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Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 23 Apr 2017 18:02
I'm super stocked to take on this new project. It's been 5+ years since purchasing my 510 and I've learned a lot. Not only in technical skills, but when shopping and spending wisely, this era of cars can actually be an investment?!?!

And so as the project title states, that will be the theme of this build - to (someday?) receive double my investment. My self-imposed rules are simple, only parts & material (including tax) are counted, labour is 'free', and any tools that are purchased will have 50% allocated to the project cost. My goal is to keep everything under $10K Canadian. Each post I'll include an update on the project cost, offsetting suggestions to the perceived value are welcome - bearing in mind that these vintage cars fetch quite a bit more out East than in the West.
Cheviot_14Inch_Rims.jpg (277.66 KiB) Viewed 2287 times
Like any good hockey team, each player needs a role, and the same goes for my cars if there's any chance for me to keep them. Too much overlap, or sitting idle due to lifestyle changes mean I get restless and sell. I hate seeing anything sit unused. Since I've already got a nimble & responsive 5 speed 510, the plan for this car is to be a super reliable resto-mod GT cruiser, something that me or my wife can DD in the summer. That means automatic, A/C, and possibly power steering if required. Yes, auto is not everyone's cup of tea but I believe there's a market out there for some who want the look of a classic but not the work or drivetrain noise.
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So let me introduce you to my new Datsun. It's a 1976 280z automatic with 83K miles on the odo. The car was in Ontario the last 20+ years, possibly originated out west prior to that. The car starts and runs and the interior is reasonable. The seats will need a recover and new carpet/headliner. The dash has a few small cracks. All switches and most lights even work.
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The biggest issue are the rotted out floor boards and frame rails that run under them, the quarter panels, and rear valence.
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QuarterPanelPassenger.jpg (222.26 KiB) Viewed 2287 times
FloorPanHack.jpg (285.66 KiB) Viewed 2287 times
FloorPanUnderside.jpg (224.85 KiB) Viewed 2287 times
Thankfully the engine frame rails, rocker panels, hatch area, and spare wheel well are all solid. I'm wondering how much as due to the 'ECP' treatment LOL.
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Circled is what I believe is the original color - 302 Leaf Green metallic although the paint code stamp has faded too much to confirm.

Never heard of Cheviot rims. They're wearing 215/60 R14 tires - two of which will need to be replaced.
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The purchase price, $2100 including towing - a good start to my $10K limit. The plan is to try and get this safely on the road this summer with the OEM drivetrain - starting with the floor pans and run new frame rails from the firewall right to the rear bulkhead. Given the amount of torque I plan to eventually put through this car it will need to be STIFF. Next is the rear valence and a set of 240z bumpers. Speaking of bumpers, the OEM 280z bumper was shockingly heavy!!!
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While this car will be no S30 lightweight, the winter plan is to swap in a Toyota 1UZFe VVTi (complete with it's 5 speed auto). This lightweight 4L aluminum engine should maintain the car's 2500lbs weight to keep this GT cruiser balanced & responsive. A modern fully stock OEM powertrain will add reliability while still providing a super-fun ~300hp output and awesome v8 soundtrack. In an effort to increase it's 'badassness' market value I'll drop the car a good 3" (simple spring/damper setup, no fancy coilover) and hopefully have enough budget left over for a set of 16x8 (or 9" if I can roll the fenders enough) with 245/45 R16 performance tires.

Patience, shopping around, and a lot of DIY rather than purchasing OEM-replacements will be required to succeed.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 05:48
by Byron510
Just to throw it out there, have you considered the Titan/Armada V8-Auto motor set and transmission?
I ask because I'm impressed with the output in my Armada (same 300+ HP) and the auto give a very reasonable drive. The automatic will down shift to higher RPM,s unlike most cars and give reasonable engine brake. The motor is all aluminum. I don't have any specifics on size and weight comparisons. But it still keeps it in the Nissan family.

Great project.


Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 09:24
by datzenmike
I wasn't aware that automatics were quieter than standards.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 26 Apr 2017 05:24
datzenmike wrote:I wasn't aware that automatics were quieter than standards.
We're never too old to learn eh? :)

But yes, I fully expect an OEM Lexus drivetrain to be substantially quieter than the usual W58/CD009 & adapter mod to manual.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 26 Apr 2017 05:48
In 72 hours we've made quite a bit of progress. Much of it was from overly enthusiastic angle-grinder-equipped teenagers whom I've had to pull back a bit so as to not add to the work load. I now have a clearer picture of the work ahead.

The previous floor pan 'repair' has almost been removed.
FloorPanRemoval.jpg (122.81 KiB) Viewed 2200 times
New material has been sourced for the floor frame rails and floor pans.
NewFrameRailFloorPan.jpg (115.02 KiB) Viewed 2200 times
The idea is to section the 3"x3" (.125) in half and build something similar to Peter's handy drawings (
FloorRailMeasurements.jpg (119.5 KiB) Viewed 2200 times
Having dug deeper there are more issues with the engine frame rail than originally seen (note, I did not say 'thought'). In order to do a more permanent fix I'll pull the engine/tranny to do better full-on clean up. I may go as far as Peter's engine rail replacement and insert 2.5"x 2.5" square steel tubing. That train of thought has several positives: it's pretty damn affordable, it could save me labour/time, and ultimately add considerable strength to the front end.
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I've seen enough from the engine compartment to realise that the engine will need some more attention as well LOL.
InfinitelyAdjustableTiming.jpg (123.53 KiB) Viewed 2200 times

On my 510 project I didn't like to chew too much work that would impact the following year's driving season. With this S30, it's a different story. I want a setup in my garage that's available all spring->fall to tinker & learn on. My only criteria is that it's somewhat buttoned up and out of the way over the winter so my 510 gets some love (EFI & turbo conversion) as well.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 26 Apr 2017 06:15
Byron510 wrote:Just to throw it out there, have you considered the Titan/Armada V8-Auto motor set and transmission?
I ask because I'm impressed with the output in my Armada (same 300+ HP) and the auto give a very reasonable drive. The automatic will down shift to higher RPM,s unlike most cars and give reasonable engine brake. The motor is all aluminum. I don't have any specifics on size and weight comparisons. But it still keeps it in the Nissan family.

It's certainly something I considered along with RB25DET Neo swap. For now the RB is ruled out due to size/weight, replacement of parts, ECU operation on North American quality fuel, and need for the complexity of turbo plumbing to achieve ~300hp. However I do like this option for Nissan roots and straight 6.

For the Nissan v8, cost/availability was an issue for me, along with packaging and weight. When the time comes to purchase (this coming winter or the next depending on how quickly I repair & upgrade the chassis) I will revisit the options.

Right now the 1UZFE vvti is my choice due to affordability (when keeping automatic), availability of parts (possibly not essential due to it's infamous reliability) and overall packaging and weight. My hope is that adding AC will render the 1UZ swap a near identical net weight to the OEM L28, plus the weight distribution might be improved. The 1UZFE is a pretty remarkable engine serviced into a boring life of butlering passengers around in luxury automobiles.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 07 May 2017 07:06
Not much of an update due to work travel and some trunk work on my 510. I'm hoping to dive in starting June.

In the meantime, I did manage to pull the motor to get a better look & access to the engine frame rails.
KA24vsL28e.jpg (144.55 KiB) Viewed 2144 times
No new surprises thankfully. I'll continue to remove parts (wires/fuel lines) over the coming weeks and start to plan out another order at the metal depot.
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Quite a difference in size between the KA (~22.5") vs the L28e (~29.5").
PullingMotor.jpg (142.29 KiB) Viewed 2144 times
Looks like I've got a line on a 1UZFE out of a SC400. I was really tempted to go 3UZFE but the ODB2, anti-theft logic, and drive by wire have desueded me. I was also a little concerned about too much power, this is afterall supposed to be a easy to drive GT cruiser, and I don't want to be nervous of the car in wet conditions etc...

