Restoring the Iconic 1979 Datsun 280ZX Sports Coupe
The 1979 Datsun 280ZX still turns heads over 40 years later. Learn what it takes to restore one of these iconic Japanese sports coupes, from rebuilding the engine to sourcing parts and cleaning the period-correct interior.
1979 Datsun 280zx
Photographer: Justin Icenhour
L28 in-line 6 cylinders 5-speed manual transmission. 125 wheel horsepower stock naturally aspirated
Restoring the Iconic 1979 Datsun 280ZX Sports Coupe
My name is Sammy Mabe I am 56 years old. I live in Madison North Carolina. I have owned my car since 1985. It was bought by my father as a graduation present from high school. We went to Tarheel Nissan we looked at a brand new 1985 Nissan Sentra for 9 thousand dollars.
My father couldn’t understand why I wanted a used car for three sound dollars more than a brand new car. I told my father and dad no one ever got laid in a Nissan Sentra. I have one daughter I own two businesses in Madison North Carolina an electric motor repair company Called MEMco (Mabe’s electric motors) and a gym called Beauty And Beast.
I got into the car scene in 2018 when I decided to pull my 280 from the garage where it had been sitting since 1993 and fully restore it. Going to these car meets and shows and seeing the creativity and how far people are pushing. The limits with vehicles is what really pushes me to keep going having people come up to me and want to take pictures and talk about my car makes everything I’ve spent on it worth it
Why I chose this car and customized it?
The 280 ZX was my first car. It has been with me since I graduated high school. All my good memories in my life have been with that car. I went on dates in that car. I brought my daughter home from the hospital in that car. I couldn't imagine driving any other car to shows. I just hope that the car brings as much joy to others when they see it as it does to me. That car is one of the best things in my life.
What it feels like to own this car?
I get pure enjoyment out of my car. My car is the only thing that is 100% mine. My father bought me that car. It was the first car I ever owned when I get in it and drive it I can see him sitting in the passenger seat smiling I grew up poor and my father did everything he could to make sure I got that car and it was the first time I truly ever fit in and people were jealous over what I had
What makes my car Unique?
I think the most unique thing about my car is the colour they only did grapefruit yellow in 1979. I also think that what makes it unique is I have tried really hard to make sure I kept the original L 28 and transmission in the car I try really hard to make sure that I keep the original vision from Datsun in the car.
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- Techno toy tuning lower control arms sway bars and tie rod ends
- 2-inch wheel spacers
- CCW forged 2pcs 15x10 rims
- Wilwood 4 piston callipers with cross-drilled and slotted rotors
- Techno toy tuning strut brace bar (front and rear)
- Aem cold air intake
- Msd high-pressure fuel pump
- Msd ignition
- Nismo shifter and boot
- Resto-mod cd player
- 12-inch subwoofer
- BMW window regulators
- Braum racing seats
- Braum 5point harness
- Pop off steering wheel
- Flowmaster exhaust
- Techno toy tuning coilovers front and rear with a 2”3/4’ drop
- Carbon fibre trim accents
- Carbon fibre duck bill spoiler
Brandon Hudson at Hudson Auto help me restore the car in 2018. Joseph and Brendon Steadman have done most of the suspension work. Signs And Trophies LLC did the vinyl and graphics and my daughter did most of the electrical work. I do not like letting people work on my car. All the work that has been done too. It has been done with people I know and trust.
During the winter, I plan on taking the car to “ the Datsun house” in South Carolina and completely rebuilding the L 28. I am going to do a naturally aspirated L 28 with a pro tuner intake and a positive traction rear end. We are also going to upgrade the clutch and install a nitrous system.
The biggest advice or tip I can give anybody is to not slack or try and save money by buying cheap parts or cutting corners. It has been my experience that it will always come back and bite you in the butt if you’re going to do something you need to do it 100% the first time Every time
What do I get from the car scene is just the joys of being a part of it. At the last car show, we went to a seven-year-old child who came running across three rows of cars because he saw my car and he and his dad are restoring one in their garage. I get enjoyment out of watching people take pictures and talk to me about my car. I own a 2012 Nismo 370z and you couldn’t give me 5 of them for my 280zx. Money can’t buy as much happiness as I get in. My car.
My dream car is a 1979 280zx grapefruit yellow five-speed 2x1. I get the privilege of driving my dream car whenever I want.
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