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1978 Datsun 280Z - Reminiscing

If you could re-create the first car you've always wanted...

Aaron Bonk
Mar 1, 2016
Photographer: William Stern

The fact that Jordan Swerdloff is infatuated with cars shouldn't surprise you. He's the founder of high-end wheel firm ADV.1, and his success has afforded him the ability to own a handful of exotic sports cars—you know, the stuff boys like us can only dream about. But what will surprise is that despite all his success and all the cars money can buy, Jordan has always longed to rebuild a late-'70s Datsun.

1978 datsun 280Z adv1 adv5 track spec series wheels Photo 2/16   |   1978 Datsun 280Z Adv1 Adv5 Track Spec Series Wheels

As first cars go, there can be only one. For Jordan, it was an '83 280ZX Turbo. Datsun introduced its long line of Z cars for the '70 model year in late '69 wearing the 240Z badge. It wasn't until '75 that the company would release the 280Z, though, with its 2.8L inline engine, which would sell for but a single year before the nameplate's second-generation overhaul would take place that ushered in the ZX trim.

Early '80s Z cars were special, mostly the 180hp turbo models, and Jordan knew it. In '96 standards, a 13-year-old Z wasn't contemporary, though, and it wasn't fast, but as Jordan puts it, "To me, it was everything." Despite the sentiment, an 18-year-old and homeless Jordan hocked the later broken-down Z after a couple years of ownership for bus fare home and, ever since, has hoped for the car's return.

1978 datsun 280Z carbon fairlady rear spoiler Photo 6/16   |   Carbon Fairlady rear spoiler is a nice touch.

His '83 never turned up, but the build continues, only this time under the guise of a'78 280Z. In the mid-'90s, the blueprint was simple: chop it up into a two-seater and rebuild the L28 to the tune of about 500 hp. Today, Jordan has the means for something a whole lot less pedestrian, like a 2JZ-GTE-swapped engine bay home to nearly 800 streetable horsepower and good enough for an 8-second quarter-mile once the ante's been upped to full race trim. In other words, this thing has laid down more than 1,000 hp at one point.

1978 datsun 280Z zg fender flare Photo 7/16   |   ZG flares, ADV1 wheels, and a side-exit exhaust—so much goodness in one photo!

Inline-sixes just don't get any better than Toyota's long-revered Supra engine, even if that does mean disrupting the Z car's heritage with a cross-pollination of parts. Nobody better blame him, either; even at roughly 1,000 hp at the flywheel, catastrophe-deflecting modifications are minimal when it comes to the 2JZ and consist of little more than a forged rotating assembly and ARP hardware strong enough to keep the head and crankshaft in place. As far as sensible engine swaps go, the 2JZ is at the top of the list. All of that power, however, comes by way of a single Garrett GT42GTX turbo that's good for 579 lb-ft of torque that's ultimately sent through the Supra's matching six-speed Getrag transmission, past a custom driveshaft and R200 differential that, of course, sends all of that spinning energy through a set of ADV.1 Track Spec wheels.

Admittedly, much of what makes Jordan's Z an 800hp one was performed before his taking ownership of it. Everything else, though, is all Jordan—like the ZG fender flares all around that complement the 10- and 11-inch-wide wheels, the carbon-fiber front air dam that's been manufactured to the likeness of a genuine BRE version, and the matte-gunmetal vinyl wrap applied by nearby Sign Savers. It's all very much a cross between the Z he once had and the Z he's always wanted. Jordan also delivered the Z car into the current century with its Ground Control coilover suspension conversion up front, Wilwood disc brakes all around, and a standalone engine management system from AEM that does the sort of things the original L28's Bosch fuel injection system only wished it could. Inside, Datsun's heritage is retained and coexists alongside MOMO seats and refreshed factory bits like the headliner, dashboard, and door panels that have been wrapped in alcantara.

1978 datsun 280Z 2jzgte swap Photo 11/16   |   1978 Datsun 280Z 2Jzgte Swap
1978 datsun 280Z 2jzgte swap Photo 12/16   |   2JZ-GTE has been detuned to 800 hp. At one point in its lifetime, this Datsun was puttin' down 1,000 hp to the rear wheels!

Ask Jordan and he'll tell you about the couple dozen cars he's owned that range from what he calls "salvage-title abortions" to exotics where clutch jobs cost about as much as a Supra engine swap. But him wanting an early-era Z never went away. "I've climbed my way up the vehicle ladder," he says with a tip and a nod to the 701hp Mercedes S63 AMG coupe that he dailies, "but nothing has excited me, motivated me, or moved me like my first car." As first cars go, there can only be one, which means that, like Jordan, you might not always have a whole lot to say about what exactly it is that'll excite you a couple of decades from now.

1978 datsun 280Z custom carbon fiber taillight Photo 16/16   |   1978 Datsun 280Z Custom Carbon Fiber Taillight
By Aaron Bonk
365 Articles
1978 Datsun 280Z - Reminiscing
Tuning Menu
Owner: Jordan Swerdloff
Hometown: Miami, FL
Occupation: ADV.1 Head Honcho
Power: 799 hp, 579 lb-ft of torque
Engine: 3.4L 2JZ-GTE stroker engine; CP pistons; Brian Crower connecting rods; custom billet main caps; ARP main and head studs; balanced and blueprinted assembly; ported and polished cylinder head; Brian Crower 272 camshafts; Garrett GT42GTX turbocharger; custom fuel cell and fuel system; 250-shot NOS system
Drivetrain: Toyota Supra Getrag transmission; HKS twin-disc clutch; Driveshaft Shop driveshaft and axles; Datsun R200 rear differential
Engine Management: AEM EMS
Footwork & Chassis: Ground Control coilover conversion (front); KYB struts (rear); Eibach springs; polyurethane bushings; Techno Toy Tuning five-lug conversion
Brakes: Wilwood 300 mm (front) and 290 mm (rear) disc brake conversion
Wheels & Tires: 17x10" front, 17x11" rear ADV.1 ADV5 Track Spec series wheels; 275/40R17 front, 315/35R17 rear Toyo Proxes R888 tires; Tikore / ADV.1 titanium lug nuts
Exterior: BRE-style carbon-fiber front air dam; Fairlady carbon-fiber rear spoiler; ZG front and rear fender flares; custom carbon-fiber taillight panel; Sign Savers matte-gunmetal vinyl wrap
Interior: MOMO Super Cup seats, steering wheel, quick-release hub adapter, shift knob, shift boot, pedals; custom alcantara headliner, dash, and door panels; new OEM carpet, center console, plastic inserts

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