COAL: Hobby Car Of A Lifetime #6 – 1977 Datsun 280X 2+2 – Z for Two

This was an amazingly preserved original car. photos by the author.


I had once told my son that I would never own a small car. But as a young child, my son had seen an early Datsun Z car and was mesmerized. He fell in love with these cars, pointing them out every time that he saw one.

I liked the big bumpers because they gave a lot of protection to that good looking front end.


He was going to be approaching driving age soon, maybe I could take this opportunity to be the “Cool Dad” and get something that he liked. So I did.

I definitely wanted a first gen model, but as is usual of cars of this vintage, some were worn out beaters, and others were highly valued garage queens.

So I kept my eyes open. The local Salvation Army store was selling cars at this time. I happened to pass by and saw that nose of a Z poking out of the line-up while on my way to work. After work, I dropped by to check it out.

It was a one-owner local car from Los Gatos, a nearby affluent community. It was 100% stock and very clean. It sported two options that I valued; a five speed transmission and factory a/c. It also sported another option that I wasn’t too keen on. A dealer installed, pop-up glass sunroof. These were commonly installed by the dealer to add profit to the sale, but they were legitimately popular in the ’70s.

Later, collectors would curse these previous owners for ruining the roofs of the cars! I sure did.

The twin cup holder console cover was a MotorSport product.


Mileage was in the 90 thousands, but the Datsun six had a great reputation for longevity. The car was white with a saddle brown interior and it was in amazing original preserved condition. The test drive was quite satisfying; the car ran very well. The ergonomics of these cars were extraordinary, the driving position could be adjusted to be comfortable even for a tall and large driver and all the controls fell easily to hand. But as expected, the a/c didn’t work.

Everything seemed great but there was only one problem; it had a back seat! It was a 2+2 model. While every American Pony star had a backseat, a real sports car didn’t.

This was probably why it hadn’t sold quickly. I even squeezed myself back there, once!

The slightly taller and squared-off roof is necessary to fit the rear passengers in.


The 2+2 was the unpopular model, since it had a slightly longer and higher roof line. The fastback wasn’t quite as steep, but I thought that it still looked pretty good. Besides, I liked the idea of rear seats since I had two young kids. This meant that I could get a lot more use out of the car as it was suited to family use.

After I bought the car, I rubbed out, polished, and waxed the paint which rewarded me with a good shine. Since it came equipped with an AM/FM radio, I never needed to change the original for an aftermarket stereo. I initially kept the car 100% original, as I even liked the OEM wheel covers.

The rear window louvers probably contributed to the preservation of the interior.


I used the car as an all around driver, for work and errands. Dropping off my kids at school in the morning, as well as picking them up afterward. If I’d had a two-seater, it would have sat idle most of the week.

I’d never had a sports car before, and I grew to like it. My ’90 Honda Civic drove like a sports car, but it didn’t convey the sports car image like the Z. I liked the smaller, handier size. Combined with the folding rear seats and rear hatch, it was a very convenient and useful car. I even transported cases of Girl Scout cookies from the school to our house, since my wife was in charge of the sale that year.

Remember that my previous preference had always been for big coupes like the Riviera. The Z was a revelation.

I installed a pair of stereo speakers on a removable shelf. I wasn’t going to cut any holes in the interior.


Fuel economy was not as high as I would have expected, but it was a bit over 20 mpg. on the highway. Performance was pretty good, especially with a manual transmission. It was good for a late ’70s car with a smog-compliant motor. I would later have a ’72 model, which felt livelier and revved up with greater enthusiasm.

I liked driving a manual transmission car, especially when the shifter was light and accurate. It didn’t feel like the “rock crusher” that had been in my brother’s ’76 Camaro (That transmission made driving quite unpleasant).

Like a lot of Old School guys, I thought that fuel injection was too complex and complicated to maintain on an older car. However, I never had a problem with the Datsun’s fuel injection. There was never a need to adjust or fiddle with it during the time I owned the car. These cars had been notorious for running hot, so when the radiator developed a leak I replaced it with a three-row unit from Motorsport Auto.

A smooth and rugged engine, but it could have been a bit cleaner.


