With the massive success of the Datsun 240Z (and briefly, the 260Z) the release of the 280Z was fully expected by the automotive world. With development of the 280Z, Nissan faced more stringent emission standards and heightened safety requirements resulting in some significant differences with the new model. The 280Z featured new, bulkier 5-mph front and rear bumpers and weighted in at almost 500 lbs. more than the original Z-car. To compensate, the 280Z also featured an increased-bore 2.8L engine and a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system, moving the Z away from the finicky SU carburetors. Also new to the 280Z was the option of a 5-speed manual in the American market.
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Despite its relatively subtle differences from the original Z-car, the 280Z was a hit, selling over 40,000 cars in the U.S. market the first year it was offered. America was still in love with the Z-car and the 280Z was a welcome new offering. Today, the 280Z is coming into its own in terms of becoming a collectible automobile. Like its predecessors, the 280Z’s main issue is its tendency to rust due to the continuation of the unibody design and lack of galvanization measures taken. One possible explanation for the current valuation of the 280Z market is that so many of these cars fell victim to extreme and widespread rust, so finding a rust-free example is becoming more and more difficult.
With that said, finding a 280Z in good condition is still very possible. With a bit of preparation and diligence you can find yourself a great, rust-free example to add to your collection or to enjoy!
Where to Begin your Search + Dealing with Competition!
While you definitely may want to search only in and around your immediate locale, you may find yourself waiting a long time to find your Z if you choose to go that route. The 280Z, like all Z-cars, can be found in both greater quantity and quality in the Southwest U.S. than any other region in the U.S. If you live on the East Coast, for example, it is certainly possible to find a great, rust-free 280Z, but the market is far smaller and less dynamic in that region. You might find yourself checking the classifieds constantly for months before you find a few 280Zs you even want to go look at.
By comparison, the Southwest U.S. is simply a hotbed for the Z-car market. Due to my involvement in the Datsun Z-car community, I constantly scour the market for these cars to curate a classifieds section here on ZCarGuide. By far, more Z-cars are bought and sold in the Southwest than anywhere else — no competition. This largely down to the fact that more Z-cars were originally sold in this region than any other. If you are searching for a 280Z and want to maximize your chances of finding a great collectible quickly, you could save a lot of time by concentrating your search in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. In particular, Los Angeles appears to be the capital city for the Z-market. The Los Angeles market is large and very dynamic — every day you can find five great deals on 280Zs and 240Zs, but all five of them are sold within mere hours. If you can stay ahead of the competition, you can find yourself a fantastic deal in this market.
In addition to the large amount of Z-cars sold within this region originally making it a great place to begin your search, this region also offered the 280Z protection from its greatest kryptonite — rust. The Southwest U.S.’s hot, dry climate gave these cars their best chance of making it to the 21st century in one piece, literally!
Because of the ever-increasing asking prices for these cars, it is important to recognize a few key factors that strongly affect the resale value. The first, and generally most glaring factor, is whether or not the 280Z in question has been significantly modified. Because the 280Z generally spent a lot of time (1980-2005) as the cheaper counterpart to the already cheap 240Z in the eyes of many automotive enthusiasts, the 280Z gained a lot of clout as a potential “project car” for the modification community. Many 280Zs have drilled-in fender flares, aftermarket everything from the shift knob down to the wheels, and completely swapped engines. While there is nothing wrong with these types of 280Zs and they might be exactly what you are looking for, you should be aware of how these kinds of modifications can affect the resale value of your 280Z. The market is very hot for mostly-original to all-original 280Zs, but the same cannot be said of modified cars. Valuing these cars is very difficult and you should proceed with the mentality of “this is what the car is worth to me.” Sometimes the modifications made are easily reversible and the seller may even be including original parts with the sale. Generally, I wanted to put in a word of warning about this segment of the market as it can be very difficult to resell such a car in the event you decide to part with this 280Z.
Inspecting a 280Z for Sale
If this post has not already made it abundantly clear, rust it the number one concern with a 280Z you are considering buying. You’re going to want to check all the trouble areas:
- Under the battery tray
- Wheel wells
- Floorboards (actually pull up the carpet to check!)
- Spare tire area
- All along the rear hatch
- etc. — you can never be meticulous enough in checking for rust
One thing you simply can’t always tell with just a visual check is whether or not rust-repair has been done on the body. A car that has had rust repair done is not necessarily a poor purchase, but if the seller is not upfront about this and you end up discovering rust repair, it should be a major red flag. Similarly, a little bit of rust repair in the regular areas is typically fine, but an extremely high volume of rust repair present on the vehicle should also serve as a warning to you.
