It took me two years of searching online classified ads (mostly Craigslist), several hours every week, to find my first classic Z car. It was meant to be....a 1978 Datsun 280Z 2+2 in near original condition, showing 80,600 miles on the once rolled over odometer, with an exterior respray of its original 306 metallic silver. We named her Pudge, the nickname of the former owner who passed from cancer.
When I look back at the two year relationship I had with this stretched and widened model, the number "two" makes a recurring appearance. It was a two hour drive north to Sheboygan, WI, where we were introduced. The seller owned a powersports and marine business. As we pulled into the lot, Pudge was right there, parked at an angle facing the highway, poised to attract a new owner.
Though my inspection felt like a quick 40 minutes, I actually spent two hours checking her over. My portable took kit allowed me to remove the side trim holding the carpet down so I could inspect the inner floorboards, as they are prone to rotting out. Sure enough there was an attempt at a repair under the brake pedal, a rectangle piece of sheet metal slapped over the original floor with adhesive holding it together.
It took two attempts to get her started, the revs jumped to 2,200 and held there for quite a while. I kicked the accelerator and waited several seconds before she settled back down to a normal idle. Rough....that's how I would describe our first journey. She sputtered, her stoppers were quite mushy, she didn't track straight, second gear had a slight notchy engagement, and the driver’s seat foam was saggy. Luckily the seller and I didn’t have any stalls on the short trip and arrived back to the lot intact. Even with these issues, I was taken by her and attempted to contain my excitement, as the seller was still sitting next to me. There was another interested party waiting in a white 1986 Corvette that hopped out and started circling Pudge like a vulture. Negotiations went smoothly. I snagged her for well under the asking price and ended up with a solid Z with which to begin my classic car adventures.
Local Nissan dealer was located one property over, they actually play a part in all of this.
The return home strategy was to have her promptly serviced at a local lube shop and hit the highway. Pudge received a coolant flush/refill, brake system bleeding, oil change, and gear oil check. One last stop for some fuel and we would be on our way back south, but our mistake was to stop at Walmart and run in for some beverages and snacks. When we returned, she was difficult to start and began burping black/blue smoke from the tailpipe...uh oh...a complete tune-up was in order. As I was sweatin’ over the engine bay, confused by the spaghetti array of vacuum lines from an aftermarket cruise control system (which I deleted), a Wisconsinite with an early 90's mini-van slowly rolled up beside me and said: "Wow...that Z brings me back to my high school days and boy do I have some crazy stories in that car. I haven't seen one on the road in twenty years!”
Just over one hour of ownership and already I had a fan. This would be the first of many brief encounters with admirers I would have while taking the classic Z out for a cruise.
We ended up having to call a local tow company, they sent out a flat bed, and we headed to the closest Nissan dealership in the area....which was literally next door to the location from where we purchased her. Can you believe my disappointment and embarrassment having the 280Z dropped off an hour later right next door to the seller’s business? Ugh.
So back to that recurring number two… it took two weeks to get back up to Sheboygan to reclaim Pudge. If you're keeping track, that was the second attempt to get her home. My largest financial mistake with her was using the local Nissan dealer instead of just transporting her back home. It would have saved me $600.00!!! This time she fired up right away and we were off, the highway was just around the corner and up to 60mph she went. As I gripped the thin, rubbery textured, 15-inch three spoke, slightly worn wheel, I had some words of encouragement with her (similar to early Arnie in the 1983 American horror film Christine). About two hours later we made it safely into the garage where she would spend the next two years up on jack stands for slow reconditioning.
During that painstaking wait time, I subject myself to constant online Z car research, endless fsm reading, countless hours of parts searching/buying, thousands of dollars of hard earned ca$h spent, perpetual body aches/pains, and the requisite amount of blood, sweat, and tears -- and we then had a completely reconditioned 280Z. This wasn't an easy journey for me. I suffer from low back issues (degenerative disc disease) which limits my bending/sitting/kneeling/laying abilities.....I get sore very quickly and working on a straight six centered in the middle of the engine bay makes for many hours of straining across and down wide fenders to reach components.
After all this, I only enjoyed her for one spring/summer season, attended as many local car shows as I could, and racked up only 800 miles on her before winter storage season was to hit again.....gotta love the salty Midwest.
The decision to sell her was not easy. In fact, I became addicted to wrenching on the Z car chassis to the point of acquiring another one before selling Pudge. This time I took the chance on an unfinished, modified 1971 240Z, wearing a molded in Ztrix widebody kit and turbo motor......which I'll feature here in the future!
In my head, I went back and forth on selling Pudge. Half of me wanted to keep her, as she was my first Z car and I poured my soul into making her street safe and reliable again. But the other half of me knew the pain of having to service two Z cars and two daily driven cars.....it's a load of work for one person with spine issues!
Ultimately I ended up selling her to a lovely family from Canada. They traveled south 16 hours, by truck and wood trailer, to purchase my girl. It was difficult letting her go that day, but re-telling Pudge’s story here allows me to share a piece of her with all of you.
And the addiction continues..........in mid September I purchased a 1970 Datsun 240Z. So much for not having two Z cars!