Recap: I bought an old Datsun 280zx with low(ish) miles, but started having troubles getting it running immediately after purchasing it.
I had already spent hours replacing the fuel pressure gauge, and had confirmed that the fuel line was holding steady with enough pressure. I headed home a bit downtrodden and again hit up several helpful forums for 280zx enthusiasts (yes, that is a thing). After posting in one of the forums, a member informed me that he had restored about 5 of these cars, and only lived 20 minutes away. Even better, he was willing to drive down and help me out for free!
By that time I had called around to a couple of shops in town, only to have the following conversation:
Me: How much do you guys charge for an engine diagnostic on a car?
Guy: Oh, it is only $60 if you bring the car in.
Me: Great, when can I bring my car in?
Guy: Well, what type of car is it?
Me: It is a bit older, it is a 1981 Datsun 280zx.
Guy: Oh, well that’s not $60 then. The $60 is only if you have a car that allows for a computer diagnostic.
Me: The kind I can get at AutoZone for free?
Guy: . . .
Me: So how much is it for my car?
Guy: We’d have to charge our normal rate of $70 an hour.
Me: And how many hours?
Guy: Well, these old cars are pretty complex, so I’d say anywhere from 7 to 10 hours.
After several of these conversations, I took the guy from the forum up on his offer. Free sounded pretty awesome.
He came down a couple of days later, and made a couple of suggestions as to what could be wrong. He checked this and that, and said that everything seemed to be working fine. He then asked the question that changed everything. “Did you put any gas in it?” I told him that the gauge said it was a quarter full, so I hadn’t put any gas in. “How do you know the gauge is even working?”
I didn’t have a response. I mean, why wouldn’t it work? It has only been sitting in somebody’s yard for 15 years. In the rain. And sun. And cold. And did I mention the previous owner never drained out the old gas? So I drained out the 15 year old gas and added in some brand new gas. Much to my surprise the car started right up! I was so happy, I got in the car tried to drive it home.
Just to be safe, I had my friend follow behind me, to make sure that the car was going to make it home. It was amazing. As soon as I stepped on the gas, the car lunged forward with impressive acceleration. And then it sputtered. And then it died. Again. After letting the car sit for a few minutes, the car started right up again but only went a few blocks before it gave up the ghost and could not be restarted. I ended up having the car towed to the house. Fortunately, the tow truck driver was a fellow 280zx enthusiast, and told me it would all be worth it in the end.
It was back to the drawing board. I knew that progress was being made, and I really wanted to get the car up and running. The next day I decided to take a peak inside the gas tank, only to discover that it was entirely rusted out, despite looking clean on the outside. The best that I can figure is that one of the previous owners let the car sit outside without a gas cap on, and so the tank filled up with water and completely rusted out.
When I dropped the fuel tank, I was greeted by this:
The sending unit in the tank was ruined with rust (which explains why the fuel gauge was not accurate). I immediately found a person parting out their old 280zx that he had wrecked (I believe he said he was “trying to drift it in the parking lot and hit a tree” Yay for teenagers trying to live “Tokyo Drift”). I got the gas tank and sending unit from him for pretty cheap. After 30 minutes of struggling with the gas tank I had the old tank out and the new tank installed (it is kind of embarrassing that I can swap out an entire gas tank in less time then it took me to swap out the fuel pump).
The long and short of it is that after replacing the gas tank and sending unit, my car was running! I am still making small adjustments here and there, but all in all it runs fine. It is a great car and a blast to drive, even if it makes Roni nervous every time she gets a ride.