CC Outtake: Datsun 280 ZX: Just The Ride For A Trip To The Dentist


The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I had an early morning appointment for a teeth cleaning at my dental office in Torrance. Upon walking out, I spotted this lovely Far East-machine.


The 1979 280ZX was the second incarnation of Nissan’s legendary Z-car. When the ZX first appeared, enthusiasts and critics panned it for being too heavy and too “soft”. There was some truth to this. By the end of the disco era, the Z’s weight had ballooned nearly 500 pounds thanks to both increasing federal safety standards and buyers’ demand for creature comforts.

Where the original Z was a pure driver’s car, the ZX was more of a luxurious GT. The old 240 that was this car’s early ancestor was the car that you’d select for a day at the track, or bombing through a twisty canyon road. The ZX was more the type of ride that some hair-shirted John Holmes wannabe would take himself and his floozy in on the long drive to Vegas for a weekend of debauchery.


Being a fatter and softer Z-car wasn’t entirely bad. This generation of Z reached a level of comfort and refinement that its fast but primitive predecessor could only dream of. Build quality was significantly better, as well as rust resistance. These Zs were a much more pleasant companion on a long trip than their cramped, bumpy, noisy, tinny, and rust-prone predecessors. They aren’t the raw, elemental thrill machines that the earlier Zs were, but on the daily slog to work or a weekend highway jaunt to Big Bear, they really shine.


The horizontally striped taillights and 8-spoke wheels mark this one as one of the later versions, either an ’82 or an ’83. In 1984 a whole new Z would appear, with crisp angular lines replacing the previous Zs’ gentle rounded curves. A potent new turbocharged 3.0 liter V6 would replace the old Z’s tried-and true inline 6. I briefly owned an ’85 two-seater 5-speed, and unfortunately it was a disaster from day one. But that’s a story for another time.