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Supercharged LS V8 Swapped Datsun 280Z

When Josh Wilson got a fancy new car a few years back, he decided that he wanted to find a simple, reliable daily driver to keep the miles low on his new car. Somehow, possibly influenced by a few weekend beverages, some of his so-called friends convinced him that a 30+ year old Datsun 280Z would be the perfect vehicle for a daily driver. When a local 280Z popped up for sale on Craigslist for $2,000 with a seized motor, but a second “mystery” motor included with it, Wilson and his so-called friends decided that this would be the perfect candidate, and the weekend spent swapping the seized motor for the “mystery” motor would be a perfect bonding experience for the crew. Wilson and his buddies loaded the car up on a trailer, towed it back to a friend’s garage who had some extra space, paid the $2,000 asking price, and started the journey towards a “reliable” daily driver. To those of us who have motor oil in our veins, the start of this love story may sound familiar. 

Josh Wilson's Datsun 280Z started as a $2,000 craigslist car that was intended to be a daily driver

Getting up and Running

Over the following weekend, Wilson and his alleged friends got to work pulling the seized motor and swapping in the spare 2.8L inline 6 engine into the Datsun. Wilson hadn’t worked on his own car previously, so the process of swapping the engine was probably a bit prolonged, but at the end of the weekend, the engine was fired up successfully, and Wilson took the car for a spin around the block to get the feel for his new daily driver. Of course, since this was Wilson’s first manual car, the test drive took a bit longer than expected, and may or may not have included a few stalls along the way. To say this car was a learning curve for Wilson was a bit of an understatement. But somehow, the 280Z successfully fulfilled the role as the daily driver for over a year and a half.

An LS1 engine was swapped into the engine bay of Wilson's Datsun 280Z, which was later upgraded with a Chevy LSA supercharger

Then came another weekend gathering with the friends, in which the topic of a Chevy LS engine swap came up. If the original engine transplant went so smoothly, who’s to say that another engine swap with a more powerful engine wouldn’t go just as smoothly? First, it was time to track down the engine that would become the new heard of the 280Z.

Heart Surgery

A 1999 Pontiac Firebird was located, complete with a running Chevy LS1 engine and T56 manual transmission, and the car was purchased. Wilson and friends pulled the engine and wiring harness from the Firebird, and then discarded the chassis.

The Chevy LSA supercharger pushes the horsepower in this Datsun 280Z over 500 horsepower!

 While the engine was out, why not refresh it a bit with some new parts? What started with a new intake manifold soon lead to a forged stroker rotating assembly, some ported and polished LS6 heads, and the ‘simple’ engine swap got slightly more modified. By the time the engine was actually swapped in, the only stock part of the engine was the block, and even that had been bored to accept the new rotating assembly. Wilson jokes “It was probably the most expensive way to build an LS1.”

An upgraded fuel system was needed to keep up with the built Chevy LS1 engine in this Datsun 280Z

A year or so later, the stroked LS1 was no longer enough power, and a conversation around a supercharger was brought up. The Chevy LSA engine was a factory-supercharged engine which came in the Cadillac CTS-V, and is often seen as one of the best examples of factory forced induction that is easily adaptable to other engines. As you can guess, an LSA supercharger found its’ way to Wilson’s garage at some point, but it wouldn’t be enough to just install the supercharger as it sat. The blower and snout were ported, a larger 102mm throttle body was soon en-route, and a water methanol injection kit helped to squeeze the most out of the engine without risking detonation. With this setup, the 280Z spun a dynamometer with the power of 575 ponies, with nearly 600 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels.

Flexing her Legs

With the power well sorted, Wilson started to focus on the suspension to get the car lower and firm up the ride. Late '70s suspension was never really seen as desirable, and the age hadn’t been kind to any of the suspension components. Initially, a set of Ground Control coilovers made their way under each corner of the Z, but a bigger upgrade was soon sought out. Thankfully, Techno Toy Tuning, known affectionately as T3 by many car enthusiasts, makes a bevy of upgraded suspension arms and bushings for many older '70s and '80s Japanese vehicles, and the 280Z is one that they have developed an extensive catalog for. A full set of adjustable suspension arms and BC Racing coilovers helped with both handling and power transfer.

Adjustable camber plates help dial in the suspension settings on Josh Wilson's Datsun 280Z

Of course, the suspension of any car is only as good as the wheels and tires that connect the car to the ground. Weld Racing RT-S S77 wheels in 17x9 and 17x11 front and rear, both with -14 offset, give plenty of room to mount some beefy rubber. Wilson trusted Nitto NT555 G2 tires on each corner, in 255/40R17 front sizing and 315/35R17 rear sizing to keep the car planted. The combination of tread block sizing, grippy compound, and beefy sidewall keep this 280Z planted on the various twisty back roads that Wilson occasionally finds himself on.

