From:             "Al Powell" 
Organization:      TAMU Agricultural Communications
Date sent:                 Fri, 24 Jan 1997 22:44:05 CDT

Subject:                Choozing a 1979-83 280ZX

Look for rust around the tire wells, and on the ZX series, especially 
across the front edge of the hood.  Also check inside the rear hatch 
for rust bubbles on the surfaces there.  These cars are not super-
rusty, but they don't resist salty conditions as well as some others. 

One more problem/giveaway area is the seams on the rocker panels 
under the doors...look for rust bubbles under the paint.  

Crouch down and look down each side of the car in good light.  
Look for ripples and waves.  These indicate old body work, which may 
be a no-no.  (You can't tell how deep bondo is from tapping on a fender.)

A good ZX should start with no more than 5 seconds cranking.  (Mine 
can sit for two weeks and starts with less than five seconds

I also recommend a wet & dry compression test by you, or by an 
independent mechanic shop.  This is very easy and cheap - one just 
removes the spark plugs, screws in a pressure gauge, spins the engine 
a few times, and notes the pressure achieved.  This is done on all 
cylinders (with the same number of engine rotationss on each, to 
keep pressure readings relevant), then than you go back, and squirt 
some oil in each cylinder and do it again.  

If the dry compression is UNDER 130 psi, the engine is showing 
some wear. If there is more than about a 15-pound difference from high to 
low (maybe 140 high, 125 low) than you have one cylinder which is 
significantly weaker than the others.  Not real good news.  You can 
expect the "wet test" (with oil) to be a bit higher, as the oil falls
on the piston rings and seals them.  If the pressure comes up a LOT 
on the wet test, like 20+ psi, you have bad rings!  If the dry pressure is too 
low but the wet pressure does NOT come up much, that means the 
problem is valves, as they don't benefit from the oil squirted in.

If the pressure is a bit low but even across all cylinders (perhaps 115 all 
across) the  engine is worn, but at least it's even.  The car will drive OK since the 
cylinder performance will be balanced, but the car will lack power and 
needs to be rebuilt when the wear gets a bit worse.

Most Z's have good engines if they have good power.  The straight-6 
engine is one of the finest and longest-lived ever built!  Even if 
pressure is a bit low, if you care for the engine carefully, you could have 
a long reprieve before a rebuild is necesary.

Check all the gauges and accessories to make sure they work.  If 
someone has installed an aftermarket stereo, for heaven's sake take a 
look at the wiring and see if it's a nightmare!!  Not much you can do 
about it, but it makes an arguing point and you know you will have to 
get it straightened out.  Allow at least two hours' labor for fixing 
it, or deduct $100-$150 in purchase price.

Dash cracks across the top of the dash are normal in old Z's.  It 
has to do with the type of vinyl used by the manufacturer.  If they 
really offend you, you can get a dash cap or a carpet cover for the 
dash for about $80.  Replacement dashes start about $200 for used 
ones, and new ones from the dealer are $700 plus.  (Live with the cracks or 
add a cap...)

If the rear hatch carpet is toasted by the sun, don't worry - for 
under $100 you can have a car interior/upholstery shop make a 

A cold Z should have at least 60 psi oil pressure at 
road speed (3000 rpm).  When it's warm and at idle, it's OK for the 
gauge to drop low - even down to 10 or 15 psi.  This is how Z engines 
work.  If it does NOT top 50 psi when fully cold, I would worry about 
it.  That's too low for this engine.  It's worn.

The front ends are pretty stout on these.  But have the shop check 
the brakes and look for bent wheels, as replacement wheels are pricey 
unless you get lucky at a wrecking yard.

If the car is a turbo, think carefully.  Most people don't have a 
clue about how to take care of turbos.  The boost gauge should hit 
the red line within one second if you are at 3000 rpm or above when 
you floor it.  If you don't see that gauge hit at least the lower end 
of the red zone, the turbo is dying.  NOW - you can get a rebuilt turbo for 
$500, and it takes a minimum 6-8 hours' labor to install it.  This 
may not be prohibitive if you really want a turbo.  Just budget accordingly.  

IF you replace a turbo, replace the oil feed line which goes to it.  
This adds at least one hour labor but is the best insurance you can 
have.  They do get plugged!  (Then NEVER use anything but synthetic 
oil in it!!!)

I do not recommend automatics in Z-cars.  (As a friend says, the 
"Why?" question comes to mind....). If you want a real sports car, 
get a sports car - which means a 4-speed or 5-speed stick.  (Automatics 
reduce the performance, too.)  The transmission should not grind on 
shifts or pop out of gear when decelerating, and the rear end should feel 
tight.  If you feel "slack" in the drivetrain, have the shop look at the rear 
motor mount and look at the rear end.  Used transmissions are widely 
available, but changing one is a day's work.

Do NOT buy the car without talking to the past owner, if it is 
humanly possible.  When I buy used from a dealership, I try 
everything in my power to talk to the past owner.  I want to know WHY 
they're selling.  (In my case, they had ONE kid and decided they 
hadda have a Suburban.  Please, my brain reels.........)

I am absolutely adamant about the virtues of running synthetic 
lubricants in performance cars.  That means engine oil like Mobil 1, 
Amsoil or RedLine.  These makers' synthetic lubes are also highly 
recommended for transmission and rear end.  They will smooth the 
shifting and extend the service life of lubricated components.  If the 
past owner used them, you can bet that owner took much better care 
of the vehicle than usual!

I'm on my 4th Z and never wore one out...just sold 'em and 
got another.  Now driving a 1983 ZXT.