Charitable Donation: 1976 Datsun 280Z

Oh, California. You kill me with the cars you give away to the donation pile. Yes, this 1976 Datsun 280Z is rough and has rust holes in spots, but it’s still way better than what passes for a project here in the northeast. The car is a recent donation victim and doesn’t run, likely due to the lack of battery. Check out the killer front air dam – was this someone’s abandoned project at one point? Bidding is under $800 at the moment with no reserve. Find it here on eBay located in Orange, California. 

I would love to know more about the bumper attachments front and rear. The front could be a badge bar or a fog light mounting point; the rear, I’m not so sure. Maybe some version of 1970s bumper bashing protection? The 280Z looks largely complete and unabused, with seemingly original paint and matching (albeit ugly) steel wheels. The rear hatch does have rust-through, but the glass looks good and taillight lenses are intact. I always dig old-school California blue plates, too.

Things aren’t bad inside the cabin, with all the details there if not a bit tired. Seats need new upholstery, but you could live with them for the time being. The dash is cracked in places but again, livable. The gear shift features a sweet BRE-inspired shift knob and although the carpet has been removed, it reveals a solid floor underneath. Was this someone’s track toy at some point in time? Aftermarket speakers have been cut into the doors and a nice looking period Alpine headunit resides in the center stack.

These Z cars hailed from the era of extensive emissions regulations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it fell victim to California’s draconian laws regarding smog control. The engine appears complete if not downright suffocated by vacuum lines, but this was not an uncommon scene in the 70s and 80s. Overall, the 280Z looks like a solid project car that would enjoy a happier existence outside of the state of California; if you won it for under $1K, transportation seems cheap at that point.


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  1. Steve R

    A car like this wouldn’t make sense as a project if it were to remain in California. Like you said, the smog laws might have had a hand in it being “abandoned”.

    Lots of really cool cars that much of the country would drool over met their demise due to smog laws. Not many passenger cars from the mid-70’s through to the adoption of electronic port style fuel injection have survived. Cars such as mid-70s to late-80’s Corvettes, Z28’s, Trans Ams, as well as potential projects such as GM G-bodies never caught on and were often summarily crushed because minor mechanic issues that caused them to fail emission inspection. At the time, 60’s classics were still plentiful and cheap due to mild climate and lack of rust so hardly anyone bothered to keep up the “newer” cars of that era.

    Steve R

    • Rodent

      Passed smog in 1999, plates expired in 2001. Looks like it has been off the road since. Back fees could be what really sent it to the donation heap.
      Friends had a ’76 that they bought when they lived in Santa Barbara. The body was in about the same condition as this one by 1982.

  2. Mark in WNC

    Those bumper attachments were a dealer installed option.

  3. Beatnik Bedouin

    These were known as ‘Flippers’ to Mulholland Drive street racers back in the 1970s, due to their propensity to turn turtle. The added weight/length of the 5 mph bumpers and underdamped suspension were the cause.

    Ditch the USA-spec bumper set up, put some decent springs and shocks on it, add a ZG nose (I could give you the part numbers for the latter) and you’d find it would be a totally different car that looked pretty sharp, as well.

    Maybe of interest to one of you out-of-state folk?

  4. Dolphin Member

    If this were an early car (1970-71) it would be scooped up and either restored back to stock or be resto-modded, likely with a SBC or similar, and put back on the road. But since it’s a later car it’s worth much less than an early car, so I don’t think anyone will be restoring it perfectly back to stock.

    If your state allows registering a car with a drivetrain transplant, someone could go that route and not have to sort out all the engine and emissions problems.

    If someone goes that route, a big plus with this car is that the chassis and especially the frame rails that the big V8 would rest on are far stronger in these 280s than in the 240z.

    The early frame rails allow a lot of chassis twist on uneven ground in the early cars, and I would feel a lot better doing a V8 transplant into a 280 than into a 240.


    Its ripe for a Rotsan clone like on Roadkill

  6. BarnfindyCollins

    I see Mark has already mentioned about the bumper guards, as I had similar likely AMCO guards on my ’71 240z. AMCO made piles of accessories for imports. As an aside, I still regret not buying more parts from a very early Sept. 1969 Z that was at Gibbs Wrecking in Augusta, GA in 1990 other than the transmission I needed and the tailights. They refused to sell the whole car and was a one digit number like 6 or 8. Resprayed blue but originally silver with a white interior. The car had a direct hit to the nose with a pole.

  7. Mike

    I don’t know much about 240, 260 or 280z’s however, some years back I remember reading an article in a magazine regarding a car dealer in long beach, off the 405 who acts as a middle man purchasing z cars from the locales then selling and shipping these cars to collectors in Japan. Evidently according to the article Japan, surrounded by sea water, the air has eaten away at most of their beloved z cars and they are willing to pay a high premium to have them back. The go between in long beach pays top dollar no matter the condition. I don’t remember the magazine read nor the dealers name however, a call to a dealership well established for the past ten or 15 years In Long Beach could give a clue as to whom to call.

    • Miguel

      The smog laws in Japan are worse than any state in the US.

      They have to replace the engine after so many miles, or at least they used to. I am not sure about now.

      • Mike

        You may very well be on target Miguel, let’s not forget however, that if the hobbiest in Japan is willing to go through all the trouble (shipping in) and expense of same the likely hood of what ever else exists regarding their cost probably remains a moot point…I sure could dig being in that position!

  8. P Wentzell

    Saw a 260Z yesterday, great shape, on the road, being enjoyed. These are fun to drive, and a nearly bullet proof engine. I had an early Maxima wagon with the in line 6, chassis and drive train from the Z.

  9. Tara Member

    I would ask to see a pic of the front frame, as the Z cars were prone to that, just not sure if it’s the way it is in California!

  10. John coleman

    Just avoid the strict California emission rules. 1975 and under are exempt from testing and imminent failure

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