Monday, August 10, 2015

1979 - 1983 Datsun S130 Z 280ZX Buyers Guide

First things first, I'm not telling you how to buy a car, if you have limited knowledge, get someone who's experienced to come with you and look everything over. I'm merely pointing out the most common faults with the cars so you know what to look for, or what to expect during S130Z ownership. 

I've had multiple S130Z's in the past 8 years, though, most of them I ended up parting out at sacrificial lambs for my main car because they had so many nice parts that I needed for my main car. I've also been around the chassis since I was about 4, so I've nearly grew up with the damn things. I've had my fair share of trials and tribulations with the chassis and know my way around them to where I'm not surprised by anything. I'll try to make it a point to be as detailed as possible when pointing out different areas.

The S130 is the bastard child among Z car enthusiasts. You'll get a lot of people saying they're hideous, slow, and mushy. In some sense, sure, they're right. They aren't the best looking of the Z's, but then again, nothing after the early 240Z's looked particularly good in factory dress. Late S30's had absolutely disgusting diving board bumpers thanks to DOT 5mph laws and were pigs compared to earlier cars. So saying anything negative about what is essentially a highly refined chassis is being ridiculous. They're not even that ugly.

So, one of the biggest things to look for on S130's, is going to make or break a car. It's literally the defining line between having a quality car and something that is better served as a parts car and it's...


These things are rusty, there's no way around it. Even desert cars end up having some sort of rust. There's a super simple picture just pointing out where the most common places to look are.

Make sure to crawl under the car and poke around with a heavy screwdriver. Jab the life out of the metal and make sure you're not poking through into the car. People cheap out and will use a wire brush to get the flaky metal away and use fiberglass sheets to restructure the floor. Not the best way to go about it, but at least make sure you know what you're into. The biggest patch with fiberglass that I would trust is about 4" by 4" - any bigger and it's new metal for me. Remember, when you get into an accident or something, your seat is bolted to that same floor. Companies make replacement floor panels, if you know a someone who actually knows what they're doing with a welder, get them to do it and you'll be in good shape.

These went out on my S130 too. There's one goofy little spot as to why they go here as the car takes on water slightly through the B-Pillar trims. There's honestly no way around this as this is also how the interior vents itself. The best thing thing I did was treat the metal via the inside of the car and then POR-15'd it. Hasn't showed any signs of returning rust. Rockers take a couple hits from road debris and rust like there's no tomorrow. A good clear rock chip guard to treat the whole rocker, you'll most likely have no rust issues. Take a magnet to the car and run it along the body of the car - if there's a section that the magnet won't want to grab, B B B BONDO.

This is a rather extreme example of how these get - but if your rockers are looking like this, chances are the rest of the car is going to be extremely poor as well. Proceed with caution.

 This is a section that has been taken down to bare metal and all the cancerous metal cut out. The process of replacing that metal is a lot of work - don't expect cheap, quick fixes to be very good. 

Spare Tire Well
Make it a point to pull down the spare tire covering, remove the spare tire and check down where the spare sits. In the rust belt, you'll find either a hole, or some rust forming. It's a hugely common spot for rust as water gets in through old tail light seals or weak hatch seals.

Keep an eye out in these general areas for bodywork. Bad work will usually have a sort of waviness to it from gobs of bondo. Take a screwdriver and bang along the rockers and listen for any change in sound. Metal will sound hollow, bondo will sound solid. Take a magnet and run it along the panels to find the same. Bodywork isn't a deal breaker, bad bodywork is.


There are two different versions of the S130: 79-81 Zenki and 82-83 Kouki. Early cars were usually the least optioned and the most pure of a sports car out of all the years, late cars were fat, but came with what I think are desirable turbo engines. The best of both worlds is having a nearly option-less car with a turbo engine or one with a triple carb set up. Unless you're a fan of heavier, more plush, grand touring style, then the early ones are the ones to get.

So now you've looked over the car for rust and you've found one you think you can deal with. So let's get in depth with some of the features you may find problematic while owning on of these.

Cars with T tops usually leak from the tops. The seals get flat and stiff and they won't do much sealing. You may get some dripping while washing the car or when driving in the rain. Replacement seals are expensive. Hatch seals go through the same hardening, though they'll usually get torn up from people putting stuff into the hatch. Stuff grabs the seals, tears it, and before you know it you'll have water intrusion into the hatch area. That's actually why the spare tire well starts rusting up. Tail light seals are nothing more than a thin foamy/rubber gasket that get's compressed between the body and chassis. Dirt and water get in these and the chassis vibrations start wearing through paint. Left to sit you may find a lot of Z's with rusty tail panels.


