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'77 280Z Track Car Father & Son Project


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And so the story begins...


My son and I were talking about a project to do together.  My friend Larry has been building and racing Z cars for many years and his wild enthusiasm was infectious.  So we started casually searching for a car.  We were looking for a 240 but couldn't be happier about what we found, given all that we've since learned in the process.


I was looking on Craigslist and there she was, a '77 280Z in Reno. This was late October 2017 and I think the seller was asking $2000.  I forwarded the post to my son, who lives in Reno, to see what his reaction would be.  He drove over to the seller's house immediately and looked it over pretty carefully (or so it seemed) and called me up.  We talked about it and he offered $1500 with no title, and the seller accepted.  So we took a leap of faith and purchased our project car.  I rented a trailer and drove up the next day, loaded her up, and took her back to our shop in Gardnerville, NV.  It was apparently all original, with 93k miles and a sticker on the license plate from 1993. The seller had found it covered in dust in back of his friend's shop and similarly couldn't resist the temptation.  He was planning to get it running, but it ended up just sitting in his garage, undriveable.


There was a small box of parts in the back, with license plate from Alabama, with a sticker from '93l.  We did a title search and 1993 was the last issued registration for the car. Alabama is known as the easy  place to get a replacement title, but the starter had a sticker from a motor rebuild shop, in Alabama and we discovered later that the EGR port on the intake manifold was disabled by packing it with mud that could only have been from Alabama.  At the time of the purchase, Nevada had made it the responsibility of the civil courts to award vehicle titles... oh boy. While not impenetrable, we were not looking forward to going through a court procedure for old Donna. Miraculously, two months later it was announced that, come July, it would once again be the responsibility of the Nevada DMV to award vehicle titles. As it should be! After a bit of back and forth with the Title Research Department we were awarded a bonded title.  And a good thing too as we had already stripped her down by that point (more on that later). Something tells me there is no way we would've found a car like this for $1500 bucks if the seller had known he could've nabbed a title for it so easily only a few months later. Timing is everything!  The seller also knew things about the car that we had not yet discovered.


We weren't entirely sure how far we were going to go with it but have ended up on a fantastic journey, much much more to come.

Here she is, as we found her:















Edited by RCVTR
grammar, adding photos and more storytelling
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So we bought Donna without a title and never drove her (sad face). Why bother getting her running if we couldn't legally put her on the street? Got to love when decisions like that get made for you. How far will we go? Neither of us knew nor had any idea where this project would take us. It felt like swimming out into open water in the fog and pushing away the constant thought of "I hope I can to make it back to shore."


With so many unknowns on the table we immediately got to work tearing into her. Floor pans were solid. Little rust in the usual spots: battery tray, spare tire well, rear end. All things considered the rust seemed pretty minimal... but things aren't always as they seem. 














Edited by RCVTR
a few small mods
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As a brief introduction, I'm Rand.  My son is Petr.  This project is a great opportunity for us to work together.   There have been a lot of discoveries, decisions, discussions, methods and implementations along the way.  In each one, we have decided on the best course of action that we can come up with.  I think it will be inspirational to some trying to find their way and entertaining to others who have taken the time to learn and figure it out.  We have learned a lot about these cars, from HybridZ.  Back at y'all.


We got the car down to a rolling chassis and powerwashed it, then rolled it inside for a closer investigation.  The car was hit in the left rear corner, which crumpled that corner of the rear deck.  We could see that the left rear quarter and rear cowl had been cut off, the deck was kinda, sorta pounded flat and a used rear quarter and cowl had been scabbed on and the gaps filled with expanding foam.  Looking at the other side, she skin on the right rear had been cut off below the top of the fender and a replacement was lapped over the top of the remaining edges with spot welds and bondo,  The seams everywhere in that area were rusted.  There was almost no rust anywhere else on the car, so we decided the car was worth the commitment.  We'd never been down this path before, but the only obviously right tthing to do was drill out all of the spot welds and open up all of the rusted seams.











