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77 280z Rebirth

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Figured I should start a build thread for the work I will being doing restoring my 77 280z back to its former glory after an engine fire which has done significant damage to anything near the firewall.


Ever since I had first seen an s30 I dreamed of owning one, but was quite intimidated by the aspect of maintaining and or restoring an old car. At this point I was familiar with the basic mechanics of cars, but had somewhat limited experience. 


Before having enough money to afford a decent example, I had casually been looking at them for years before deciding to seriously look sometime in 2018. I was looking for a running and driving example, that would require little to no major rust repair or mechanical troubleshooting. 

After around 3 months of looking, I found this car near me which seemed to tick all the boxes. I purchased the car close to bone stock, with minimal rust with plans of slowly upgrading the stock components while still driving the car.  The car was still in its original color 411 Sunburst Yellow with the car having been repainted at least once. Everything on the car worked, although the brakes did not inspire confidence and the suspension was very unpredictable. The interior was all original, and in very good condition. Even the dash was un-cracked but had a couple holes drilled in it from a previous owner.  



Each year I would do a couple months of work on the car and drive it whenever possible for the rest of the season.


Over the first few years I did the following:

Welded on Bad Dog Frame Rails, some other minor frame rust repairs

Fiberglass 240z style bumper conversion, Air dam
17" Rota Rkr wheels, Sumitomo HTR Z3 tires

Silvermine motors coilover conversion

T3 Big Brake Kit Front/Rear

Wilwood Master/Prop Valve

New Brake lines

T3 Adjustable Control Arms, Front and Rear

T3 Strut braces, front and rear

JDM Fender Mirrors




And this point the car was transformed into something that was very fun to drive, but still had some quirks due to the factory EFI. Also it had a leak at the exhaust manifold (Which I found was due to a broken stud) so the car constantly smelled like raw exhaust, and my wife refused to ride in it. Considering I had to remove all the manifolds anyway and wanted to go to a standalone ecu, I decided to add a turbo to the stock block. 


Turbo parts list:
Pallnet Fuel Rail with 440cc Injectors and Aeromotive FPR
OEM 280zx Turbo Exhaust Manifold, port matched to heads and turbo
82-83 280zx Turbo Distributor
Hi Flow oil pump
Megasquirt MS2 Extra v3.57 ECU - Godzilla Raceworks plug-n-play Megasquirt Harness
Custom 3 inch downpipe, 2.5 inch cat-back
Cheap intercooler and BOV, 2 inch piping




I was still in the process of tuning the car (I had dialed in the low load and cruise cells pretty well) when driving back from a car show I heard a "puff" noise and thought I saw a heat wave come out of the passenger engine vent. I immediately started to pull over and as I was doing so started to see a significant amount of smoke then fire. I attempted to put out the fire with a thick moving blanked I had in the back with no luck. At this point my brother who was in the car with me called 911. 
After a few minutes of stewing I ran to a restaurant in the parking lot I pulled into and asked for an extinguisher, but by the time I was back to the fire was large enough to where It didn't seem worth risking my life. The fire department arrived pretty quickly, but at this point the fire was very large and I assumed the car was toast.




I do not know exactly what failed, as I double checked the lines and clamps before every drive after the fuel upgrades, and this trip was no exception. Prior to this I had driven the car for longer trips on hotter days. I had planned on putting a fire extinguisher in the car, and I would have likely been able to put out the initial fire with one. I receive some money from insurance, but it will definitely not cover the full cost to repair. After a few days of going through the insurance process, I started to think about the possibility of fixing the car. I started to research all the parts I needed, I was able to find everything I could think of. The idea of the car going to an auction and possibly rotting away in some lot really bothered me, so the idea grew and grew. After receiving the final settlement numbers from insurance, I decided to restore the car. 


Short Term Plan

-Strip interior and engine bay, catalog what needs replacing

-Source damaged interior panels, attempt to save fiberboard panels

-Throughly clean soot off the interior metal

-Fix as much metal as possible and paint firewall with engine still installed.

-Replace engine bay wiring/rubbers/plastics

-Get engine running again


Long Term Plans

-Replace/Repaint damaged panels

-Full Custom Interior

-Rebuilt L28 Turbo Engine


The good news is I now have a little more freedom with the rebuild, as I am not nearly as concerned with keeping the car as original as possible. I have already made some decent progress with stripping out the bad parts, so will have more updates soon. 


If you want to support the build feel free to help out here - https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-this-77-280z-from-an-engine-fire?qid=c7564888fee54be9ce9af1b741471ffa

Edited by sippelcj
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Some updates from the first week of progress:

Car is back in the garage, had to get all my shelving space reorganized to make room for all the parts.



The day I decided I was keeping it bought some secondhand seats. 



Engine bay wiring harness is toast.



Got the dash out, all the HVAC vents melted over everything and made an absolutely mess. The dash is not salvageable and all the trim around it was damaged beyond repair.



Wideband still works!



Fusebox is undamaged. 



Majority of engine bay wiring and rubbers/plastics cleaned up.



Almost done stripping interior. Luckily I had the majority of interior behind the seats out of the car when the fire happened.




