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Thread: Datsun 280Z Motor Options And Track Viability?

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    Senior Member BigMac88's Avatar
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    Default Datsun 280Z Motor Options And Track Viability?

    If there's anyone out there running an older Z car - 1975 and older - I'd like to know your opinions on setting one up for track duties. I have the opportunity to purchase a 1975 280Z shell on the cheap. It's complete minus motor and trans, and in almost stellar condition (by that I mean not crashed and no rust ).

    I have a pretty good idea of tire choice and a basic alignment/brake/suspension setup that I'd use, but what about motor options?

    I've been researching/tossing around the idea of an RB20DET from the older Nissan Skylines, as well as going with an original L28 motor. The new technology and power on tap from the RB motor would be great, but would I be trashing the weight distribution?

    Any and all opinions/comments welcome.
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    240Z clearly the best. Good luck with the 280Z.
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    Senior Member BigMac88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard EVO View Post
    240Z clearly the best. Good luck with the 280Z.
    Indeed. The greater weight of the 280Z is also a concern :/
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    my guess is Hakeem will chime in soon. He ran one for a while.
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    dirty smack talker hakeem's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard EVO View Post
    240Z clearly the best. Good luck with the 280Z.
    Here we go...I did years worth of research on this and couldn't arrive at the same conclusion above

    The 280Z has a few benefits over the 240Z, particularly if you are planning on doing an engine swap. Stiffer chassis, stronger diff (R200 vs R180), wider transmission tunnel, longer suspension stroke (upper mount is 2" taller if I remember), etc etc.

    Most of the added weight in the 280Z comes from the bumpers, doors, interior equipment (ac, more electronics, etc). Some of the weight is from the stronger transmission (5spd) and engine internals, and some of the weight is in the chassis as reinforcement (which is good imo). I had an early 260Z which was basically a 280Z with 240Z bumpers; with an SR20DET in it, gutted but with stock glass and 15 gallons of fuel it weighed 2150lbs.

    The 240Z is certainly lighter to start with and with a full cage you can probably make up for the increased stiffness of the 280 chassis; my feeling is thought that if you are doing an engine swap you will end up putting in a bigger/heavier/stronger trans, the R200 diff and much of the other stuff that made the 280Z heavier in the first place. You can (and should) replace things like the stock hood (must weigh around 50lbs at least), bumpers, and hatch with fiberglass or carbon parts. You can swap the 240Z doors or gut the 280Z doors (probably about 100lbs combined weight saving there), or just replace with fiberglass.

    Ultimately what I (and I think most people) decided was that finding a rust-free chassis of either car was the primary concern. If you have access to a '75 chassis in good shape for cheap, get it.

    Power wise, I always wanted to do an RB26. The RB swaps are getting expensive these days as you need to find a rear-sump oilpan which only came in a Japanese RB20DET Skyline and is no longer manufactured; they sell for $6-800 now at which point it's cheaper to build your own pan. Value wise the RB25DET is probably the best bet assuming you can live with the above; McKinney Motorsports in the San Diego area makes alot of pre-fab swap parts for the SR and RB engines. As far as weight distribution goes, you aren't affecting much as the original iron 6 cylinder is roughly the same size and weight.

    Given how light the car is if you set it up for track duty, I would probably just put in an L28 engine from a 280Z and go for it. Spend some time and money on the suspension (I recommend sectioning the struts and using the Koni 8610 inserts), cooling, etc first. Arizona Z Car makes lots of great parts for these cars, although much of it is huge overkill depending on what you are doing.

    Lastly, I think the Z makes a tremendous track car. It's light with decent suspension geometry and plenty of options in terms of upgrades. From what I remember an ITS 240Z (almost stock-prep, down to the drum brakes in the rear) runs in the low 1:30's at Willow Springs.

    Good luck.
    Last edited by hakeem; 03-24-2010 at 12:31 PM.

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    Senior Member BigMac88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hakeem View Post
    Here we go...I did years worth of research on this and couldn't arrive at the same conclusion above

    The 280Z has a few benefits over the 240Z, particularly if you are planning on doing an engine swap. Stiffer chassis, stronger diff (R200 vs R180), wider transmission tunnel, longer suspension stroke (upper mount is 2" taller if I remember), etc etc.

    Most of the added weight in the 280Z comes from the bumpers, doors, interior equipment (ac, more electronics, etc). Some of the weight is from the stronger transmission (5spd) and engine internals, and some of the weight is in the chassis as reinforcement (which is good imo). I had an early 260Z which was basically a 280Z with 240Z bumpers; with an SR20DET in it, gutted but with stock glass and 15 gallons of fuel it weighed 2150lbs.

