the fire was almost put out (anyone that has seen this happen knows what I am talking about). Here are some sad pictures.
Now at the time I was in college at Texas Tech, I came back down to Houston and helped get the car back on the road. We ditched the FI system and went with triple carbs. The wiring was a nightmare and the car was a pain to clean up after the fire, but the car was back on the road. After that I slowly lost connection with my high school friend.

About a year ago I got a BMW for my daily driver. The sound reminded me so much of the Z I decided that I needed a project car. I spent forever looking for a good car, but I was not happy with any of them. I gave up looking for a bit. I by chance got ahold of my old friend, after talking on the phone for a while I mentioned that I miss the old Z and have been looking for a good one. He jokingly put out there why not buy mine.
Two months later here is what shows up.
The car had been on jack stands for years. Floors are solid, under batter try is solid, spare tire is mostly solid…. the rear end, however, is NOT solid at all. He had pulled the rear suspension five years ago and had started mocking up the sub frame from an s14 on to the Z. Once he had tacked it in place he never had time to go back and finish it up. As the car was shipped the tack welds broke and the sub frame was sitting on the trailer (was not fun unloading). This is why the tires look tilted.

I will use this thread to keep updates on my car and see if the bad karma is over or not.
Enjoy and thanks in advance for any help.

Edited by AkRev
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  • 2 weeks later...
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My first picture on the post got removed. Here is that picture.

post-29424-042609700 1349874219_thumb.jpg

Small update, got the engine running strong on Megasquirt, waiting for a Lc-1 controller to tune it. Tacked the S14 subframe in place only to find out that it needs to go forward about 1/2" to center in the wheel well. (More fun with a cut off wheel and welder)

Started wiring the whole car. The old wiring had some short-cuts after the fire to get it up and running. Using a fuse and relay box out of a 94 Maxima.


On a side note, anyone have a good free image hosting site? I would like one that does not open a new tab when the picture is clicked.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Been a little bit since an update. Got frustrated when I got the S14 subframe tacked back into place and noticed that wheel was off center.



Took a grinder with a cutoff wheel to the car and cut everything off and started over. Ended up sliding everything forward a little more than half an inch. Got all of the mounts welded in place and made it so that the subframe can be bolted in place fairly easy. the only problem I have so far is how to mount the leading upper control arm without destroying the ability to use the stock rear seat. (I have three boys that like going for a ride in my cars) Alright, got the car off the jack stands and set the camber. Turned out like I thought it would.




Ignore the mess in the garage, I had not cleaned up for the day yet.

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  • 1 year later...

Wow time goes by too fast. Commuting to work for the past year and half ate up my free time. Finally, we just sold our old home and moved in close enough to bike to work. I was able to sell my TDI, so now I have some time and money to spend on the Z. Got the car up and driving so we could move it to our new home. Electrical system is working, but I need to go back and finalize how I run the wires. (worried about chassis flex eating the insulation over time)


Plans going forward.

Going to strip down the z and fix some small rust areas (hopefully they are as small as they look)

Weld in some structural reinforcement. (Thanks Hybridz for the forums on that)

Get car painted.

Round up interior parts to make my car look good enough that my wife will want to ride in it.

Rebuild and enjoy.


As for now, here it is, almost ready for surgery.



Just don't pay attention to all the stuff around. Still unpacking and have not had time to clean it up yet.

Edited by AkRev
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Got a few things done today. Removed the hood, cowl, inspection lids, and hatch. To be able to pull off the fenders I need to remove the side skirts. Looks like it has fiberglass resin to smooth it to the fender. I also found a patch on the rear hatch area that I will want to take a closer look at.






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Between working on house projects and unpacking, I took a few moments to work on the Z.

Pulled the fenders, it was a task to get them to separate from the side skirts. They had been attached using fiberglass and rivets, the rivets had been countersunk and had been hard to find. 


After I pulled the fenders, I did the search for rust. Seems like POR-15 held up. I found some rust in two areas. One rust spot was on the pinch weld by the headlight bucket on the drives side. The other was welds/bolts used when the battery tray was replaced (in 2003 when the fire happened)


Planing on removing the tail lights and side skirts next time. If I get low on time I will just pull the rear seats and passenger side seat.

Last picture of the day.


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Small update,

Did not have Presidents Day off of work, but still got some wrench time in. Started off working on the side skirts. Got frustrated trying to find all of the rivets in the kick plate area. So I decided to work in some easier places. Pulled the passenger seat, rear seat and quarter windows.



After that I turned my attention to the rear tail light section. As I pulled off the driver's side, a large chunk of fiberglass came off showing a nasty section of rust. 


I finished up the day by removing the front turn signals, grill, and hood springs.


Looking to test out different paint strippers next time to see what will work and allow me to start some rust repair. If you got any tips let me know, I got a lot of paint to remove. Found out that the car was white from the factory, then painted silver in the late 80's, then changed to blue using base and clear in 2001, and then finally primed black over all of that in 2005.

Edited by AkRev
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Tested out a paint stripper today. 