Nitto NT555 G2 tires wrap the Weld RT-S S77 wheels on Josh Wilson's Datsun 280Z

If Looks Could Kill

Unfortunately, an oil patch on a back road lead to an unfortunate meeting of the rear quarter panel and a light pole on the way to a car show a few years ago. Wilson took the opportunity to learn how to do some body work, cleaning up the rear body panel and replacing a door that was easier to replace than to re-work. While the original purple paint was chosen by someone back in the 1970’s, Wilson decided it was time to bring the car up to a more modern color and chose the satin gray paint you see in this feature.

280Z on Nitto NT555 G2 Tires rear view

Since then, he has continued to modify the look of the car, having since laid hands on nearly every body panel on the car to date. Some may notice the wider ZG fenders including the custom fender mirrors, the deleted rear bumper, and the aluminum side skirts, but the front lower valence delete, front splitter, extended rear diffuser, and other customized touches often go unnoticed. While the vehicle is far from a perfect paint job, the fact that Wilson’s bare hands have touched nearly every inch of every body panel on the car give a sentimental appeal to him.

The fender mirrors on Josh Wilson's Datsun 280Z are completely custom

Inside the vehicle, Wilson went with what he calls a “spartan race car” look, the cabin combines aluminum, ABS plastic, and many custom touches to bring the vision to life. A suite of Autometer gauges were integrated into the fiberglass dash to ensure Wilson could monitor the vitals under the hood, while the Sparco Grid 2 seats, and Takata harnesses, and Sparco suede steering wheel keep Wilson connected to the 280Z. The aluminum center console and the suede shift boot are also custom, and the overall theme of aluminum and the custom ABS trim pieces are integrated in a way that many OEM manufacturers struggle with even today. A proper interior like what you see here is often equally art as it is fabrication and craftsmanship, and to the untrained eye, might even look like it was available from an aftermarket manufacturer. But rest assured, this interior has been curated specifically by Wilson to give the car the look and feel he craves.

A Pioneer head unit provides the tunes for cruises in Josh Wilson's Datsun 280Z

Cruising in any vehicle is done best with a soundtrack playing, so Wilson went out of his way to ensure the vehicle had a stereo. A Pioneer head unit, Pioneer 5.25” speakers up front and 4” speakers in the rear are paired with a custom subwoofer enclosure that sits under the rear parcel shelf. In an attempt to reduce road noise and rattles, all sound deadening was scraped from the car and re-applied, and new carpeting was added back. The door panels and rear quarter panels were also updated and re-secured, and the result is a vehicle that sounds as smooth at highway speeds as many modern cars.

Continually Refined

In the 7 years that Wilson has owned this vehicle, it has rarely gone more than a few months without being tweaked. Since the shoot, a LS3/TR6060 has taken the place of the LS1/T56 combo, the LSA supercharger has been upgraded to produce even more boost, the fenders and hood have been modified, and the rear spoiler has been replaced by a chassis-mount wing that employs active aero with no less than three different settings (high downforce, an airbrake mode, and a minimal drag setup for maximum speed).

Josh Wilson's 280Z got a new paint job after a run-in with a telephone pole on the way to a car show

Wilson is always taking inspiration from various vehicles past, present, and future. You can rest assured that if there are any more weekend gatherings with Wilson and his friends, more ideas are discussed to continue to evolve the Z into the dream car that Wilson knows it can be!

