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War Paint: 1978 Datsun 280Z

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Along the same lines of the walls in an old house, I also wish vintage automotive paint jobs could talk to us. I imagine the one that this 1978 Datsun 280Z here on eBay wears would give us some interesting insights into how it came to be half-stripped on one end and wearing what looks like old racing paint on the other. It’s of little surprise that this Z-Car has recently escaped long-term desert residency, and it is up for grabs with an openind bid of $1,699 with no reserve listed. 

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Although it’s hard to be sure of when the factory paint was removed and the custom paint added on, I think it’s safe to say the nose has worn green paint and yellow, BRE-style stripes for some time. The Datsun is said to be completely rust-free but isn’t quite road-worthy, with the seller specifically calling out clutch and brake bleeding and engine timing as known issues. There’s also a fair amount of trim missing, and the Datsun will come with the wheels pictured here and not the ones in the other photos.

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I can’t tell if the paint job is left over from the Z’s time as a race car, but the stripped out interior would certainly provide good evidence of a past involving weight reduction. The floors have been coated with heat insulation / sound deadening paint and then a layer of Dynamat was slapped over that. That doesn’t seem fitting for a race car, but perhaps the seller was attempting to bring it back to more daily-friendly condition. The Z will only come with one seat, so don’t bring any friends if you intend to drive this project home.

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On that last bit: the fuel tank was removed for cleaning, so driving cross country isn’t advisable given the temporary fuel arrangement the seller has rigged up. Overall, this Datsun is no doubt a project car but the rust-free metal provides a great starting point for a build. Although I love the “war paint” on the nose, I’d be sorely tempted to restore this back to its factory colors given how much of the finish is already stripped away. I’d definitely keep those fender mirrors, though. How would you restore it?


  1. RayT Member

    This is downright weird. A photo in the eBay ad showing the painted floors suggests that the left rear quarter and door jamb area are painted in what looks like a metallic brown/bronze. Doesn’t add up.

    The car probably has several histories, depending on what other Z-Car donated which panels. I remember seeing a few back in the day with BRE-clone paint schemes, and I’m guessing any “racing” this car did was confined to public roads. No roll bar/cage, and since there are no engine bay photos, no way to assess the health of the engine, or whether it has been upgraded.

    If it was really cheap — and I owned a Z of similar vintage — I might take the plunge to get spares (and those JDM-style fender mirrors). But something about this car seems to say “stay away!”

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  2. Dolphin Member

    Disclaimer: There isn’t much that’s positive to say about this poor Z car. And I tried…..

    There are all kinds of things that say stay away from this car.

    – No engine bay photo. He says it runs, so there’s got to be an engine, but probably the soft, emissions-choked original FI engine with dozens of tubes running everywhere.

    – Molested bigtime.

    – Looks like someone tried to make it into a racecar, but it’s still riding high, probably on its stock suspension, so they didn’t get far.

    – No really desirable parts left that are still in decent condition. Everyone wants parts for the early cars anyway.

    – These 280s are soft, almost luxury GTs, and a poor base to build a performance car unless you just use the shell and retrofit early pieces or aftermarket parts. The cost would be such that the car will end up being worth a fraction of the money & time that’s in it.

    It’s very cheap compared to a good early Z car, but you can’t fool many people with this car, so there are no bids, even with an opening bid of only $1700, which is a small fraction of what a good early Z car would bring.

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  3. jaygryph

    Heck of a cool patina. I’d probably leave it as is exteriorwise other than maybe touching up the stripes over the hood so they don’t have gaps with that filler panel by the air grill. New rolling stock, lowered, tinted windows, and a restored interior. Satin finish it and drive it.

    I dig the neglected race car vibe, but that’s just my opinion.

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  4. Bob Hess

    The later Zs had the same rust issues as the early cars. The last 280 we had in the shop was a doner car for a 240 rebuild. Lots of rust in the seams etc. Look carefully at this one.

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  5. Dan h

    Someone else’s donor turd. Run.

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    • Steve

      Run is right. Wouldn’t touch that thing with a 10′ pole. :umm:

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    • Dan h

      Hey, who gave me a thumbs down? Hmm…let me guess…

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  6. Roger

    For this price ( assuming their not retarded with a reserve ) seems like it would be a fun little car to throw a SBC in and maybe some seats lol in and just have a little fun in? No worries about restoring or anything but seems like a cheap little fun project, no?

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  7. Ronald Orlandos

    We have a 240 in my garage, we have put in new floor pans, right frame rail, battery tray, section of firewall, section of apron, frame pull, very labor intensive. Lots of rust
    R’n’S auto

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  8. scottymac

    Is it supposed to look like a Japanese Zero (fighter plane, think Pearl Harbor)?

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  9. Chris A.

    Meatball with white border on silver is late WWII. Think Kawasaki Ki 100. Yellow stripes on fender mimic late WWII fuselage markings on Kawanishi N1K2 Shiden-Kai. The “Z” whatever it is, has sure had a rough life. Spares, maybe-maybe not. Pass.

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  10. eric h.

    I’m with jaygryph – get it running somehow and ride it as is – it’s a in your face turd a la Mad Max-ish finger at all the “car guys”…and I’m one of them. What a hoot to roll around in! Coffee can exhausts are a must. Take it to a trackday to see the jaws drop…never intending to put it on the track, of course.

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