While not really a problem on the manual control systems, the automatic climate control is a colossal  pain in the neck to get working right. It uses a dozen and a half vacuum lines routed to various parts behind the dash to control your climate. The blower speeds are always too slow or too fast. With the manual system, you can set everything yourself and while there still are a ton of vacuum lines to go wrong, replacement is infinitely easier. The youngest of the S130's is now 32 years old - meaning 32 years of deferred maintenance. You get 32 years of the foam air box seals wearing away and not creating any sort of seal. Removing the dash isn't too huge of an ordeal, so if you ever find yourself with the dash out, take apart the entire HVAC system and clean/reseal'll thank yourself later.

Outside of the problematic auto air, people usually people get rid of all the AC components to "lighten" the car because they can't get the AC to work. It's not difficult to get the systems working and the systems are generally very robust. In all my Z's, I've had only one that had a compressor lock up and the rest just needed new seals. Vacuum them down and fill them up. The systems lose a bit of cooling capacity when running R134, but I've have excellent luck running propane/isobutane. If you find stuff called "Freeze 12" or something, that's all it is. No big deal.

A common mod is to swap from auto air to manual. There are write ups all over the internet, so dig into them and get a feel for how to do it. You may just consider just finding a car with manual air.

The HVAC control you see below is that of the manual system.

Below is the automatic air system - the notoriously unreliable and temperamental one.

Long story short, they crack. If they sit in the sun, they get really bad. I've seen some dash's that formed inch wide cracks and ran the entire length of the dash. You can usually tell if a car's been kept up well just by looking at the dash. If it's bad, the car's most likely been left outside and driven hard. Hardest dash colors to find are black and red. If you find one crack free you're in the money. An alternative to a replacement dash are covers. There are a few companies that make vinyl dash covers that don't look too bad, but they do make the dash look a bit pudgy. They have a habit of buckling if they sit in the song too long.

Door panels hold up well to abuse. If you find a car that has door panels in tatters, don't even bother as that car was far beyond any maintenance and who knows what caused that damage. Rear strut panels are plastic, they discolor with age. Color products by SEM bring them back to life. Vinyl panels in the rear hatch may be warped and they're tough to massage back into shape. Make note of missing panels as it gets expensive to replace.


L28's are awesome engines. They're stupidly reliable, they're super cheap to maintain, and they're not difficult to squeeze some extra power from. NA engines can be triple carb'd and turbo engines can be modified for quick easy power. Like with everything else on the planet, some people just refuse to maintain their cars and let them become so dilapidated that they won't run or won't run correctly.

Vacuum problems plague both turbo and non turbo cars. There are so many places for the engine to have a vacuum leak, it's worth just redoing the entire engine's vacuum system to avoid problems during your ownership. I buy about 30 yards of silicone vacuum tubing from a local race shop to redo vacuum systems. The silicone is more resistant to chemicals and won't get as stiff as regular rubber tubing. One of the biggest vacuum leaks for these cars is the AFM (air flow meter) boot. The boot develops a tear and the engine will suck in unmetered air. Depending on the size of the tear, the engine will either run terribly, or it won't run at all. If the car develops a heavier exhaust leak, the gasket might burn and develop a vacuum leak around the intake port. Fuel injector o rings will also leak and cause similar problems.

Exhaust leaks - it's the nature of inline engines with one piece manifolds. The manifolds tend to banana over time and blow out the #6 exhaust manifold stud. The stud breaks off in the head and is followed by an annoying exhaust leak. Every single one of my L's has had that last stud replaced.

Oil pressure should be around 60psi when starting from cold. If it's not able to get that high, there may be a problem in the sender unit, or the engine is just worn down. Don't worry if oil pressure drops dramatically when hot, that's the nature of the beast. Revving should bring oil pressure up.

Most people don't know how to take care of turbos. They're run them to the ground and will shut them off. That'll coke the oil and give you trouble down the road. For a healthy turbo car, if you're revving above 3k, the boost gauge should peg almost instantly when you floor it. If it's not pegging that gauge, that turbo isn't producing as much boost as it should. Vacuum leaks or a dying turbo will be the problem. 

Turbo cars are fun. Power potential is greater than NA cars and they usually sound a little better too. Stock fuel systems, intercooled, and boost kicked up a bit should be good for nearly 250hp. Upgrading fuel management and a turbo upgrade will bring the engines over 300hp. 

Now THESE are ugly. Sure they may be slightly more practical, but they're hunchback design makes them disgusting. They're probably the reason why S130's get such a bad rap, because most of the world only got the 2+2's. So be it. Everything in the guide applies to the 2+2's.


Buy the best car you can afford. The cheaper they are, the more expensive they become in the long run. Save yourself the time and money and just find a good car. If you're handy, expect to put in atleast $1500 on top of the purchase price of the car to get the entire chassis sorted - including a full engine tune up, bushings, and any seals the car might need. From there on, they're not expensive to keep up, figure about $300-500 a year on maintenance and you'll be in good shape. 


Post a Comment