Spec Sheet: Josh Wilson’s Datsun 280Z

Hometown: Monroe, Washington
Engine: Chevy LS1 V8, pulled from a 1999 Firebird; Engine bored to 383ci, forged stroker rotating assembly, GM Performance LS3 water pump, Advanced Induction ported and polished cylinder heads (243 casting), Advanced Induction Custom grind camshaft (116+4 LSA, 234/246 duration, 0.617/0.595” lift), Morel 5315 lifters, Bronze valve guides. FED 0.660” dual springs with titanium retainers, Comp Cams roller bearing trunnions, ARP head bolts, LS7 lifter trays, DC Porting ported LSA supercharger and snout, Camaro ZL1 supercharger lid with reinforced intercooler brick, Olson Kustom Works ½” phenolic LSA head spacer plates, Olson Kustom Works phenolic LSA 5/8” lid spacer with (8) bungs for methanol nozzles, Solid supercharger isolator, ZZ Performance modular 2.5” upper supercharger pulley (12 lbs of boost), Metco LSA supercharger idler pulley kit, Pinned LSA crank balancer pulley, 102mm cable driven throttle body, LS7 MAF, 3-bar MAP sensor, All new GM sensors, D585 ignition coil conversion, 9mm zero-ohm plug wires, NGK TR6 spark plugs gapped to 0.028”, Improved Racing oil cooler adapter with integral t-stat (190 degree), Derale front mount oil cooler, Custom engine wiring harness, Hawk’s Third Gen LSx LT headers for 280Z (1.875” primaries, 3” collectors), Dual 3” exhaust w/ v-band flanges, Dual Columbia Mandrel 12” resonators, Dual Magnaflow 6” race mufflers
Drivetrain: Hawks 3rd Gen T56 transmission mount, T56 6-speed transmission from 1999 Firebird, Custom short throw shifter with custom shifter arm, GM Performance Flywheel, Monster Stage 3 clutch kit, GM Performance hydraulic slave cylinder, Tilton 0.875” clutch master cylinder, McLeod custom clutch cable, Manual clutch pedal assembly from 1975 280Z, Drivelines NW 1000hp aluminum driveshaft, Ron Tyler R200 Diff Mount, R200 CLSD from Z31T (3.7:1), Finned rear differential cover, Z31T CV axles, Chequered Flag Racing 27 spline companion flanges, Silvermine Motors 5-lug front hubs, Redrilled 5-lug rear hubs
Fueling & Cooling: 12 gallon Jaz fuel cell, Fuel fill re-located behind license plate, Stainless -8AN braided fuel supply and -6AN return lines, Holley 100-micron prefilter, Dual Walbro 455lph fuel pumps (second fuel pump triggered by hobbs switch @4psi), Fuel Lab boost reference fuel pressure regulator @58psi, Dual 40-micron fuel filters, LS9 returnless fuel rail, 80lb Siemens Deka fuel injectors, Snow Performance water/meth pump running 50/50 mix (triggered by hobbs switch @4psi), Direct port methanol injection (8 nozzles @100ml/min), tuned for 92 octane pump gas, Custom aluminum fuel cell cover; MSA 3-core aluminum radiator, Sequential 10” 1,200cfm fans, 160 degree thermostat, LSA supercharger fluid pump, CX Racing heat exchanger, Custom aluminum 3” swirl pot and expansion tank
Interior Firewall, floor pans and trunk stripped and coated with POR-15; Custom body wiring harness, Custom fuse/relay panels, RetroSpec fiberglass dashboard; Autometer gauges including speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, water temp, fuel, voltage and boost gauges; Custom switch panel in custom aluminum center console, Custom shift boot, Custom aluminum cup holders. Street Faction heel plates, Sparco Grid 2 seats with EVO II black seat inserts, 425 Motorsports Planted seat brackets, Takata 4-point harnesses, Silvermine Motors electric power steering kit, Momo steering wheel hub, NRG quick release hub adapter, Sparco flat dish suede steering wheel, Skillard door panels, Skillard rocker panel covers, Skillard laser-engraved sill plates Custom ABS trim panels throughout interior, Custom trunk floor panels, Battery relocated to trunk
In-Car Entertainment (ICE) Pioneer stereo head unit, Pioneer 5.25” front door and 4” rear speakers, 6.5” Tang Band subwoofers with custom enclosures in parcel hatches under trunk floor, New carpeting & sound deadening throughout.
Suspension: T3 GTX2 front lower control arms and TC rods, T3 Outer tie rods, T3 Roll center adjusters, T3 Bolt in camber plates and top hats front & rear, T3 Adjustable rear lower control arms, Custom rear control arm mounts, BC Racing BR adjustable coilovers, Poly steering rack bushings, T3 Moustache bar for R200 differential, Custom drop mount braces, 1” MSA solid front sway bar, 7/8” MSA solid rear sway bar, Poly lower control arm bushings
Brakes: Wilwood 1” master cylinder, upgraded 8” brake booster, Custom master cylinder brace plate, Wilwood brake proportioning valve, all new stainless brake hardlines and fittings, Stainless braided lines at all 4 corners, Silvermine Motors front hub spacers, 1990 Toyota 4Runner S12W front brake calipers w/ semi-metallic pads, Slotted vented rotors from 1984 300ZX Turbo, Silvermine Motors rear disc brake brackets, 1987 Nissan Maxima rear brake calipers w/ semi-metallic pads, Vented rotors from 1984 300ZX Turbo
Wheels/Tires: Weld Racing Wheels: RT-S S77 17x9, -14 offset front, 17x11, -14 offset rear. Nitto 555 G2 Tires: 255/40R17 front, 315/35R17 rear.
Exterior TrackSpec C5 Corvette hood vents, Hood cutout for LSA supercharger, Custom front bumper/bash bar, Front lower valence delete, Type 1 front air dam, Custom front splitter (extends to oil pan), Skillard aluminum side skirts, Wide ZG fender flares, Rear bumper delete, Custom rear diffuser (extends forward to differential and rear control arms), Stripped and POR-15 painted engine bay; New seam sealer, undercoating, & weather stripping; Solex 1300GTX locks, Battery shutoff located behind stock fuel door, 1992 Honda Civic wiper motor (with intermittent function added), Dapper Lighting projector headlights
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