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 07 May 2017 07:54
by Byron510
There's no such thing as too much power! :-) !!! Just good restraint on the throttle.

Curious, what would the differences be between obd1 and obd2 as as making the factory EFI work? Remind me again when obd2 came into effect?

It's a good project plan you have, look forward to the updates.


Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 07 May 2017 08:39
My understanding is that ODB1 was a little more relaxed in verifying catalytic converter operation. ODB2 has an O2 sensor upstream & downstream of the cats. Wiring up in a swap is supposedly easier as well.

I believe ODB2 is on 1996 & later 1UZ equipped vehicles.

I hear ya on the power, especially with an automatic transmission the 1UZFE non-vvti might be fairly tame. Apparently 2UZFE (Toyota Tacoma) eBay manifold can add a quick chunk of power, and ECU tuning can further bring power up to ~300hp. Still, VVTi would have been nice as it adds a quick 40hp/Tq, and the Tq is not only more, but lower in the powerband where it is leveraged more frequently.

As positives, for the price I'm getting this potential package (full powertrain, shifter linkage/box, all electronics, driveshaft, complete A/C, and rad), it makes sense for the budget objectives of this build. A little less power means less need to heavily upgrade the braking, suspension, and wheels/tires. I also think the 1UZFE with it's stronger bottom end could be appealing market-value wise for any would-be turbo enthusiast. There will certainly be lots of room in front of the engine to install one.

Lots of chopping... but I've got a plan

Posted: 13 May 2017 17:52
Another nice week chipping away on the 280z. I'm really having a good time working on this - exactly what I was looking for.
RearSubDropped.jpg (130.61 KiB) Viewed 2056 times
I dropped the rear sub frame to access & remove the fuel lines. Thankfully there were no new surprises. The floor treatment really did save this car with the exception of where it was worn away over the years - likely from the tires spitting up debris.
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I decided to tackle the passenger side engine frame rail first. It's rail-mount to the engine subframe was compromised so I had to rely on the driver's side mount to be the one good reference during the rail's removal.
EngineSubFrameLockedDown.jpg (131.61 KiB) Viewed 2056 times
I put quite a bit of thought into how I should support the chassis as well as how to anchor down the engine subframe from any movement.
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After a surprisingly short amount of time I got the stock engine rail out. The portion of the firewall that will pick up the new engine rail looks solid.
PassengerFrameRailMissing.jpg (121.48 KiB) Viewed 2056 times
The next question is how do I butt/join weld two pieces of square tubing that are substantially different in strength? Besides the usual perimeter weld, my plan is to weld two internal pieces of angle steel (upper & lower right side when facing forward) to span interior of both square tubes. Given how tight I want the fit to be it won't be possible to have 4 internal pieces and slide the new piece of tubing in so I'll likely weld two more external angle brackets within the engine bay. Any other suggestions?
JoinWeldingSquareTubing.jpg (108.59 KiB) Viewed 2056 times
After the main engine rail is in place, I will stack another piece 2.5" x 2.5" underneath it between the firewall and TC bracket. I will then run a 1-piece 3" x 1" x .125" 'U" channel from the rear lower bulkhead, along the floor pans, and then curve up the firewall to straddle the engine frame rails.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 14 May 2017 07:29
by Byron510
Grinding a 45 degree angle on both faces of the Butt joint gives you full penetration to the root of your weld. That's the best you can do for strength.

I had the same concern when I Z'd the frame rails on my fathers '53 Ford PU that we slammed and bagged. Because of the odd shape the the rails, I opted to cut the side profile out of sheet/plate and the box that profile with a 2 1/2" strip of steel the same thickness. It worked well, as did the 4 link with the frame mounted watts center link as we were using a Ford 9" axle.

Anyways, the profile cutting eliminated the vertical welding on the "rail" which is what I wanted to avoid. But in your case, unlike mine, youbar adding to an existing unit body car, and this component won't by under the same sort of stress. I'm sure a champhered butt weld will be sufficient.


Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 14 May 2017 14:56
by andrew.lori
Below would save you a PILE of work .. I used these on my Sons 240z and they fit great. I will try to pop by this week and see what your doing in person.

Passenger engine rail

Posted: 31 May 2017 16:35
So my solution was surprisingly simple - cut the remaining ~6" of the OEM frame rail right up to the rad support to get a larger welding surface and quite possibly a stronger overall setup.
NewEngineRail_1.jpg (109.67 KiB) Viewed 1864 times
I cut out the curve of the firewall onto a cardboard template, took some overall measurements in length, and within 1 hour I had my $25 2.5" x 2.5" x0.125" square tubing cut & fit in place.
NewEngineRail_2.jpg (77.76 KiB) Viewed 1864 times
The fit up front was also much better than what I was considering in my previous post.
NewEngineRail_3.jpg (94.33 KiB) Viewed 1864 times
Engine bay looks nice as well. I plan to run a light gauge angle the entire length to further strengthen the fender/shock tower wall to the new engine rail.
NewEngineRail_4.jpg (106.76 KiB) Viewed 1864 times
As nice & cost effective (and strong) as this setup is, there are a few things that I'll have to take into consideration with this setup:
1) The OEM frame rail tapers from 2.5" down to 2" right near the rad support - I'm assuming to make more room for a wider rad. Because my new frame rail doesn't taper, I'll be welding that one side onto the rad support rather than what's left of the OEM rail.
2) I will not cut a recess into the new frame rail to pickup the two stock engine subframe mounting bolts. I have an easier, and IMO stronger, solution in mind but it will be easier to show once complete.
3) I won't be mounting any recessed nuts into the bottom of the new rail for the sway bar mounts (mostly because I'm not confident I can do a good job). Instead I'll move the sway bar mounts inboard or outboard of the new engine rail and fastened via an external bracket.

Passenger rail now welded in

Posted: 05 Jun 2017 07:22
Despite a weekend full of helping family members with household tasks, I still managed a few hours on the 280.

Removing the OEM and PO's patched-on metal from the TC bracket took a surprising amount of time.
RadClearance_OEMvsNewRail.jpg (143.81 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
I'm really pleased with how everything is turning out. As I'm sure many of you know, there's a lot of satisfaction to see plans rolling out exactly as hoped.:D
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PassengerEngineRailWelded_3.jpg (136.51 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
I was happy to see the left & right side engine subframe measurements come out 'identical' based on my somewhat inaccurate techniques.
EngineSubFrameMounting_1.jpg (100.72 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
In lieu of recessing the outside of the engine rail to pickup the OEM location for the subframe mounting bolts, the plan is to run a new 3-bolt setup straight through an un-cut rail. One bolt will run vertical (as seen in the previous pictures) and I'll weld a new 'L' bracket under & up the side of the subframe to accept two more horizontal bolts.
NewSubframeBracket.jpg (68.51 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
Finally, I was relieved to see that after a bit of trimming to the rad's mounting bracket, my non-tapered engine frame rail did not prevent the OEM radiator from mounting. Hopefully a future lighter and potentially more efficient eBay aluminum radiator will fit as well.
RadClearance_1.jpg (145.78 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
Here's a comparison of OEM vs the new setup.
TC_Bracket.jpg (135.26 KiB) Viewed 1813 times
Going forward the plan is to finish welding up the fender well to the new engine rail, then continue working back along the passenger side of the car. Next is the floor pan/firewall before I can continue to build the engine frame rail down & back to accept a new floor pan rail.

Re: Double or Nothing - 280z GT cruiser

Posted: 07 Jun 2017 19:09
by Byron510
This might be a silly comment, but before you weld the thing together - make sure the doors still align and close with the weight on the suspension...

I've just noticed the position of the your jack stands.

It seems like a rather stupid comment, but speaking from experience that I have seen while doing major chassis repair on unit body cars.... check, check check.... :-)