Datsun’s brilliant 240Z was really the car that its designers wanted it to be for just the first two years of its four-year run. By 1972, emission controls had started to affect drivability and by 1973, the Z was not quite the driver’s car it had originally been. The carbureted 1974 260Z, (which gave a 200 cc bump in displacement) was only a stopgap solution.
The real solution to emission laws came with the introduction of the fuel injected 280Z in 1975. The addition of a license-built Bosch L-Jetronic injection to the inline six-cylinder engine, plus a displacement increase of 200 cc, returned the Z car to roughly 1970 levels of performance. The 280Z would have performed even better had federal impact bumpers and additional equipment like air conditioning not added weight.
All things considered, however, the 280Z is much closer to the original 240 than most people realize and it’s certainly a more sporting car than the 280ZX of 1979, with which it is often confused. Aside from the big bumpers, the coupe is a direct descendant of the 240Z, with little changed in the interior except for a fully integrated and effective air conditioner which replaced the original Z’s dealer installed piece. The electronic fuel injection makes cold starts a snap and offers excellent drivability. A five-speed transmission became available in late 1977 but most 280Zs are four-speeds with the occasional automatic showing up most commonly on the stretched 2+2 model.
The earlier cars might be slightly more desirable with better colors and simpler bumpers, and often carry a slight premium in price. Plastic wheel covers were a carryover from the 240Z and 260Z with 1977 and 1978 cars receiving a nicer design. Factory alloy wheels are rare.
Any Z is a mechanically simple and robust car with good parts availability, and a lot of fun to drive. Bodies that are especially rust-prone are the Z cars Achilles heel, but high production numbers mean that there are still plenty of rust-free examples available. All of these factors help keep Datsun 280Z values in the affordable range, and make the car a great candidate for an entry-level collectible car.