The question becomes, how can you actually check for hidden rust repair? While some swear by using a magnet to detect any body filler along the exterior, we at ZCarGuide we recommend using a coating thickness gauge to be sure. Using a gauge, you can simply go over any spot you find suspicious and see if the coating thickness matches up to the rest of the car. It should quickly become apparent whether rust repair has been done on the car. In the past, such a tool was a little too expensive to be considered a necessity, but we find them so useful and can now be found so cheaply on Amazon that we strongly recommend you purchase one before ever looking at a prospective Z-car for sale. The Z-car is simply too rust-prone to not check all the boxes on this issue.
The next most important thing to check is whether or not the engine number stamped on the block matches up with the number found on the VIN plate and the VIN label inside the dashboard. For more information on where these numbers are located, check out our identification number guide. The seller will likely be upfront with you about this if the numbers are not going to match. In fact, they’ll probably disclose that information within their classified ad if that is the case.
Similarly, make sure you are clear about the title situation of the car. While salvaged or lost titles are not a complete disqualifier for a 280Z you might be interested in buying, you should certainly make yourself aware of your state’s laws on titles and any fees or penalties you might incur in your plans with this car.
Continuing on from the notes made in the ‘Modified 280Zs’ section, make sure you are keeping track of everything that is aftermarket. If you see something striking like an aftermarket steering wheel or hear the unmistakable sound of an aftermarket exhaust system, ask the seller if he still has the original parts and if they come with the car. If not, you may have found yourself a negotiating point. Again, while you may like an aftermarket set of wheels or a nice non-original pair of seats, the general idea with valuation of a 280Z is that originality is the most important factor.
With your inspection of the interior, look for any non-operational buttons, lights, etc. and see if they correlate to an overall electrical issue. With many more electrical components throughout the car in the 280Z (compared to the 240Z), electrical issues are common. If you notice a light is not powering on, make sure you ask the seller to a get a bit more information. Also check out the status of the dashboard. Many 280Zs will have a cracked dashboard, but if it does not, check to see if there is a dash cover or just ask the seller. If the dash is cracked though, don’t worry — ZCarGuide has a dashboard repair guide and you can make a nice Saturday project out of it!
With the permission of the seller of the car, try to start the car and take it for a test drive. With any fuel delivery issues, they will become apparent pretty quickly. Unfortunately, repairing the fuel-injection system you will find in a 280Z is a bit more costly than cleaning and rebuilding a carburetor like you would with a 240Z. Overall, just take note of any fuel-delivery system issues and make sure you are including them in your “bottom-line” assessment of the car.
Having some solid documentation come with the car is a killer add-on if available. Items in this category include the build-sheet, the dealer window sticker, the original sale invoice, etc. While not necessary, these additional extras can always help boost the value of the 280Z especially if you are looking at a highly original car.
Other, less obvious examples of this include a dealer license-plate holder, service records, the warranty booklet, and more. Another couple things to check out would be the two metal compartments in the rear hatch behind each seat. Inside you may find the original toolkit and tire-changing tools. Having those intact is another great addition!
The best way to find a 280Z today is through online listing services. Even if you are not located in a traditionally dry-climate area, it may be worth buying a 280Z online that is from such a climate and having it shipped to you. However, you should only buy a 280Z in this scenario (sight-unseen) in extreme cases and after a lot of detailed communication the seller. In that scenario, you should have detailed pictures taken of every possible rust area. In any event, you are always better off taking a look at the car in person or having someone look for you.
Here are a few good places to look for 240Zs for sale:
- Our classifieds section – At ZCarGuide.com we curate Z-Cars we find online and update this section regularly. We also allow users of our site to list directly to our classifieds section. If you are in the market for a 280Z, you may want to sign-up to our email-list on the left of this page, as we send out regular emails about the very best deals we find.
- eBay – eBay is a great resource for this. Solid Z-cars from all over the country are listed for sale on eBay every day. Keep in mind though, this method of finding Z-Cars comes with a lot of competition, so be quick if you are interested!
- Craigslist – Despite the fact that Craigslist is very dated and sometimes annoying to use, it is still one of the best resources for finding Z-Cars. To quickly search multiple regions, check out SearchTempest, it will automatically search every Craigslist region within ‘x’ miles from a given zip-code.
- Autotrader Classics – Autotrader always has lots of 240Zs for sale, but most are restored and being sold by a dealer, so expect to find mostly expensive Zs here.
- Hemmings – Both in print and online, Hemmings is a great place to find high-quality 240Zs.