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Holy cow! Sorry to hear about your loss friend. Hey, I know engine fires are rare but if you really have a sore-spot for this Kinda thing, can I suggest a suppression system? We have to use them on race cars (mandatory). The kit is expensive, but at least you don’t have to worry about the fire bottle expiring every year like we do. Il even give you my old (charged) fire bottle for free if you want to pay for shipping. 

just an idea! The nozzle comes out fo your fire wall and points directly onto your injectors, but in reality it’s coating everything within 3’ of the nozzle. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/11/2022 at 6:58 PM, AydinZ71 said:

Holy cow! Sorry to hear about your loss friend. Hey, I know engine fires are rare but if you really have a sore-spot for this Kinda thing, can I suggest a suppression system? We have to use them on race cars (mandatory). The kit is expensive, but at least you don’t have to worry about the fire bottle expiring every year like we do. Il even give you my old (charged) fire bottle for free if you want to pay for shipping. 

just an idea! The nozzle comes out fo your fire wall and points directly onto your injectors, but in reality it’s coating everything within 3’ of the nozzle. 

It's an idea I would have thought is complete overkill before this but I appreciate the offer and will have to do some research and get back to you. At the very least it wont be leaving the garage without some sort of extinguisher. 

Making good progress on the build. Car is all stripped and just working on lots of cleaning, metal work, and sourcing parts. Already have about half of what I need, and doing some upgrades where it makes sense.

Fender is mostly beat back into shape, and started on some of the other repairs I needed to do on it eventually



Sparco R100 Seats fitted to the factory rails. Requires drilling a new hole in the rail and slotting the brackets that attached to the body, which takes a little bit of adjustability out of the rails. For the drivers side I had to weld an extension on the outside most rail to get enough width. Also had to bash in the transmission tunnel a little bit, plenty of room on the exterior to do so. They barely clear the B pillar.


Tons of scrubbing on the interior to get all the soot off. Exterior wiped up pretty easily.image.jpeg.ba29447709a9f5bf53ed5d5be0f9dbc8.jpeg



Cleaning up all the metal, had some rust around the radiator support that needed attention eventually anyway.



Fixing the cut into the cowl from the firefighters, it didn't turn out great, but it's passable for now. I don't have much experience finishing thin sheet metal so made some mistakes. Will either clean it up further later or a little bondo will cover the imperfections. 




Edited by sippelcj
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ok, I highly, highly, highly recommend having the interior and engine bay vapor blasted. looks like the body is OK so you can mask that all off with thick mil plastic. You give them $500-$800 bucks, do the masking, deliver the car and it will come back to you completely ready for epoxy primer and paint. What you are doing (piece by piece, by hand) is absolutely comendable and its precisely what I did on the race car im working on. But. i regret it. You will be chasing little rust pockets and hard to reach areas for months... years even (2 years in my case). 


Vapor blasting is neat. They use media combined with water so they are able to use a finer grit. They use water to keep the surface an even temperature preventing warping, but the water is warm enough that it flashes pretty quickly. It comes out essentially as steam, hence vapor. 


once you get the car back, you will see precisely where your cancer spots are and you can get to work. Seam seal, Epoxy primer, and you are on your way!


You are doing great work

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You might want to look into replacing a bunch of the burned metal too, high heat weakens metal so some structural rigidity is going to be gone from those parts compared to the pre-fire condition. It's why severely burned cars usually don't get fixed.

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Thanks for the input. Luckily I didn't have much rust to deal with, however getting it vapor blasting still would have been a good idea. I have it all done now but it was not fun. I have a cheap portable harbor freight sandblaster I used for the really tight corners. Made an absolute mess but did the job.



The first thing I did when I bought this car was go over the entire thing looking for rust, (including using an inspection camera inside the panels) and found a few spots hiding  in the usual rust areas that I patched but otherwise the shell is very clean. One of the previous owners had it undercoated early in its life, and they even hit the inside of most of the panels, the stuff is terrible to remove but It appears to have done a great job. The majority of the rust from this job was just from the car sitting for a couple weeks after getting blasted by water. 


Getting the partially burnt glue off the headliner was fun - a ton of adhesive remover and scraping. Adhesive remover did a good job at removing the soot though too. At this point just have to give everything a final wipe-down and have a tiny amount left on the rear hatch. Going to coat the inside of the cavities just in case there is any residual smell that could come from there. Then most of the interior is going to get covered in sound deadening. 


As far as the burned metal goes, that was a concern but the more I think about it the less it worries me. The bulk of the heat was at the firewall between the hood latch and brake/clutch reservoirs, and at cowl in the same area. The cowl area is pretty well boxed up and after spending some time beating the little bit of warpage out of that metal, it does not seem abnormally weak. However since I am doing metal work in this area anyway I'm planning on adding some structural bracing as I would like as much stiffness in the chassis as possible. 

I will be doing this: https://www.apexengineered.com/store/p67/Front__Fender_Brace.html and switching to a stiffer front strut brace that spreads out the load more evenly across the firewall - https://www.apexengineered.com/store/p66/Front_Strut_Brace.html and may add some other little braces here and there but haven't quite figured that all out yet. Comparing this to driving any modern car and you really notice the chassis flex.