This is one that I has been kicking around for some time. I picked it up from Home Depot (got it for a house project that never happened.) So I thought I would give it a try on the Z. It came with a small plastic spray bottle that was more harm than good. The stripper is not a full on gel but about half way between gel and a liquid. So in the process of trying to spray, the spray bottle leaks out of the pump and onto your finger(s) on the trigger.  After you spray somewhat thick coat on to the paint you wait about 15 min. With about 5 min. of scraping paint with a flimsy putty knife, this is the result. 


Notice the paper towel stuck to the trigger of the spray bottle. Yep that thing started to leak after the third squeeze. The paint stripper had a really hard time eating its way through the base/clear layer that was done back in 2001. Once it got through the blue paint it did make short work of the white layer and the factory gray color.

Tested a small spot on the dog leg. 



As expected the product is not very effective on the side of the car. It is too hard to get the product on the car as thick as it needs to be.


What I learned.

The good.

This will work well in the places I will not be able to use my pneumatic sander.

It is quiet and I can use it in the evening.

Its not too bad in terms of smell. 

Dust is not over everything in my garage. 


The bad.

Have to use a good amount to get penetration. 

Small window of time, ready in 15 min. but starts to dry at about 20 min.

Air sander is quicker and does a cleaner job on flat areas.  

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How about that, razor blade method does work. I had my doubts with how many layers this car had. 


I am still unpacking and have no idea where my cheap heat gun is. This is what I accomplished in about an hour worth of work with just the razor blade alone. I actually got a little bit of an arm workout from this too. This process does not strip to bare metal and the blade wore out about half way through (kept going so I did not waste all of my time looking for more blades.) A nice thing about this is you do get slight feedback on low and high spots. Hard to see in the picture but I have them marked with pencil. Found a few surface rust spots around the hatch hinges. One drawback, it was really hard for me to use this method on convex curves.


I will try and find my heat gun and pick up some more blades tomorrow. Next chance I will get to work on it will be Monday.

Just a note, I still plan on running over it with a large dual action or a block so I confirm the high and low spots for body work.


Thanks for the tip tamo3. I had heard of people using this method, but I did not have faith that it would get through the base/clear layer like it did. 

Edited by AkRev
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Got about an hour to work on it today. Spent the weekend working on my in-laws turbo BMW E30. http://s1305.photobucket.com/user/eduTek81/media/Mobile%20Uploads/mtf_sRfFg_122_zpsutja5gx2.jpg.html


I decided to test a spare set of rims on my car.

I think I will use these for the z.


The rims are 17x10 in the back and 17x9 up front.



Front tire clearance to the springs and perch. 


Well, back to striping paint. Found out on the back passenger side quarter panel will need a little more work. Has a few spots that stretched and got pounded most of the way out. I will work to shape and shrink it back into form.


Few shallow rust spots showed up above the front window.


Most of this week will be spent with work at the office. I am looking to try and keep striping more paint off the shell and get a better idea of how to tackle the body work to cover the wider tires. (thinking of reforming the rear flares and rolling the front fenders)

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Thanks Brad,

Wheels are on the ground. The car is not settled in the pictures and it is already a bit higher due to the lack of weight on the car at the moment. The back stayed the same height as the tires are the same diameter as the old ones. The front went up about an inch. I should have taken a picture, but the new rim/tire combo filled out the front fender nicely. As for the Maxima fuse box, I will get there. I am a little ashamed of how I had to quickly make the car road ready so that I could move it to our new home (cough... cough... wing-nuts.)


If any of you are wondering, eduTechnic is my brother in-law. He has a turbo E30 that he is building up at http://www.r3vlimited.com/board/showthread.php?t=314726

Also his brother Jeff is building an amazing Mazda Miata turbo that is featured on http://www.build-threads.com/build-threads/na-mx5-nut-and-bolt-ocd-rebuild/  

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Found out that the car did have damage to the rear passenger side quarter before the rear flares had been installed/completed.


A small section had been cut out and replaced with sheet stock.


This last picture is just for fun. Check out the layers!


Good news, got my brother in law coming down on Saturday to help me work on the car. The plan is to pull the engine, transmission, side skirts, and front windshield. Should be a load of fun.

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Side skirts are starting to turn in to a running joke, I never seem to get the motivation to just pull them. 

Progress for Saturday was great. Got the engine, transmission, driveshaft, and engine bay wiring removed. 


Then got the interior cleaned up and got the dash, headliner, and windshield removed. 


Looked around the engine bay for any bad signs, found on spot that looks like I will need to work on. 


Going to finish working on cleaning up the engine bay and work on paint prep, and of course remove the side skirts :)

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Got around to pulling the steering column and pedal box.


Found the damage that a leaky master brake cylinder did years ago.



Overall nothing seems too bad. Just need to take my time and blast it and see whats left. Side note, if anyone knows what year that brake booster is from please give me a heads up. I am assuming its from a Turbo model that the previous owner changed. 


I know that it is not a Z, but I will show it to show what type of work I do. This is my 56 Ford Fairlane, I restored this between 2000 to 2001. I did everything at home including paint, interior, and metal work. 


Excuse the dust and dirty rims, have not had the time to wash it this winter.  

Edited by AkRev
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