    The 240Z is certainly lighter to start with and with a full cage you can probably make up for the increased stiffness of the 280 chassis; my feeling is thought that if you are doing an engine swap you will end up putting in a bigger/heavier/stronger trans, the R200 diff and much of the other stuff that made the 280Z heavier in the first place. You can (and should) replace things like the stock hood (must weigh around 50lbs at least), bumpers, and hatch with fiberglass or carbon parts. You can swap the 240Z doors or gut the 280Z doors (probably about 100lbs combined weight saving there), or just replace with fiberglass.

    Ultimately what I (and I think most people) decided was that finding a rust-free chassis of either car was the primary concern. If you have access to a '75 chassis in good shape for cheap, get it.

    Power wise, I always wanted to do an RB26. The RB swaps are getting expensive these days as you need to find a rear-sump oilpan which only came in a Japanese RB20DET Skyline and is no longer manufactured; they sell for $6-800 now at which point it's cheaper to build your own pan. Value wise the RB25DET is probably the best bet assuming you can live with the above; McKinney Motorsports in the San Diego area makes alot of pre-fab swap parts for the SR and RB engines. As far as weight distribution goes, you aren't affecting much as the original iron 6 cylinder is roughly the same size and weight.

    Given how light the car is if you set it up for track duty, I would probably just put in an L28 engine from a 280Z and go for it. Spend some time and money on the suspension (I recommend sectioning the struts and using the Koni 8610 inserts), cooling, etc first. Arizona Z Car makes lots of great parts for these cars, although much of it is huge overkill depending on what you are doing.

    Lastly, I think the Z makes a tremendous track car. It's light with decent suspension geometry and plenty of options in terms of upgrades. From what I remember an ITS 240Z (almost stock-prep, down to the drum brakes in the rear) runs in the low 1:30's at Willow Springs.

    Good luck.
    Absolutely awesome info. That's exactly the info I was looking for, thank you. I was debating on the 280Z weight vs. stiffness for a while but you sold me. The fact that this particular car seems pretty rust-free is almost a no-brainer in general. Also glad to hear someone confirm my suspicions that an RB swap wouldn't totally kill the car.

    It looks like Mckinney makes a full RB conversion kit for ~$400. However, I think a 200+whp RWD turbo monster is a bit much for me to handle at this point in my driving career haha. The L28 seems like a better option until I get a year or two of seat time. Plus it'll be a lot cheaper and easier to get running.

    I'm surprised so much weight can be shaved off of these things but that gives me a lot of encouragement to pursue this 280.

    Thanks very much!
    Last edited by BigMac88; 03-24-2010 at 05:46 PM.
    Hella Functional

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    dirty smack talker hakeem's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigMac88 View Post
    Absolutely awesome info. That's exactly the info I was looking for, thank you. I was debating on the 280Z weight vs. stiffness for a while but you sold me. The fact that this particular car seems pretty rust-free is almost a no-brainer in general. Also glad to hear someone confirm my suspicions that an RB swap wouldn't totally kill the car.

    It looks like Mckinney makes a full RB conversion kit for ~$400. However, I think a 200whp RWD turbo monster is a bit much for me to handle at this point in my driving career haha. The L28 seems like a better option until I get a year or two of seat time. Plus it'll be a lot cheaper and easier to get running.

    I'm surprised so much weight can be shaved off of these things but that gives me a lot of encouragement to pursue this 280.

    Thanks very much!
    No problem, just PM me if you have any other questions.

    The RB swap will definitely be expensive. On top of the $400 in mounting parts, you are going to minimally need exhaust, intercooler, oil pan, plumbing and electronics. I'd expect it to realistically cost ~$8-10k including the engine and turbos. Another problem is that RB25DET transmissions, which is what you need to convert the RB26DETT into a RWD machine, are starting to get expensive due to the number of people doing swaps into 240SX's etc.

    L28 engine would work well, and be cheap to operate. If you are scared of electronics/wiring just throw the carbs from a 240Z on there and go.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hakeem View Post
    No problem, just PM me if you have any other questions.

    The RB swap will definitely be expensive. On top of the $400 in mounting parts, you are going to minimally need exhaust, intercooler, oil pan, plumbing and electronics. I'd expect it to realistically cost ~$8-10k including the engine and turbos. Another problem is that RB25DET transmissions, which is what you need to convert the RB26DETT into a RWD machine, are starting to get expensive due to the number of people doing swaps into 240SX's etc.

    L28 engine would work well, and be cheap to operate. If you are scared of electronics/wiring just throw the carbs from a 240Z on there and go.
    Yeah it looks like even doing the cheaper RB20 swap would set me back $3000+ when all is said and done.

