1976 Datsun 280Z

Purchased new, driven, stored and now new again.

Even those that are not car guys have one from their youth that has great memories attached to it. It could have been a hot rod of some type or an old beater from your grandmother but it still played a part in your life as you were growing up. Many times it wasn’t the car we were attached to as much as all the crazy stuff we did in it with all of our friends.

Sometimes though the car itself or whenever you see one like it triggers thoughts of special times. All too often the team at MCR will have someone at a show tell them about the car they used to have and how they wish they still had it. Even if they did though, seldom are they in runnable condition. It actually takes a lot of attention to keep a car in even restorable shape through several decades of unuse.

Doug McMillan managed to pull it off with his ’76 Datsun 280Z. He bought this Z-car brand new. At the time, he was between jobs on unemployment so he had to get his dad to cosign for the loan. A somewhat risky move perhaps but Doug eventually got to work and paid it off.

The fun and memorable role the car played was that he courted his future wife in it and they are still together today. Doug drove the car for about ten years and of course growing family forced him into something larger. Fortunately, the family business provided a corner in a building to stash it away out of the elements for about thirty years.

The Z actually looked pretty good when it arrived at MCR but like so many cars of this era, the damage had already been done by the winters in Wisconsin. Once the team had carefully disassembled and documented the entire car, it was sent out for chemical stripping which revealed the full extent of driving in the rust belt.

Granted, it was in much better condition than most that show up at the shop but a trip to the metal shop was still necessary to bring it back to how Doug remembers it when new.

Doug wanted it brought back to showroom stock but one concession to modern tech was made and that was to swap out the original Bosch fuel injection for a much more user friendly FAST system.

It could be said that there isn’t much that can bring back youthful memories quite like taking delivery of the same new car for a second time, especially when the same girl is still in the passenger seat.

1976 was a terrible year for American muscle cars but that opened up a market for an “economical” Japanese sports car. The Z-cars were affordable, fun and performed well as they were not yet hampered by all the recent emissions requirements.
Once back from being chemically stripped the extent of the rust damage was clear. There was also a considerable amount of repair work done previously that needed to be removed and done correctly. Outside of floor pans and front frame rails there wasn’t much available for this car so MCR needed to hand fabricate most of what was needed.
These aluminum slots are period pieces from back in the day. They were still in good shape so MCR cleaned and polished them.
The styling is sort of a mix of Corvette, Porsche and Jaguar all mixed together but it proved to be very popular.
Hatchbacks were really a thing back then. It was an effort to gain some storage space in a small car but it also mimics the “fastback” look of some American muscle.
The Zs were produced by Nissan but labeled as Datsun for the American market.
A compact car to be sure but their small size and light weight (under 2900 lbs) made them a nimble performer. A decent set of tires and wheels also helped. British Racing Green didn’t hurt either.
This Z’s 2.8L six produces 160 HP and 176 pounds of torque. That might not sound like a lot but with a 3.54 rear and a four speed in a sub-2900 lb chassis it’s plenty quick enough to get Doug in trouble if he’s not careful.
MCR had the engine rebuilt to mostly stock with upgrades to improve reliability. One major upgrade was to dump the factory Bosch fuel injection for an up-to-date FAST system. The Bosch setup was state of the art in its day but 40+ years of engine management advancement is more than worth it. The engine also has an upgraded camshaft and a long tube header. Custom made and routed plug wires so engine can be more clearly seen.
Being a true 2-seater there is a fair amount of room in back.
With the exception of the front carpet most of the interior was able to be cleaned, reconditioned and reused. One added creature comfort to this Datsun was cruise control.

Sources

FASThttps://www.fuelairspark.com/
Muscle Car Restorations, Inc.https://www.musclecarrestorations.com

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