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First Z car, a 78 280z!

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Hey everyone,

I got my first Z car not too long ago, a 78 280z. I payed $2300 and the car has a spun main bearing with just over 108k on the odometer. 

I've already started breaking down the car, and so far I've got the entire front end apart. I’ve got about $3700 into it so far and I’d like to keep costs as low as possible. I've got a few concerns I'd like to get some input on:

  1. I did a lot of cost-estimating and decided to buy a rebuilt engine instead of rebuilding the one it came with. I bought a rebuilt L28 with approximately 80k miles on it for $1k from a guy that never got around to installing it in his project. It's supposedly built by a reputable shop, but what should I check out before dropping it in?
  2. How necessary is replacing my spindle pins? The rest of the suspension components are in good shape, just dirty and slightly worn (to give context)
  3. My dad had a few friends that were checking out the car and they said the paint looked salvageable to them. The top half of the car looks pretty bad to me, but the bottom half is quite good (see pics). How do I tell if the paint is usable? Where would I take it to have it fixed, or is it something I can do?
  4. The engine bay has some surface rust in a few locations. Is it better to repaint the entire bay at once or just the localized areas?
  5. Does keeping the original paint increase the value? I may be looking to sell this when it’s done to fund a pre-smog Z.
  6. I’ve read a ton about carpet kits for these cars but can’t really make a decision on which one I want. Any personal recommendations? 


Pictures here:


Thanks everyone!

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If rebuilt by a 'reputable shop' it should have a bill and an itemized list of parts, labor and what was done. The term 'rebuilt' can mean anything from a set of gaskets, to all new main and rod bearings, bored and new oversize pistons and rings, a valve job and new valve seals new timing chain and gears and chain guides. If the seller can't come up with this, and you don't know him, pass on this.


What are spindle pins? Maybe I know it as something else.


If the paint can be buffed to remove the dullness and bring up a nice shine it's serviceable. You can't do this is there are blemishes or peeling. If you can make it look nice enough for now do so and look into a good paint job later.


I would try to paint it all at once or it will look like a patchwork quilt. To do right components have to be removed, painting around things is tedious and doesn't look that good... then there's over spray. Better to not do it than to do it poorly.


Paint is paint. I'd rather have a nice new paint color of my choice than an original with all it's nicks and scratches in it.

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I already bought the rebuilt engine at recommendation from my dad who knows a lot more than I do. At this point, all I can really do is drop it in and hope it works I guess.

Spindle pins are the pins in the rear A arms.

I've been thinking more, and I think I'm gonna hold off on a full paint restoration until I have more money to throw at this thing. For now, I'll just stop the rust.

Thanks for your response

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I apologize ahead of time for the flurry of questions, but I'm new to serious engine work and this is the most advanced thing I've done.


As for the rebuilt engine's quality: I got a list from the seller and it was completely redone, everything datzenmike listed.


Alright, I got the rebuilt engine dropped in and everything hooked up. I'm having trouble getting it started though. It cranks and turns over fine and gets spark and fuel (found that out when the fuel rail leaked everywhere) but won't quite start. It pops every few cranks but won't get going. Could this be timing? With the crank flywheel notch lined up with the 0 notch, the distributor shaft is at just about 11:25 and looks exactly like the images I've seen on this site and elsewhere for examples of proper timing. I have also replaced the ignition coil since my spark was inconsistent between orange and a dull blue, and the new coil didn't change things. I also tried reversing the coil wires in case the wiring was bubba'd, but it didn't change either so I put them back.


I also realized I didn't prime the oil pump so good thing the engine didn't start! On that note as well, the oil pressure gauge isn't showing any pressure when cranking, is this normal? I have a brand new sending unit installed and hooked up (one of the 2 wire ones). 


So here's a list of my symptoms for easier reading:

  • Weak spark, changing between orange and blue.
  • No oil pressure at dashboard gauge. Should I get a gauge that plugs into the block?
  • Engine cranks and pops but won't quite start.
  • Potentially old and bad gas, will be replacing today.
  • Timing may be bad, but I tried my darnedest to get it right (since I'm new to it and it scares me)

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Figured it out, I'm an idiot. I set the timing on the exhaust stroke instead of compression, despite assuring myself (and checking!) that I didn't. Rotated spark plug wires 180 degrees and she fired right up.

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I've had really good luck with the plasti-dip system. 500 bucks for all the plasti dip and sprayer its a good inbetween solution and keeps it original underneath. Working on my first s30 as well, good luck with the build

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Hello, welcome to the wonderful world of Zcars. I was talking with Jeff Winter about 5 years ago after I replaced my spindle pins, he said it it isn't frozen he wouldn't replace them. I tend to agree the juice ain't worth the squeeze if everything is ok back there.


Hybridz.org is a great library for you if you want to work on the car. I have owned mine for about 16 years now and they are fantastic cars.

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