    I think an L28 converted to carbs is my best option. I don't need huge power right now anyway, I just need to learn the car and get my techniques solid so I can use more power in the future
    Last edited by BigMac88; 03-24-2010 at 05:46 PM.
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    Senior Member Bchappy's Avatar
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    A guy by the name of John (not sure of his last name maybe coffey?) ran Beta motorsports down in southern cal, not sure if he is still around.
    I just remember that he had a white 240 or 260z and the thing was FAST, granted it was on a built L28 but it was rediculous.
    Remember you can also do the cheap 280whp route; a L28ET out of a 280ZX.
    I had a 280Z that was being prepped for track days and a RB25 sitting in the garage as well. However, did not ever finish up and sold the motor to a buddy.
    The trouble with RB's is that they will spin main bearings due to oiling problems on the track.
    To fix this is requires sump, pickup, and head modification which is EXPENSIVE. Your best bet is to run a SR20, or some sort of L28.
    Being through everything I have with track cars I say the simplest is the most rewarding.
    So an L28 with carbs(if you know how to tune them) would be your best bet.
    It wont break 200whp but if you stip the thing to nothing, put some rubber and suspension under it, I dont think anything will come close to the fun factor.
    The car has a short wheelbase and really horrible high speed lift problems so alot of power will humble a inexperienced driver on track.

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    dirty smack talker hakeem's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bchappy View Post
    A guy by the name of John (not sure of his last name maybe coffey?) ran Beta motorsports down in southern cal, not sure if he is still around.
    I just remember that he had a white 240 or 260z and the thing was FAST, granted it was on a built L28 but it was rediculous.
    Remember you can also do the cheap 280whp route; a L28ET out of a 280ZX.
    I had a 280Z that was being prepped for track days and a RB25 sitting in the garage as well. However, did not ever finish up and sold the motor to a buddy.
    The trouble with RB's is that they will spin main bearings due to oiling problems on the track.
    To fix this is requires sump, pickup, and head modification which is EXPENSIVE. Your best bet is to run a SR20, or some sort of L28.
    Being through everything I have with track cars I say the simplest is the most rewarding.
    So an L28 with carbs(if you know how to tune them) would be your best bet.
    It wont break 200whp but if you stip the thing to nothing, put some rubber and suspension under it, I dont think anything will come close to the fun factor.
    The car has a short wheelbase and really horrible high speed lift problems so alot of power will humble a inexperienced driver on track.
    That's John Coffey, he actually did alot of the work on my 260Z. His shop Beta Motorsports is in Brea and he is still around. Definitely a good guy and would recommend him for any fabrication or prep work on these cars.

    His white car was kind of the extreme; Sunbelt engine, Quaife sequential trans, Penske triple adjustables, etc. Was extremely fast but he ended up parting it out right around the time I was finishing up my car (~2004).

    L28ET is definitely a good choice for cheap power. For now, stick with the non-turbo and see if you like it.

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    Senior Member BigMac88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bchappy View Post
    A guy by the name of John (not sure of his last name maybe coffey?) ran Beta motorsports down in southern cal, not sure if he is still around.
    I just remember that he had a white 240 or 260z and the thing was FAST, granted it was on a built L28 but it was rediculous.
    Remember you can also do the cheap 280whp route; a L28ET out of a 280ZX.
    I had a 280Z that was being prepped for track days and a RB25 sitting in the garage as well. However, did not ever finish up and sold the motor to a buddy.
    The trouble with RB's is that they will spin main bearings due to oiling problems on the track.
    To fix this is requires sump, pickup, and head modification which is EXPENSIVE. Your best bet is to run a SR20, or some sort of L28.
    Being through everything I have with track cars I say the simplest is the most rewarding.
    So an L28 with carbs(if you know how to tune them) would be your best bet.
    It wont break 200whp but if you stip the thing to nothing, put some rubber and suspension under it, I dont think anything will come close to the fun factor.
    The car has a short wheelbase and really horrible high speed lift problems so alot of power will humble a inexperienced driver on track.

    Quote Originally Posted by hakeem View Post
    That's John Coffey, he actually did alot of the work on my 260Z. His shop Beta Motorsports is in Brea and he is still around. Definitely a good guy and would recommend him for any fabrication or prep work on these cars.

    His white car was kind of the extreme; Sunbelt engine, Quaife sequential trans, Penske triple adjustables, etc. Was extremely fast but he ended up parting it out right around the time I was finishing up my car (~2004).

    L28ET is definitely a good choice for cheap power. For now, stick with the non-turbo and see if you like it.
    An NA L28 w/ carbs is definitely going to be my starting point. The L28ET is something I'll keep in mind for the future; sounds like less of a headache than an RB swap. The RB swap seem like fun, but also a lot of work for what now appears to be more of a 'bling' factor. Not to say an RB20/25 wouldn't be very fun, but now that I have experienced opinions on the matter, I don't think it's something I want to undertake on my first go-around.

    Probably just gonna throw a master bushing kit, some tires, new brakes, and a set of sway bars on it and have fun. Maybe some Koni Specials w/ Eibachs a little bit down the line as well.

    Thanks for all the responses guys it's helped me out quite a bit.
    Hella Functional

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