Junkyard Find: 1977 Datsun 280Z

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

After a couple of 1970s Italian sports cars for our last two Junkyard Finds, it’s time to look at the Japanese competition. Malaise Era Z Cars are not uncommon in California junkyards, and I spotted this fairly rough example in an Oakland yard last month.

Judging by the extremely weathered paint, I’m guessing this car spent at least a decade in outdoor storage, getting fried by the Northern California summer sun and picking up body rust during the rainy Northern California winters.

The old-school Raiders sticker, from the era before the team went to Los Angeles, indicates that this car is an East Bay native.

The L28 engine in the ’77 280Z made 149 horsepower in a 2,628-pound car, pretty decent numbers for the time. The ’77 Corvette weighed 3,448 pounds and had 210 horses (if you got the optional L82 engine), which gave the Chevy a slight power-to-weight advantage… and a price tag of $9,143 versus the Z’s $6,999.

The Camaro is probably a fairer comparison to the 280Z, however, given the similar demographics of the two cars’ purchasers. A ’77 Z28 with the optional 170-horse 350 sold for $5,380 and weighed 3,529 pounds. Which would you have bought? This debate could go on and on.

Early catalytic converters tended to run very, very hot, and cars not initially designed for them sometimes had less-than-optimal cat locations. If the floor above the cat got too hot, this warning light would come on, probably after the carpeting started to smolder. Fiat’s approach to the same problem was a “SLOW DOWN” light.

There’s no telling the significance of this 70s-vintage vanity plate.

Though this car doesn’t seem to suffer from rust-through problems, you can still get much nicer 280Z project cars in California for reasonable prices. Some of this car’s parts will live on in one of those cars.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Andy D Andy D on Mar 01, 2012

    My BIL has a 78 in his garage.

  • Skywalker Skywalker on May 02, 2013

    You all missed it on saying the Z car was a copy cat of this and that. The original 240Z would have been the next generation of the Austin Healy 3000 if Nader's Raiders hadn't of propagandised the dangers of powerful sports cars and scared Austin Healy out of biulding it. AH sold the specs to Nissan and the rest is history.