Motorsport was my introduction to the reproduction parts industry. They specialized in parts for the first generation Z car. It was nice to be able to order new parts from a single source, and they carried a wide line that made restoration easier.

I replaced the old rubber mounts for the steering rack which tightened up the steering. I found a set of later model alloy 15-inch wheels, to replace the 14-inch steel wheels and caps. When the rear U joints wore out, I replaced both axle assemblies. Eventually, I would replace the clutch master cylinder and the front brake lines.

My son driving the car. The shadow makes it look like it has flared rear wheel arches.


I had a curiosity about autocrossing and joined the local chapter of the SCCA. One thing that worked out well was that drivers were allowed to carry a passenger while competing. I thought that this would be a good way to introduce my son to the sport; he might be interested in competing once he got his license. It was a good way to improve a young driver’s skills and much safer than hoooning around on the street!

Autocrossing, or Solo 1 as the club referred to it, is a slow speed competition. Speeds would rarely exceed 40 mph. The course was defined by traffic cones in an empty parking lot, and the possibility of vehicle damage and injury was minimal. (It was around this time that I decided to buy another newer model Z. I’ll report on this in a later installment).

The turn signal switch was failing on my car, and a replacement from Motorsport was quite expensive, so I went looking in the wrecking yards. At a local Pick and Pull, I found the turn signal assembly that I needed, and also a front air dam and a rear spoiler for a later 300ZX. They were cheap, so I bought them to resell them on CL.

This gave me the idea that I could start a used Z parts business, so I started buying up parts that I found on sale on CL. I rented a public storage unit to hold my growing inventory.

I picked up a ’72 Z that the owner of a local gas station had been storing for a couple of years. He gave it to me for free, as he was glad to get rid of it. That’s when I got the idea of getting a shop.

I bought a few more parts cars; these were stripped of removable parts and the shells were hauled off to the wrecking yard.

This was one of my successful projects.


I had the idea that I could buy cheap Zs and refurbish them with all of my used parts and resell them for a profit. I did manage to complete one car, a ’72 240Z. I did the bodywork, got it in good running shape, refurbished the interior, then had it painted at Earl Scheib. It was painted Viper Blue and it came out quite glossy, especially after I rubbed the paint out.

This was a ’72 240Z equipped with an automatic transmission.


I think that I might have even broken even on that car. Back then, Zs weren’t really that much in demand, and prices were still low.

This whole side trip into business corresponded with a very busy time in my life. I was working, and dealing with rehabbing the family’s properties. I was regularly selling at swap meets in Southern California, as well as in the Central Valley. My son went away to college in So Cal and I lost interest in autocrossing.

My son was instrumental in my purchase of the Datsun.


There were some good times with the 280, the best was teaching my son to drive. We spent hours driving all the back roads in the South Bay. He was a quick learner and became quite proficient driving the five-speed.

As the episode with business was winding down, I ended up selling my newer Z, partially to carry the business for a few more months, and to free up some cash for my next hobby car purchase.

I had enjoyed my ownership of the 280Z, and I came to appreciate how well designed it was. The Z was one of the first cars that achieved respect for the Japanese auto industry. It was the first iconic model; Z’s had a long and varied competition history that extended well after it ended production.  Datsun also produced the 510 sedan which developed a huge following that was even greater than the Z at this time.

This particular Z would have been a great candidate for long term ownership. It was completely original, with a strong engine and a five speed transmission. However, it seems that the concept of long term ownership is foreign to my thinking, for whatever reason.

After I closed down the shop, I sold the Z through CL to an out of state buyer. The buyer was in Florida, and the cost of shipping the car there was prohibitive. After discussing it with the potential party, I lowered my price until the combined cost of car and transport was acceptable to him.

Yes, I needed to make the sale that badly, I had not been able to find a local buyer after having the car on the market for a couple of months. This was 2008-9, during the recession, and the market for hobby cars was severely affected. Today, of course, early Z cars command much higher prices. But I have always been the victim of inconvenient timing, buy low, sell lower!

Just another good one that I let get away!


With the Zs behind me, it was time for a new chapter!