Javier Solis

5 minute read

Is it possible to build a Datsun Z car for under $5K? So far we’ve been able to stay under a $5000 budget for our 1981 Datsun 280ZX turbo build project car. We thought it would be helpful to created a mini buyers guide with tips on how we’ve managed to stay under $5000 along with a list of places we’ve purchased Datsun parts. We also put together a YouTube video with more details on work we’ve done and plan to do on the Datsun 280ZX Turbo build.

Initial Price of the Z Car

So the first item that will dictate if you can stay under $5k will be the initial price of the car. You’ll have quite a few options on different make and model, so choose wisely. The Datsun Z car comes in a variety of different flavors and the initial cost of the car can vary based on required work. Your model options will be a Datsun 240Z, 260Z, 280Z, or a 280ZX. One of the biggest factors that should also impact price is rust. Lots of Z cars are notorious for forming rust on the unibody frame especially around the weld seams. The first places you should investigate are jack points, wheel wells, and floor boards. The more rust you find the lower your offering price should be. And if the car doesn’t start, make sure you take that into consideration.

We found our Datsun 280ZX locally in town for sale under $2500. However I’d recommend you check out Facebook marketplace, Facebook Datsun groups, Craigslist, or even Ebay for a Z car. Sites like Bringatrailer usually list higher priced Datsun’s that may not need much work. You’ll also more likely to find 280ZX cars for sale as Datsun made and sold more of those models. The 280ZX isn’t a bad project car, but some people prefer the look of the older Z car models. If your patient enough you should be able to find something under $2500. Just be prepared for lots of work to be done.

Drivetrain Investigation

Once you’ve found and investigated the exterior of the car I’d recommend you test out the drivetrain. If you can’t start or drive you won’t know how much drivetrain work will be required, so take advantage of that during negotiations. If the car starts check for leaks. Smoke coming from the tailpipe that’s not normal will be an indicator of work required on the engine. Bluish smoke will more than likely mean the engine has an internal oil leak and white smoke would indicate a coolant leak. These can be time consuming to fix yourself, but you’ll save tons of money on labor costs. Unfortunately when I purchased my 280ZX it didn’t start and we took a gamble. Once it was running, we found that the transmission was dead. We ending up having to replace the transmission with a used one for $250 and our Z car is now drivable.

Some common items that will need repair are ignition components such as the distributor, coil, ignition transistor, and possibly rusted out electrical wiring. You’ll also want to replace vacuum, fuel, and coolant hoses. Other miscellaneous sensors may need to be replaced like the throttle components and/or seals around the intake manifold. Be expected to do some brake work too. The biggest items that you may have to tackle will be any engine, cylinder hear, transmission, and/or rear axle work. Some items can be rebuilt based on your level of experience or can be purchased new, refurbished, or used.

Essential Drivetrain Components

We put together a detailed list of all the parts we’ve purchased or still need to purchase which we track in a Google spreadsheet. I separated the list into different sections and as of now we are under $5000. I’m hoping it stays that way so let’s start with the essential drivetrain components. The goal is to make the 280ZX daily drivable, so essential parts are all the parts to make the car a comfortable daily driver.

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Part/Description Price Store/URL
Ignition Coil $30.00 Advanced Auto Parts
PRW2 Ignition Transistor Mod $40.00 ebay.com Motors
NGK Spark Plugs $20.00 thezstore.com
NGK spark plug wires $50.00 thezstore.com
Vacuum hoses and lamps $40.00 Advanced Auto Parts
Water temp controller $25.00 thezstore.com
Used Automatic transmission $250.00 vintagezparts.com
Turbo rebuild kit $25.00 ebay.com Motors
Aux air controller $25.00 ebay.com Motors
Space saver spare tire $60.00 ebay.com Motors
Brake Booster $75.00 280ZX Facebook Group
Brake Master Cylinder $55.00 Advanced Auto Parts
NiCopp Brake line & Flaring nuts $75.00 Advanced Auto Parts
Essential Drivetrain Total $770.00

Essential Exterior/Interior Components

The next section covers exterior/interior items that I consider to be essential to safety and/or preventing more damage to the car from weather

Part/Description Price Store/URL
Rear hatch lift supports $85.00 jdm-car-parts.com
Floor pan and floor rails $489.00 thezstore.com
Rear hatch weather seal $89.00 jdm-car-parts.com
T Top glass $100.00 Ebay.com
Essential Cosmetics Total $763.00

Nice to have items

The last section is for nice to have items that don’t necessarily impact daily drivability.

Part/Description Price Store/URL
280ZX Carpet Kit $249.00 thezstore.com
Seat Upholstery Kit $299.00 thezstore.com
Aftermarket Turbo Intercooler $523.00 Ebay.com
Nice to have Total $1071.00

Budget Breakdown

Without the nice to have parts, we made it under $5K. It’s not easy, but you can definitely plan your budget within $5000 for a Datsun Z car. Note that I’m not including any of the personal labor time or tool costs. It wouldn’t be any fun if you didn’t do the work yourself or invested in a few tools for your future builds :)

Initial cost of the car ~$2500
Essential drivetrain parts $770
Essential interior/exterior parts $763
Nice to have parts $1071
Total cost $5104

Check out our YouTube Video - Building a Datsun 280zx for under $5k