By on January 17, 2017

1981 Datsun 280ZX in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Datsun 280ZX was sold in the United States for the 1979 through 1983 model years, and many a line of cocaine was sniffed inside these cars during their heyday as affordable sports cars. The 280ZX still shows up regularly in California wrecking yards, but most of them go unphotographed as I continue seeking out the really rare stuff. However, since I’ve never included a 280ZX in this series, and this one in the San Francisco Bay Area was an especially ugly rare 2+2 version, I decided to photograph it.

1981 Datsun 280ZX in California wrecking yard, interior - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Was this car available new with blue interior and purple seats? Probably not, but the early 1980s were a strange time.

1981 Datsun 280ZX in California wrecking yard, sunroof receipt - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Sunroofs were once considered high-prestige luxury items, and so people would pay shops to install aftermarket units. This one appears to have been installed when the car was nearly new.

1981 Datsun 280ZX in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

That’s a lot of miles for a car of this era, even a Nissan.

1981 Datsun 280ZX in California wrecking yard, used car price - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Some low-end used-car lot tried and failed to get $1,199 for this car. No rust, but very tired.

The image of the 280ZX in its homeland (where it was known as the Fairlady Z) was similar in general Malaise white-powderishness to that of the American models.

[Images: © 2017 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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55 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Datsun 280ZX 2+2...”

  • avatar

    “… many a line of cocaine was sniffed inside these cars during their heyday as affordable sports cars.”

    I hope you’re not speaking from personal experience. Do you have statistics to back up a statement like that? I’m certain many cars experienced such things and not a 280Z in particular.

    As for the car, I never wanted one, but they were quite popular.

    • 0 avatar

      I seem to remember this as a car for newish money and all the trappings that come along with it. Seems this was a lighthearted “line”, and not a statement of verify-able fact.

    • 0 avatar

      Purely anecdotal, but living in Gainesville Florida during the 80’s a Nissan Z (or later IROC Camaro) plus Greek letters on the bumper equaled cocaine. But UF was an infamous party school at the time, there may have been some universities where students actually went to class without chemical enhancements.

    • 0 avatar

      Many were bought by strippers and Disco Dan types. Hence the cocaine reference.

    • 0 avatar

      I can confirm. In my hometown these, along with the succeeding 300ZX, were the favored ride of coke-dealing bartenders, amongst whose customers were cokehead Nissan salesmen. It’s a hell of a drug.

    • 0 avatar
      Brett Woods

      “… many a line of cocaine was sniffed inside these cars during their heyday as affordable sports cars.” … “I hope you’re not speaking from personal experience. Do you have statistics to back up a statement like that?”

      Laugh. I think the line is to make the article pop and be “edgy.” Or maybe there is some personal experience? The thing is, it’s a mischaracterization of the new car and at the end of its life; statistics would show otherwise. It was not the most common car – for illicit purposes. That would be the Z-28, I think anyone will tell you. My advice: You have to mix edge with truth. It’s the honesty part that makes it work, like in music. But hey, we can’t all be a Jack Baruth.

  • avatar

    Looks like velour seat material started out a medium-blue color. I had a ’77 Volkswagen Dasher with blue velour seats that, after a couple years of sunlight, turned the same purple color.

  • avatar

    Blegh. This is when the Z reached peak landau. A real low point for the marque

  • avatar

    Jeez.. you could’ve had a gen 1 Trooper for less.

    People are an effing weird species.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      The Trooper was an odd duck of being too expensive. The luxury L version had a higher list price than a same year Acura SLX.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        You’re almost right – for 1996 the “luxury” Trooper MSRP was $37996, the Acura SLX was $38000. But the Trooper was available for $4-5k off MSRP; the Acura was barely negotiable.

        Just to mess with people (or the handful knowledgeable about both models), when I rebuilt the front end of my 2001 Trooper after a deer strike I put the SLX grill on. It’s actually quite nice looking. Now if only another transmission would fit in there besides the glass-jaw GM 4L30E.

        • 0 avatar
          Corey Lewis

          Dang, should have known to fact check before I said dollar figures from memory.

          • 0 avatar

            How dare you post fake news, who do you think you are, CNN/CBS/NBC/ABC/NYT/WaPo? Do you have a permit?

            WIGGUM: Grr…I hate it when companies dump their [fake news into the internet] without a permit…it’s not like those permits are hard to get!

  • avatar

    While not a ZX my blue 1977 Z was a fun car. It was the first car I had over 90 MPH. Scary!

    P.S. Up to that time the only vehicles I owned was a 1977 Chevrolet Chevette and a new 1982 S-10 pickup plus a Mexican built 1981 Volkswagen Beetle.

  • avatar

    I remember driving out to some small rural town to test drive one of these that was for sale for $650 when I was in highschool. Very rusty. It drove like a pickup truck, nothing sporty about it (some or a lot of that had to do with its dilapidated condition). Going further back in time, there was a gold one of these parked in front of the house I used to do yard work for with my brother. We always thought it looked pretty neat, although even at our younger age we understood it was no performance car, especially not with the automatic transmission that particular car was saddled with.

  • avatar

    I drove the first 1979 280ZX in Orange County, California for Southwest Leasing in July 1978. It was the lime green color. People everywhere stopped to look. It was a fantastic car and the beginning of Nissan’s
    increase in sales of this now luxurious sport coupe.
    Simply a change with the times. You really had to be there!

