Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Datsun 280ZX Ice Beater

Today's post is brought to you by adventurous friend of Beaterblog, Dan Huber. Now Dan calls New Zealand home but in years past, he's run beaters into the ground here in the States, lived on a ship in Africa, owned a beautiful pearl colored MGB-GT, and built a canoe with his own hands that actually floated and looked beautiful doing it. Despite what you might be thinking, Dan is a real person.

You can expect to see some content from Dan down in Australia's Canada in the near future. Case in point; this tale of a nearly-free Datsun with no remaining body structure, modified to be drive at maximum recklessness on the frozen boundary waters of Northern Minnesota:

This story starts about a decade ago. Its summer and there’s always talk of finding a jalopy to tinker with, especially when you’re young, unmarried and work in the ol'automotive industry.  ‘There’s a dead ’83 Datsun 280ZX at a mechanic’s garage in Highland park, the owner wants it gone’ said the work colleague.  I’ll swallow that hook.  After my initial offer of $50 for the car and counter offer for $20 more, we had a deal.  To date, I don’t think I’ve had more fun and solid memories than with these four wheels at an initial price of 70 clams.

Full story continued after the jump.

Quick run down:  There was no key, just a dangling ignition switch; good tires, new battery, working brakes, and no engine starting. Not even the starter turning. But there was a faint click when I turned the ignition switch with a standard screw driver. On the third attempt, I figured I should click through the switch slowly.  And what do you know, she fired up, not even a cough. Good as gold.

With the T-tops off various summer shenanigans ensued. The unevenly faded red was made rattle can matte black, silly seat covers were stretched on to keep the foam in the seat, and handed-down Italian air horns were affixed to the hood. The new ride added much bemusement to the daily work drive. There’s also a memory scene of an intoxicated friend standing out of the T-top zooming down Michigan Ave on our way to a bachelor party event where the valet asked for the key and I gave him a screw driver.  

On yeah, the underbody was practically no-body. Ridiculous rust. Yes there was a kiwi fruit sized hole under the driver side floor mat. The days of auto-crossing this car was long history. The risk of something breaking was real.  Just driving the curved freeway on ramp and not in a  spirited fashion would make the top of the pass side door pinch.  Therefore, for some token of added safety and hopeful longevity, a work buddy played connect the dots by welded a number of 1x3 inch oblong steel tubes - basically attaching the lowest points of the front and rear suspension points together.  It looked better than super glued Lego bricks, but I had illusions that this ‘improvement' was a green light to drive it harder.

At any rate, summer turned into fall and then winter. At the time work during the winter took me to northern Minnesota, usually for 2 week trips, 4-5 trips in the winter season. One thing led to another and the Datsun found its way to frozen Minnesota. Why? Not sure where the idea came from. Maybe from the company’s Continuous Improvement push, but probably not. There was no real plan other than: bring to winter test, build fuzzy tires and see where that leads us.  At best we would have a few laughs, at the worst we might learn something to support future mistakes.

The were turned by a straight six, 2.8l, L28E engine that was rated at 145hp (SAE). ‘E' stood for multipoint fuel injection => Bosch L-Jetronic. Isn't it a fascinating history of all the clever and ingenious ways of perfecting engine petrol delivery?  I was pleased it did not have the quasi electromechanical continuous fuel injection system like my Audio Quatrro CS5000 turbo wagon.  It would have died an earlier death if it did.  In the Minnesota winter it ran a bit too rich.  Quick fixes were limited to swapping in a new O2 sensor and making an adjustment to the MAF.  This particular LuftMengenMesser (MAF in German) used a movable vane.  On closer inspection the vane measurement board could be rotated ~15 degrees.  This was moved to trick it into a leaner thinking.   

Easy fixes done and it still smoked like an 80's diesel.  

During the winter a few of us enjoyed adding a few cracking mods:
- Moved exhaust to exit between driver side wheel and door.
- Added front grate to protect lower half of radiator from potential ice debris.
- Rear open diff was welded to become locked 
- 4 bolt studded tires were created
The nearby frozen snow packed river was the test bed.  Distant memory recalls that maintaining wheel spin was difficult with not enough power.  Lateral grip was not as high as I expected.  One of us got a talking to by the local police, but was ok with it after we proved it was insured.  After various other silly driving adventures the end of winter came.  We parked it in a local’s yard telling him he can drive it and we’ll see it next winter.  Like loosing touch with friends that move away, life got in the way of more Datsun hoonary. Someone left the company, I volunteered to take on the Japanese project and I spent the next winter in Japan.  A work colleague went back that winter, tried to start it up, but let the smoke out of the engine ECU.  

That was the end of that adventure, I’d moved on to other toys, new company rule didn’t like personal vehicles on the company property (oops). Title was always in the glove box and off to the local scrapyard she went.  I like to think someone else slapped on a carb and had some more laughs, but probably not.

Cheers from New Zealand,


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