A Chance Encounter With A 280ZX

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.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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I'm happy to see cars on here that aren't big budget show cars. Not everyone is in it for instagram fame or are able to dump 50k into a car. This is more reflective of the scene than the insane over the top builds. Nice car!


This! This is the kinda shit I like to see. Grassroutes, homebrew builds that aren't out of reach to your average bloke. Granted he has the advantage of cheaper American prices for this sort of metal, this would still cost an arm and a leg on our rainy little isle but still!

I personally love repurposed parts too, the Feed-style MX5 skirts work really well.

You can keep your $100,000.00 builds, this is the stuff right here.

Great spotlight man!


The title is pretty uninventive.
Having a “chance encounter” with a 280ZX is something special nowadays???

Boy, I’ve had LOTS and LOTS of “chance encounters”. Maybe just shy of the number I’ve had with Ford F150s.


I have to agree with the other comments above. I like seeing cars like this that the average person can afford and build. I love the exotic cars and show builds on Speedhunters but a car like this 280 is so much more relateable to me.


Sweet! I haven't seen one of these on the roads In a while. Classic styling and it's an automatic with cool T handle. Liking the flares and overall look. That's great he got to buy it back as well. Thank you for the article, now to check craigslist for Z's.


Great base to start from and a much more exciting choice than a Camero.

Benjamin Scott Cook

Hey look, a relatable car feature.


One of my all-time favorite generations of one of my all-time favorite cars, mainly because I had one of these in high school. I love these things, but yeah, the vacuum lines and other wires and other tubing were an absolute mess under the hood.


I absolutely love this! Chance encounter is right, you just don't see many old datsuns on the road, especially at Zcon that were not participating. I could just imagine my son in his budget build 280zx getting a feature like this. He has the same passion (if not more) about his car as a person who has dumped hundreds of thousands into their car. Like Mr. K said "love cars, love people, love life"


Yeah, this is the stuff right here. I think most of the readers on here can relate to this kinda stuff more than the over the top builds, which, don’t get me wrong, those builds are awesome. Its just refreshing to see this kind of stuff as I don’t remember the last time I saw an “average joe” build like this on Speedhunters. Furthermore, that car is beautiful, the S130 is my favorite generation of the Z and this car, with the modifications applied is no exception.


As a former S30 z owner, my favorite part of this article as the change slot on the autotragic console there full of misc nuts and bolts. You know, just in case (you figure out where they came from and need to put them back)...


So much relatable for me atleast, seeing these kind of stories. A lot of my friends have gtrs, evos etc. But theres something about a rare ( but often slow) car that attracts me much more than any 600hp evo will ever do.


Lucky him... maybe he bought if from someone who used it as a convenience car.. Most of the time I end up looking for cars on the web they usually have a seller who has knowledge of the car's worth or just demand... Thanks internet lol


old automatic stock 280zx. think there's a reason you didn't notice him at Z-Con. if all it takes is to chase you guys down to get a shot. this website is going down hill.