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S30 vs Z32 for first project car?

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I've been fantasizing about a project car for a while now. I have never had a full-on project car. I've done some of my own car maintenance, but nothing too crazy. I do my own oil changes, I've changed spark plugs (flat Subaru engine) and I recently fabbed up a bracket and installed an oil catch can in my new car.


While I have limited car experience, I'm generally pretty tool-competent. I build custom electric guitars, I do other woodworking, etc... I used to be a bicycle mechanic a long time ago (think Tour de France, not Moto GP). While I recognize that bicycles are significantly less complex than motor vehicles, I suspect the same diagnosis/troubleshooting mindset will come in handy with a car.

I am not one to set off without doing my research. I understand that a project car isn't fast, easy, or cheap. I foresee this being something I start in 5+ years. Before that time I intend to research my options and procedures as much as one can without a car in front of them.

The S30 (preference for 280z) and the Z32 are two cars that I really like. I completely understand that while they are part of the same lineage they are two different beasts. I'm really just looking for something that I will be able to work on, enjoy solving problems and come away with a sense of accomplishment.

I don't intend to track it (perhaps the occasional auto-x day). I have a reliable daily driver. This would be a weekend/fun car. I do not intend to modify significantly from its stock configuration - no LS swaps or NA to TT conversions. However, reliability/availability modifications/swaps are on the table. I am not interested in a historically accurate museum piece - just a fun, cool, weekend-reliable car that I can be proud of having improved.

I have concerns about rust remediation in the S30. I have somewhat limited space. I can probably only devote one half of a two car garage. While she is patient and accepting of a project car, my partner will need to be able to use her half of the garage for her car. If rust can really only truly be addressed with a full-blown tear down, that might not be in the cards. I also have some concerns about safety. While I don't intend to daily this thing, I also recognize that texting Yukon drivers are an unfortunate fact of life now.

I have concerns about the cramped engine bay in there Z32. I hear so many comments about how awful they are to work on! Is it the case that almost all operations require significant disassembly to facilitate accessibility? To ask an unanswerable question: how bad is bad?

Long post, sorry. I'm just hoping to get some perspectives on the merits (foolhardiness?) of a S30 or Z32 as a first time project car.

Thanks a bunch. I've already learned tons on this forum as a lurker and hope to learn more as an active participant!

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This is an S30 site so the majority will say S30. 

 

  • They are easy to work on.
  • Simple in design. 
  • Parts are easy to obtain.
  • Free technical documentation everywhere.
  • The support of this site.
  • Appreciating value.
  • Beautiful good looks.
  • Easy to modify.
  • Easy to configure for stock, street, drag, track.
  • Prices are relatively low (but hurry)

 

All reasons to do an S30

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Considering the primary factor here being your limited garage space and need to park a car beside your project, I would vote for a nice Z32 in good condition that needs little to no work at the moment. Drive it until you need to do any major work, then hopefully you will have found either a bigger place to work on it or a local shop to help. Attempting an S30 restoration in a two car garage that is half occupied is a great way for someone else to pick up your project for cheap when you give up.... read my thread, it will be a sobering process.

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Since you are in Houston, check out the folks at SZRpro, formerly Houston Z Auto.  They are very knowledgeable and well regarded on both platforms and can give you some real appreciation of what you might be facing with either choice.  The S30 series is vastly more simple when compared to the sophistication and complexity of the Z32.  Good luck with your education.

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Depends ....

If this looks like fun, then s30 ...

A4BE1EA6-94FD-4DE1-81CF-B74D8AFA5C75.jpeg

03C67960-1CA5-4B4D-96F9-9E7417535E57.jpeg

If this looks like fun, then z32 ....

DB2599F8-6732-4E61-8867-048CD46D0416.jpeg

 

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One thing the Z32 has going for it is that I would expect it to be much easier to find one in good shape, meaning, not needing a total restoration, and also rust free. Even the most solid looking Datsuns often have rust issues of some sort. I'm assuming Z32s are a bit better, but could be wrong.

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