  • avatar

    That price tag isn’t from a ” low end used car dealer”… JFC already… and you are car-guys? What’s this world coming to?
    It’s the price tag numbers PicknPull always uses to try to sell running cars before they go out to the yard. To be ripped apart & lost forever.
    Now tell me why would a 240Z be snapped up pronto? Hell it wouldn’t last two days. It would be snapped up quicker than you can say Silicon Valley Neophyte.
    Sooo…Why did this 280Z not sell?
    Come on now… any wrench turning shade tree
    self respecting greasy fingered dude who who knows a 1.2 Toyota engine from its big brother the 1600… and a 216 from a 235… and a 283 from a 289… and a 389 from a 383 or a Subi 2.2 from a 2.0 or 1.8 or 2.5) (oh sorry got a little carried away there-god knows this new gen doesn’t give a shit about the ins and outs of any particular engine… much less how to take one apart when necessary). …or was anything but a glint in their dad’s eye the day Datsun turned into Nissan come on anyone who actually knows cars as well as your spinster aunties know their soaps…
    …knows this answer.
    … anyone?… 240Zgood — yet — 280Z a joke … por que?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Jeff is correct, you really did have to be there.

    In the Newhart TV series, the ‘yuppie’ Michael constantly attempts to impress by referring ad nauseum to his 300ZX turbo, his “Turbo Z”.

    The original 240Z was a revelation. A sporty car that worked and was affordable.

    The Z series grew in size and ‘opulence’ to match consumer demands of the disco era.

    They were very prone to premature rusting, so it surprises me that this one has not been thoroughly scavenged. I seem to remember that the earlier ones also had chronic master cylinder issue.

    For a real blast check out the ‘strange times’ link Murilee provides with the commercials from the 1970’s. I ended up with a Gran Torino Elite and a T-Bird of that era so the interior/dash of the Cougar are quite familiar to me. And I still have a thing for women with the Farrah hairstyle.

  • avatar

    Actually, a fairly legit sports car for the early ’80s, if you could get it with the turbo and without the leisure-suit paint getup.

    I’d put this car in my driveway any day.

  • avatar

    My sister bought a used one, only to find later that the floor was rusted out. A local body shop had a parts vehicle with a good floor so she paid them to cut that floor out and put it in hers, painted the car white, and charged her about $1500. It drove great, handled nice, felt heavy. Good power from the straight six.

    I once took it for a drive and changed lanes without looking, striking a Tempo. The driver pulled ahead of me, waved to me, then took off up the road. I started to follow him but he wasn’t stopping. I have no idea – maybe his car was stolen.

    The body man had some paint left so he was able to touch up the car which didn’t sustain any dents – just paint scrapes and a broken mirror.

  • avatar

    Some of these 2+2s had headlight washer nozzles in the bezel area. Madonna’s “Borderline” music video shows her accidentally spray painting the hood of a 2+2 which incurs the ire of her snotty consort.

  • avatar

    I don’t know why this is still an issue for me after 10ish years of being a car enthusiast, but every time I hear “2+2,” I have to tell myself that no, we’re not talking about anteater tractors in this circle.

  • avatar

    Have one of these in my yard, turbo auto w/T-tops that don’t leak same color and same interior. Waiting for someone to come and rescue it, maybe Velocity channels Garage Squad would like to take it on. It will probably go to ‘Cars for Kids’ or some other charity.

  • avatar

    I had a friend who drove one of these. Helped her move once, and you could actually cram quite bit of stuff into it with the seats down.

  • avatar

    This made me sad, the 280ZX is my favorite Z.

    • 0 avatar

      These deserve mor credit than being given here. My ex had one. Hers, too had severe rust issues at its end of life. Jacking the car to do front brakes caused the jack to crush the car instead of lifting it. The rust was eventually so severe the doors began to bind. But before its rusty demise it was really cool. Nice interior, great engine, great shifter. Unlike most cars of the era it had discs at all four corners, independent suspension all around, fuel injection, over head cams. One cool feature was the gas guage-in-guage. The last quarter tank had a separate gauge for the remaining quarter tank. Very useful for my hand to mouth girlfriend who never was interested in filling the tank – rather buy booze instead. Oh well, the car was awesome!

  • avatar

    I’m kind of disappointed there’s no picture of the back seat.

  • avatar

    The 280-ZX was never considered to be anywhere nearly as desirable to collectors as were the 240-Z, 260-Z and 280-Z. Though it carried most of the Z’s styling cues, the goofy looking moldings around the upper door were tacky and ruined the appearance.

    The biggest negative in the eyes of enthusiasts, though, was the switch from an independent rear suspension using Chapman struts to a semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension.

    The 280-ZX just didn’t handle as well as the previous 280-Z. The first generation 300-ZX didn’t handle all that well, either, however Nissan really did get it together with the second-generation 300-ZX.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    My Dad had a black 1982 Datsun 280zx Turbo with T-top. Going just from memory now I can say, that car was the fastest and had the most beautiful front end and under the hood the engine was special and beautiful to look at.

    I remember reading about it in, I think R&T but maybe it was C&D. The issue had the new 280zx Turbo and the DeLorean which was much anticipated by me. The article said the Datsun 280zx Turbo in auto moved 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds which was faster than the contemporary Ferrari 328. The manual was a couple 10ths slower, but in real-life corners I expect it would have been faster because you could have kept it in the turbo. My Dad bought the automatic. The Delorean 0-60 mph was 8.9 sec which was disappointingly slow in comparison and I think killed sales – that was because they didn’t put the 350 ci Corvette motor in it.

    The two plus-two came out toward the end of the model run and to my eye, the stretch didn’t help the proportions of the car. Also, I think some new safety regulations might have come into effect, anyway it had a big black rubber bumper up front. Still, even looking at the picture of the interior in the junk yard, I think you can tell that it was better than that of a modern Boxter. Those polymers were dual density soft-touch. I’m sure it was a pleasurable car to own but, as MM says – rare.

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