Also because the factory throttle linkage uses those plastic ball joints it's ruined, so switched to a 240sx throttle body and have a throttle cable all setup now. Did this and drilled out the ball on the pedal to attach the other end of the cable.


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  • 4 months later...

Completely forgot about updating this thread, have been making good progress, planning on getting caught up soon with everything that's been worked on. Been a little all over the place working on different parts of the car so will try and group similar things together but still keep everything in chronological order. 


There was a little bit of rust on the floors so stripped them completely of the sound deadener and replaced some of the metal. Got them all cleaned up and primed with epoxy primer. Then seam sealed and of the joints that got stripped away when I was wire wheeling.





A Tar remover worked very well for the residue left behind after removing the sound deadener 






The Frame under the front left fender and firewall were primed as well. 



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Gave anything in the interior that might be visible a few coats of base color so it would look like factory again.




Decided to invest in a DIY powder coating setup, purchased the eastwood dual voltage gun and the cheapest kitchen oven I could find. After doing a few parts the investment was 100% worth the cost and space the oven takes up. The finish is extremely durable and the learning curve is not very steep.


Started sandblasting a ton of parts, starting with the pedal box and anything else I needed to start getting the car put back together. Would then clean with a metal etch, throw in the oven for an outgassing, then apply the powder and bake.






I had previously bought a 3d printer and thought it may come in handy for some automotive projects but never to this extent, most of the plastic around the pedal box was ruined but luckily one of the bushings was good so I could use it for measurements. No idea what I would have done without the ability to make replacements. 


It took a few tries but after a few adjustments to the model was able to get some bushing printed that functioned like original



Also started modeling a replacement for some fender mirror plastic as the driver side got cooked. 





And some other things I powder coated, and there will be a lot more coming up in future posts. 

Polished finish on the intercooler pipes was ruined so decided to brush them by hand and clear coat them



Tested out powder coating some bolts, the correct socket barely fits over them anymore but the finish is plenty durable to install and remove a few times and they look great. 


Before and after on a used hood hinge I bought and mine was destroyed when the hood got cut open.



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  • 5 months later...

I’m way behind updating progress on the build, a few of these topics will be gone into more detail in a separate thread but want to get caught up at a high level here.


-New radiator, electric fan conversion and custom shroud made from a baking sheet(The shroud was probably more work than it was worth).


-All fuel/oil/water lines remade with AN fittings. Heat protection for any lines anywhere near the exhaust.

-All Clutch lines and master replaced

-All engine bay brake lines and master/booster replaced.



-Majority of interior done and/or ready to be installed later. Pretty happy with everything for having never done upholstery before. (Will be following up with more detailed thread)




-Remade firewall pad


-Redid my toolbox mounted 6.5 Subwoofers (Will be following up with more detailed thread)



-Hvac system disassembled/refinished and reinstalled.



-Cracked dash filled, refinished and flocked. (Will be following up with more detailed thread)



-Gauges refinished and reinstalled into dash. 



-Replaced the RB25 turbo with a GT2860RS, the plastic compressor wheel was damaged and I tried to replaced the wheel with a cast aluminum version but it got stuck on the shaft and I broke the ceramic shaft of the RB25 Turbo. Compressor housing powder coated gold and turbine housing coated with Cerakote.



-I attempted to repair the hood but it was too warped for me to get to fit perfectly. I plan on getting a fiberglass one eventually but this one will work for now.



-Working on designing and 3d printing replacement steering column covers. The end goal is to integrate a gauge pod into the upper cover. Details here: 




Edited by sippelcj
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  • 5 months later...

It's been awhile, been super busy between trying to get the car drivable and regular life responsibilities. Writing up progress posts has been a low priority but I do have a few detailed write-ups in progress I still plan to share eventually. 

For now I'm pleased to share the car is on the road and driving again! Finally had a chance to take it out for some longer drives last week after getting it running and moving a couple months ago. Felt great driving it again although I was very nervous as last time I drove it didn't go so well 🔥.


Currently running on wastegate pressure (6-7psi) and an ultra conservative spark map it's definitely making a little more power than pre-turbo and power delivery is nice and smooth. Next big priority is getting it 100% tuned, the fuel maps are looking pretty good but it seems pretty difficult to tune spark on the street so I'm planning on booking some dyno time next spring. I've done a bit of research but If anyone has any megasquirt spark tuning tips I am all ears!


I made some DIY knock ears and the engine is definitely audible but its not super loud through the ear muffs so have to concentrate a bit trying to listen for knock on the road.



Put the damaged hood back on for now, its too far warped for me to fix. I found a fiberglass hood locally so that will go on eventually. 



Powder coated valve cover and also did any other brackets that had to come off.

Used AN lines for fuel this time and routed them slightly differently. 

Apex Engineering front brace which had some fitment issues. Also reinforced the firewall/fender using the apex fender braces.



Interior is about 90% done, mainly just the center console is left to purdy up. 



Still need to patch some rusty metal around the gas tank and rear bumper but otherwise just about all the pre-existing rust has been fixed. 


Edited by sippelcj
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