Edited by RCVTR
reword some things
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This looks like a great project! My only advice before you let unbridled enthusiasm take over, is to take a look at some potential road racing classes and their associated rule books! Stated goal is a track car, but the road race stuff might be informative when you're making some construction decisions, and it leaves your options open if you do ever want to get into some wheel to wheel action!


Keep up with the photos, I'm excited to see where this goes!

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The left rear deck had a hump in it that, upon further inspection revealed bent stuff all around.  We beat on the floor beam with several iterations of a block of wood and a BFH, followed by hammer and dolly, next to the inner fender to bend the floor down and move the bend to the edge of the fender.  Then used some heat and gentle persuasion on the buckled inner fender, etc to get the floor and fender to an acceptable state.  Then cut out the rusted floor in the spare tire well, which was pinholed and had to go.  Some more photos of the damage and initial repair:








Edited by RCVTR
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With all of the distortion in the rear floor, we needed to assess the condition of the rest of the chassis.  For that we needed a fixture and a way to measure it.  We had some adjustable RV jackstands, adjustable scale pads an electroic protractor and a laser level that I had used on some other chassis setup projects.  We set the scale pads level, with a machinist level and all at the same height, using the laser and tape measure.  We installed  some concrete anchor bolts in the floor and built a chassis measurement and straightening fixture that was accurate to about 0.5 mm. 

The datum points for the chassis are the back mounting holes for the engine cross member and some fixturing holes at the back of the main frame rails.  We used all-thread and turnbuckles to set the front of the chassis level in the lateral axis at the front datum points and the front frame rails and rocker panels level in the longitudinal axis.  We then compared the height of the rear datum points relative to the laser plane established from the scale pads. 

The left rear datum point was about 2mm high (the chassis was slighlty twisted),  but it was possible to pull the rear datum down to the flat position with finger tightening of the left rear turnbuckle.  However the left rear mustache bar mount was about 8-10 mm high.  With the jackstand set at the proper height to support the chassis datum points level, the tension required to pull the mustache bar mount into position broke the turnbuckle.  The rear chassis beam is really stiff!

After buying the next step up in turnbuckle strength, we pull like hell on the mustache bar stud and heated up the bent beam and tapped all around with a hammer, trying to get it to release the tension.  Finally it just let go and relaxed.  It was amazing.  After that we had full support, with all datums with a chassis level at all four datum points and the mustache bars level with the left rear turnbuckle finger tight at the mustache bar mount finger tight. 

Now we had the chassis fixtured to build the roll cage. 









Edited by RCVTR
sloppy writing
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  • 1 month later...

The plan for chassis reinforcement was an evolutionary process, starting with a basic roll cage and rollover roof support.  But we kept coming back to the fact that we want enough chassis stiffness to make the car responsive to suspension tuning.  Which meant that we needed the chassis to be much stiffer than the suspension springs, which the S30 chassis is not.  The S30 was designed and built for road racing.  They were built super light, with the intention of having a tubular chassis installed, in race trim.  We also want to install a heater and drive it on the street. 

We weren't going to have somebody build it for us, so in Aug 2018, we purchased a JD Squared Bender and started figuring it out.  A few You Tube Videos later, we were deep into a year of cage building.  We also borrowed a tubing roller, for long-radius bends.

To install the heater means that we can't have a cross-beam under the dash, but the dash support structure is a big beam and the top side rails in the engine bay are a big box section that supports the top hinge on the door.  So we decided to use this structure to transfer the front frame loads into the main cage.  Lots of hours of pondering and a lot more hours of cutting and mitering and we came up with a design and had fun with it.  We had to stay focused on the immediate progress, because the scope of the project is huge and progress was slow, for a couple of working boys.  But with perseverance and always choosing the right path at every decision, it's been very rewarding.  Here's a start:








IMG_0655 (1).JPG



Edited by RCVTR
Arranging photos
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