Last fall, while my wife and I were in Atlanta for ZCON 2018, a 280ZX rolled into the gas station we were filling up at.
We started talking with Caleb, the owner of this cult favorite, asking if we’d see him at ZCON. The answer was no, so we found ourselves chatting at the pumps with Caleb about his car, how he got it, and how the build came to be.
With a couple hours to burn before our next stop, we asked if he wanted to run around the corner with us to check out some shooting locations. Caleb obliged, and I initially thought I’d include these photos as part of a ZCON preview, but after hearing the rest of Caleb’s story with his 280ZX, doing that just didn’t seem fitting.
Forgive me, as it’s been a good few months since these photos were taken, but I wanted to share this story on its own as it’s a very relatable one.
Caleb bought the car five years ago instead of a Camaro he had his eyes on. The Z wasn’t running, and after dedicating some time to get it on the road he had to sell it when he went into the military. Then, as luck would have it, he found it up for sale on Craigslist when he returned home. So, of course, he bought it back.
Like any 40-year-old car the Datsun isn’t without some blemishes, but it’s well on its way to a new life.
A proper enthusiast, Caleb sourced a few aftermarket pieces from other fan favorites to realize his vision for the S130. For example, the fender flares and spoiler are designed for the Nissan S30, and the side skirts came off of a first-generation Miata. Caleb says he needs to do some finishing to get the S30 ZG flares to fit right long-term, but with a bit of rust on the fenders he wanted a quick fix to make the car more presentable while work happens in other areas.
The widened, angular look is rounded off with an MSA Victory front lip, giving the car a nice balanced look with custom CCW wheels which are 9.5-inches wide in the front and 11-inches wide out back.
When I asked to look under the hood Caleb let out a laugh, revealing the typical mess of vacuum lines and wiring that come with this generation ZX. He wants to do away with it all eventually and swap in a VQ35 drivetrain with a proper manual gearbox, especially seeing as how the price for them is right. Someday, anyway…
Inside the car Caleb has started removing carpet in an effort to get everything tidied up. I love the old school seats and the original gauges, but the Grant steering wheel is a nice touch compared to the awkward OEM piece this car came with.
Caleb says the 280ZX initially cost $600, which goes to show that you can still score some old school Japanese metal on the cheap. It’s also proof that you don’t have to sell your soul to have a unique car if you’re willing to wrench on it yourself.
It’s often easy to get lost in a high-dollar build, forgetting why you’re doing it in the first place: to create something personally meaningful and fun to drive.