Spannerhead Dot

Thoughts on Z-Cars: The 280ZX

October 3, 2011 by Matt

Nissan Datsun 280ZX S130

The true second generation of the Z-car, the ’79-’82 280ZX, doesn’t get much love. In fact, if we rank the enthusiast appeal of the various Z-car iterations, the 280ZX would likely place second-to-last, “surpassed” only by the even more disliked ’83-’89 300ZX.

It’s unfortunate, seeing as how most of the derision is reserved for the stock car, and in comparison to the original 240Z. When the 280ZX is given a few beneficial modifications and examined in isolation from the rest of the Z-car lineage, it shines brightly in its own right.

Briefly, then, let’s review the common criticisms:

  • It’s too heavy. Compared to the featherweight 240Z, yes, and perhaps for the era 2,800 lbs was a tad on the portly side, but today that’s the weight of your average econobox, and certainly lighter than succeeding generations of Z-cars.
  • Its suspension is too soft. Nissan switched from Chapman struts in the first-generation Z-car to semi-trailing arm rear suspension for 280ZX, and lowered the spring rates considerably for a more “cruiser-like” feel. Be that as it may, there’s nothing inherently disadvantageous about the suspension design itself, and it’s easily firmed up and transformed with a judicious selection of aftermarket springs and shocks.
  • Its engine’s power is pathetic. This criticism could have been leveled at just about any performance car to emerge from the mid/late ’70s, as automakers were finding their footing amid an avalanche of new emissions and safety regulations. But as with the suspension, the basic engine design is sound—the turbocharged L28ET was the internally-strongest L-series inline-6 made—and it responds very well to some basic tweaks, most notably the removal of emissions-control hardware:

Nissan Datsun 280ZX S130 Engine L28ET L28 Motor

Yes, that’s the stock engine bay. In fairness, most cars’ engine bays resembled snake pits of vacuum hoses until the mid-’80s or so, but the 280ZX’s first-generation fuel injection and emissions gear arguably take the prize for the most cluttered, especially compared to the beautifully unencumbered early 240Z bay. But the good news is twofold: As mentioned above, there’s a strong, responsive engine under all that mess, and in non-smog states and counties, if the inspector skips a visual check in the course of his annual once-over, the engine can be safely liberated from its vacuum hose shackles.

Nissan Datsun 280ZX S130 Interior Inside Cockpit

In its day, the 280ZX didn’t exactly win high marks for style, either, incessantly compared to the clean, seductive shape of the thin-bumpered 240Z. But again, when taken on its own merits, it’s actually a nicely-proportioned, handsome, classic long-nose short-deck sports car shape. The admittedly-dated interior is free from any experimental gadgetry that marred many of the car’s contemporaries, and like so much of the rest of the car, benefits significantly from minor tweaks like an updated steering wheel and shifter boot.

I’d like a 280ZX in my driveway. I just wouldn’t be able to leave it stock.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing various generations of Nissan’s celebrated Z-car series. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Datsun, Nissan, Thoughts On Z-Cars

Leave a Reply