280ZX Restoration

as featured in Zclub Magazine, Spring 2007

280ZX Restoration

For those of you who think the 280ZX is a bloated 2+2 luxury cruiser – think again. Although the UK market had the coupe (two seater model) in small quantities from 1978 to late 1981, it was still not the car that other markets enjoyed. Plagued with the retrograde step of power steering box mounted on the chassis and driving a relatively vague set of linkages; encumbered with the over-padded trim of the luxury 2+2 and offered with some of the least desirable sports car upholstery known to mankind, the coupe suffered the criticisms levelled at its big sister. In reality, the coupe is a fine motor car – you just need to fit some rack and pinion steering, convert the interior to black trim and add a little more horsepower. Hang on! It would seem that Nissan were thinking along those lines too and this sweet little LHD American model personifies what the UK 280ZX could have been.

Born in the USA (from its Japanese mothership) in 1978, this coupe was under-specified at the time which now adds to its charm. Originally yellow, the bodywork was repainted in black in 1983. The interior is basic back vinyl and the seats have a nice period “basket-weave” effect in the centre panels. Gone are the power windows of the UK car. Gone too is the steering box – this example was specified with manual track and pinion steering with a manual gearbox.

The rest of the interior remains spartan by comparison with the UK specification – no vertical and horizontal tonneau arrangement. The overall feel of the interior is that of a slightly more spacious 240Z or 260Z and the driving experience is comparable due to lack of power steering at all. The only concession to luxury was a driver’s electronically operated door mirror and air conditioning.

Owner Phil Denman purchased the car from the family of American friends in Seattle where the paint and engine overhaul had been carried out by Ball Automotive, a Tacoma company with a history going back to the 1930s.

Phil's first major trip in the car was to cruise from Seattle down Highway 101 to California

This road is nothing short of spectacular, hugging the West Coast shoreline for much of its length all the way down to San Francisco and Los Angeles. To add to the fun, he did it in the company of a friend driving a silver 280ZX of the same vintage.

After spending much of its early life in sunny climes the 280 was then treated to the short, sharp shot of being exported to chilly Oxfordshire – by rail across the USA and by ship to Portsmouth. Phil enjoyed the car on an occasional basis over the next few years where it was protected from the elements by being garaged and carefully maintained by Kevin Bristow (of 240Z rally fame).

Phil then drove the lucky automobile down to the South of France where it enjoyed a return to its sun-basking days, but began to suffer a little from less regular maintenance. Towards the end of 2006, I was persuaded by Phil to accept the car at MJP foran assessment of its potential to be refurbished. Expecting the worst, it arrived on a car transporter without functional battery, missing mirror and looking a bit grubby and scratched. However it quickly fired up and returned to life again to pass an MOT without effort.
The underside and the basic condition of the bodywork are exceptional – the rust bug has passed this one by

Heartened by the news, Phil agreed to a full respray in the existingblack, replacement of some of the tired weather-strips, wheel refurbishment and some new tyres of the correct profile. The sentimental value of the car perhaps is in excess of its true worth, but Phil was keen to do a good job and to maintain all the original extras fitted stainless steel arch mouldings and an American aftermarket side moulding set. The wheels are refinished 260Z alloys originally upplied by Kevin Bristow to replace some rusting wire baskets, they irror the Denovo look of the UK cars whilst alloying fitment of some roper tyres. Diamond cutting and black powder-coating by Lepsons has made them better than new.

The USA impact bumpers with over-riders eere retained as the frames and covers were still in good order. The nderbonnet area was freshened up with new radiator, water pump, ignition leads and a new old stock air box from the MJP uncatalogued 280ZX reserves! Although all glass was removed for the painting, no significant rust was found anywhere, even behind the rear bumpers where the attachment brackets were like new! The whole car is a testament to dry climates and sensible road treatments. What a shame it will live in the UK now!

All bodywork preparation and painting was performed by Stocks Coachworks, near Chelmsford, aided and abetted by Carl Alliston who did the major mechanical work as well. Mark at Stocks is a Lotus specialist and produces excellent work on a range of high-class motor cars.The 280ZX shared a stable with several Lotuses, a Porsche, a Mercedes and BMWs while getting its new coat. Carl is responsible for much of the mechanical work performed for MJP (Eastern Auto) and is particularly expert with 300ZXs and 350Z supercharger fitment!

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