Auction Pick of the Week: 1981 Datsun 280ZX Grand Luxury
Depending on who you ask, the Datsun 280ZX was either an abomination or a delight. Purists who appreciated the original 240Z (and the similar 260Z and 280Z that followed it) were disgusted by the redesigned 280ZX that Datsun rolled out in 1978. The Z they loved was tiny and quick. This new ZX was larger, heavier, softer, and lacked the performance of previous iterations.
But did those attributes make it a bad car? Hardly.
While it retained its predecessor’s L28 inline-six engine of its predecessor and some of the Z’s visual characteristics, like those scalloped headlight tunnels, the ZX brought a slew of changes that made it more of a grand tourer. The 280Z offered more aerodynamic styling, which resulted in better fuel economy and high-speed stability, plus better-integrated safety bumpers, T-tops, two-tone paint, a softer suspension, improved sound insulation, and a larger (21-gallon) fuel tank, as well as a luxurious interior with more comfortable seats, numerous power options, and a high-quality stereo system.
Two trim levels were available: the no-frills, two-seat version and the highly optioned Grand Luxury (GL) package, like the 1981 model shown here, on offer via Hagerty Marketplace.
In its first year, a two-seat ’79 Datsun 280ZX could be had for $1931 (about $8K today), while the MSRP for a 2+2 was $2321 ($9618). Those incredibly low prices would not stick around long. By the end of its five-year run, a new 280ZX cost $14,799–$18,599 ($44,700–$56,178).
The ZX received mixed reviews early on, but it found a believer in Car and Driver, which in its November 1978 issue admitted that skepticism had turned to appreciation.
“When Datsun introduced its 1979 model to the press, the joke of the meeting was that these cars would be competing head-on with Buick and BMW by Christmas—not because of a massive overhaul in the Japanese company’s marketing philosophy, but rather because of the plummeting value of the dollar relative to that of the yen. Datsun would not be building Buick-style cars; it would simply be offering its weight-watcher compacts at Buick prices.
“But driving the new 280ZX coupe suggests that Nissan has been anticipating exactly this sort of repositioning in the market all along and has already dialed in the appropriate correction. The new Z-car (ZX-car?) is strongly biased toward the luxury side of life. It’s longer, lower, and wider than the old version; quieter and more vibration-free on the inside; calibrated for a mashed-potatoes ride underneath; and just itching to be dolled up with all sorts of packages and gadgets, which the option list cheerfully offers. What was once an appealingly lean sportster has been transformed into a plush boulevardier, a personal cruiser not altogether different from what you’d expect of Buick if it took up a position in the two-seater and 2+2 market.”
The 280ZX sold well, proving its designers were onto something. By 1981, the car received added performance as well, thanks to an optional, turbocharged version of its I-6 engine. Brakes and suspension were subsequently improved in 1982. The ZX was discontinued following 1983’s production run; in its five model years, nearly 332,000 examples were sold in the U.S.
That brings us to the 1981 280ZX Grand Luxury up for auction on Hagerty Marketplace.
Our Pick of the Week is offered for sale from single-family ownership with 38,352 documented miles at the time of its cataloging. Its original owner purchased the ZX from Bobo Motors Datsun in Dallas, Texas, for $15,837.70 (about $52,416 today) on May 26, 1981.
Finished in a quintessential 280ZX combination of Light Brown Metallic over a tan leather interior, the Grand Luxury model is powered by a 2.8-liter L28E engine—the E stands for electronic multiport fuel injection, provided by Bosch using the L-Jetronic system—mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
The ZX features leather seats, power windows, power door locks, power steering, dual-needle fuel gauge, air conditioning, six-way adjustable seats with lumbar support, four-wheel independent suspension, tinted T-tops with storage bags and locks, AM/FM tape deck stereo, and 14-inch Datsun Z aluminum wheels with Vredestein Sprint Classic tires.
Among the car’s known flaws, the seller notes that the headliner is beginning to sag in the area between the T-Tops and the rear cargo area, the power antenna does not function, and there some minor wear is noted on the center console armrest.
The car was recently fitted with a 50-state-legal catalytic converter to make it emissions-compliant, and it passed the State of Colorado emissions test.
In preparation for the sale, the seller removed and resealed the power-steering rack, replaced the oil-pan gasket, and installed new exhaust-manifold gaskets and new rear swaybar link in addition to a fresh oil change.
The car is offered with a clean Carfax Vehicle History Report and recent service records, as well as owners manual, two vehicle keys, and ownership history.
After relocating from Texas to Aspen, Colorado, in 1984, the original owner of this 1981 280ZX Grand Luxury—valued at $24,900 in #2 (Excellent) condition and $13,600 in #3 (Good) condition—drove it only periodically. He had the car routinely serviced at an independent shop in Snowmass, Colorado, and it was completely repainted in 1994. The ZX remained with its original owner until 2020, when he sold the vehicle to his grandson.
Admittedly, a 280ZX isn’t a 240Z … or 260Z … or 280Z. But it wasn’t meant to be. As Car and Driver told us more than four decades ago, “Its extra length and weight in no way make it less fun to drive than the two-seater. The message here is that Datsun has made a bit of a side step. The old Z has grown up to be a 2+2 sort of car—a sporting carriage rather than a hell-raiser—and it’ll haul your body around with a minimum of abuse.”
Here’s your chance to own one. The auction ends on Thursday, April 6, at 4:30 pm Eastern.
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I bought a cadet blue 280ZX 2 + 2 five years old in the late 80’s. Drove it for three years, a great cruiser. The 2 + 2 rear suspension had issues (this was published at the time). It could snap rear oversteer on you in a corner while accelerating. Happened to my very pregnant wife while entering a freeway on a dry summer day–she ended up swapping ends in the median, but neither she or the car were damaged and she drove away (Thank You GOD!). Tried several fixes (Konis, better tires), but the issue never went away. Apparently a geometry issue. Still loved the car. Great with t-tops out on a summer day! Then I moved on to the first of three new Taurus SHO manuals which both eased the pain of new family man/no more sportscars–and would also leave the Z for dead in any race. And no snap oversteer…
Mine started to rust out after a little over 3 years. Lived in a dry climate plus no snow.
I have owned my 83 280ZX going on 15 years. No its not a 240z and I guess I have been looking for a 240Z and was willing to settle for the 280ZX . I have owned 5 280zx prior to this one . NOW I AM A PROUD OWNER OF A 71 240Z THAT I AM IN THE PROCESS OF RESTORING AND IM VERY NEAR TO COMPLETION. BECAUSE of rust in the frame which I completely cut out with new frame rails,floor pans, and a front clip off a 280z completed my rust woos. But I only paid 1000 for it in that condition surprisingly there was very little body rust. I can’t wait until it’s done. But I still injoy riding in my 280zx with the tee tops removed there nothing like it and people stop me in both cars to tell me they like them and thier own experience. But it started with my first 240Z that I took from California to New Jersey and I had to leave in Jersery because the engine siezed up in the winter of 2001. It was an auto.atic but I had big fun with it any.
The prices given for a ‘79 ZX starting at $1931 is incorrect. I had a friend who bought one new, and it was an expensive car even in that first year. I think he paid around $10K for it, not two grand.
I think maybe $7931, would be close for a base model in ’79.