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1977 Datsun 280Z - Running With the Devil

Datsun downers and dedication in its purest form

Micah Wright
Aug 2, 2017
Photographer: Ginash George

The story behind Richy Contreras and his Datsun 280Z build has layers of redemption and revival behind it that beg to be retold. Like countless other folks in our community, Richy became an enthusiast due to having a gearhead dad in the house, and by the time he was a teenager he knew exactly what his dream machine looked like. The lines of the S30 Fairlady Z had enticed his eye since day one, and by 22 he was determined to sell his daily-driven Infiniti G35 in order to obtain one.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Marugen Shoukai Fender Flares

His mind made up, Richy began the arduous task of combing Craigslist, and almost instantly realized finding one in decent shape within his home territory of Illinois and Indiana was going to be damn near impossible. With the search parameters spread nationwide, and his old G35 replaced with a fat wad of cash, Richy feverishly screened contenders until the day a pristine 280Z surfaced in Portland, Oregon. All of the appeal associated with a fuel-injected L28 and its lower price point were impossible to ignore, and going off the photos the Z appeared to be about as clean as it got in regards to an unmolested chassis.

After speaking with the vehicle's owner, Richy was disheartened to find someone was heading to Portland to haul it back to Cali before he could. Determined to see his dream come true, the Datsun enthusiast baited the seller with a promise that he would pick the car up two days earlier and promised to send a down payment in order to solidify his claim to the keys. Richy transferred the doughy down payment and looked at one-way tickets to the Pacific Northwest. The only issue now was who in the hell would be free to take on a cross-country road trip under such short notice? Fortunately, Richy was able to convince his father. Tickets in hand, both men boarded a plane, unsure of what awaited them and excited to see what would happen next.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Panasport G7 C8S Wheel

The squeaky-clean S30 sitting in the driveway was an inexplicable relief to see, and after a quick spin and a monetary exchange, Richy was literally living the dream. Almost immediately, the father and son duo stabbed eastward, embarking upon a two-and-a-half-day, 2,000-mile road trip rifled with mountain driving, desert cruising, and zero rest stops. It was an adventure that would ultimately bring the two men closer than ever before, something to this day Richy admits was one of the best experiences of his life.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z L28 Engine

The car made it all the way home to Indiana without issue, and numerous high-fives were handed out upon their triumphant return. But like with any loved project car, it wasn't without its hurdles. No more than a few weeks passed and things suddenly went south at a red light when Richy's Datsun got rear-ended by a friend who was following him. The collision left the car's rear bumper and hindquarters in complete disarray, and it took a month for Richy's body shop to bring the Z back to form. Other issues included a loss of power that left Richy stranded on the freeway multiple times. Things like the air fuel meter, fuses, plugs, cap, and rotor all had to be changed to keep the Datsun breathing.

But perhaps the worst of it happened while cruising through some Kentucky mountain roads prior to the summer edition of Import Alliance, when Richy spun around and hit a bank of rocks after a miscalculated downshift. The hood, fenders, bumper, headlights, radiator, and fan were all toast, and the disheartened enthusiast was forced to trailer his prized possession back home before the event could even begin.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Custom Grille

By this point, Richy was a hair's width away from selling the vehicle as it sat, but was reminded by how close he and his father grew after the car's inaugural road trip, and the elder convinced his boy to keep the car. Together, they pulled the front end, fixed the radiator and fan, and got the car running again before sending it off for bodywork and paint.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Custom Wood Grain Z Steering Wheel

While the vehicle was off being refinished at a local body shop, life handed Richy the sourest lemon imaginable when he unexpectedly lost both of his parents. This heart-wrenching experience was compounded by the fact that the young man had lost his best friend just two months prior, and the future looked nowhere near as bright as it once had. But all Richy wanted was for his dad to see the vehicle buttoned up and on display, so he did everything he could to make his father proud, which meant completing the Z.

Richy sourced several new parts such as the wheels from Mastermind NDA; flares, front end, and spoiler from RHDJapan; and coilovers from JPN Garage. A poor experience with a body shop left Richy to seek out the help of Fast Eddie's Hotrods, where they performed a nine-month-long restoration, stripping the S30 down to its bare metal form and undoing all the shoddy work previously done to restore it to perfection. This included painting the previously white exterior a shade of red, Richy's father's favorite color.

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Marugen Shoukai Three Piece Spoiler

Crashed twice, resurrected countless times, and built right once, it's a dream machine that forces its owner to recall that cross-country road trip every time he engages the ignition. Richy concludes, "This car is my real-life Devil Z. In the two years of owning it, I have never gone through so much with a car that has accumulated so much strong sentimental value in a short amount of time. It has been crashed two times, been dead multiple times, and brought back to life more than I can count off the top of my head. Every time I sit in the car, it brings back the two-day road trip with my father when I bought the Z. We never had a strong relationship in the past, but it was this car that brought us together and got me to know who my father was, despite us even living together my whole life. This Devil Z has been a curse and a lifetime blessing all in one."

  |   1977 Datsun 280Z Panasport G7 C8s Wheel
By Micah Wright
38 Articles
1977 Datsun 280Z - Running With the Devil
Tuning Menu
Owner: Richy Contreras
Hometown: Portage, IN
Occupation: landlord, photographer, graphic design
Engine: 2.8L 12-valve L28 engine; Racer Brown cam; cold-air intake; custom headers; straight pipe exhaust; polished valve cover
Footwork & Chassis: BC Racing Extreme Low coilovers with custom Swift springs; Techno Toy Tuning front camber arms, rear tension control rods
Brakes: '79-'83 Toyota Pickup four-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 15x10" -40 front, 15x11" -70 rear Panasport G7-C8S wheels with gunmetal faces; 225/50R15 front, 235/50R15 rear Toyo Proxes R888 tires
Exterior: Marugen Shoukai fender flares, three-piece spoiler; TheRetrofit Source sealed headlights with Panamera LED shrouds; custom grille, corner bumpers, paint, shaving and bodywork by Fast Eddie's Hotrods; OE Bluebird fender mirrors
Interior: Custom wood grain Z steering wheel with polished spokes
Thanks You: Fast Eddie's Hotrods who brought back my Z to life and turned my dream S30 into reality; Rajeet Dalal at Mastermind DNA who went out of his way to help me get my Panasports; my friends who helped me out in the early stages from the crash at Import Alliance to running me between my house and Fast Eddie's

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