The Best Engine Swaps for a 280Z (And The Pros and Cons)

The Best Engine Swaps for a 280Z (And The Pros and Cons)

Are you thinking about giving your classic Datsun 280Z a bit more muscle and a smoother ride? You're not alone! Lots of people experiment with engine swaps on these cars to improve its power.

So, in this piece, we're going to talk about the space of engine swaps for the 280Z. We'll look into what each option might cost you, how difficult the installation could be, and the kind of benefits your car will enjoy after the swap.

Are you chasing more power under the hood, dreaming about a car that won't let you down, or trying to keep things looking and feeling classic? It's super important to pin these goals down because, let's face it, a new engine can change your ride in a big way, and you want to make sure that this is the first and last engine swap that you have to do on your car!

Note: Most of these tips also apply to the 260Z and 240Z; after all, there are few differences between these cars, and what fits in a 280Z will mostly also fit into these cars. We'll talk to that here in a bit.

Alright, ready to talk about powering your 280Z? Let's get into it!

Disclaimer: This article is authored by a member of the Skillard community and reflects their personal views, not necessarily those of Skillard. We welcome your feedback and corrections in the comments to help us continually improve this content.

Why Choose An LS Series Engine Swap?

Popping an LS engine into a 280Z can really kick up the zest and power of the car without weighing it down. This change means the car stays zippy and a blast to drive. And guess what? The LS engine is like a puzzle piece that perfectly fits into a 280Z, giving it a nice improvement in handling and stability.

The whole LS swap scene is like a big, helpful family. They have all the parts, advice, and support you need, which makes the whole engine swap biz a lot smoother.

But, we've have to talk about the flip side. The costs can hit your wallet hard, and sometimes, you might need to call in an expert, which just piles on the expense. Also, swapping out the original engine changes the classic tone of the 280Z, and not everyone's excited about that.

v8 Swap

Are you thinking about improving your car with an LS engine swap? Great choice! LS engines are like the great ticket - easy to find, won't break the bank, and they're real time-savers. Plus, they're solid performers you can count on, backed by a strong support community ready to lend a hand when you need it. They're kicking your car's performance up a notch while keeping things simple to look after. And the cherry on top? They're flexible, slotting into a mix of cars and making your daily drive smoother with their fuel efficiency.

On the flip side, picking the perfect LS engine isn't always a walk in the park. Sometimes, they might not hit the dazzling speeds you're dreaming of, and their oil systems can be a bit finicky. If you're planning to really test the limits of what your car can do, investing in a better oil pump might be on your to-do list. Plus, the way these engines are built might put a cap on how much you can really improve the performance.

Some might go for a cheaper V8, like a 350 or a 383, which can have similar horsepower figures for a fraction of the cost. An LS is a more modern fuel-injected engine, which also makes it more expensive and more complex.

Is a JDM Engine Swap Right for Your 280Z?

A Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) engine for your Datsun 280Z, like the powerhouse SR20DET or an RB series, is like giving your car a shot of adrenaline. These engines pack a punch with their turbocharged glory, which makes your 280Z zip around like never before, but they also respect the car's Japanese heritage, matching your ride with an engine that feels like it was made just for it.

But let's not beat around the bush - getting your hands on a real JDM engine isn't pocket change. When you think about the steep tag of import fees and the shipping costs from Japan, it starts adding up. And when it finally lands, don't get started on the headache of fitting it in. These engines were thought up for cars that were born with their guiding wheel on the right side, so you might find yourself hunting for extra parts or changing your 280Z to make it fit.

JDM Engine Swap

And then there's the hunt for legitimate. The market's murky with fakes or engines that have seen better days. Buying from someone you trust means digging deep and doing your homework. Once you have it, keeping it running smoothly and finding the right parts can turn into a bit of a mission. Plus, keeping everything on the up and up with emissions and mods rules is something you can't forget about.

For enthusiasts, slotting a JDM engine into a 280Z is an exciting tribute to its legacy, blending advanced performance with timeless style. It feels like you're bringing the car and its spirit closer together. Still, it's important to stack up the cool factor against the legitimacy of shelling out cash and elbow grease and making sure you're not crossing any legal lines. Balancing your passion for JDM engines with a clear-eyed look at the effort and costs involved.

For 240Z Owners: L28ET for a Direct Fit

This is the most common engine swap for the 240Z. Why? It pops right in! Really, it's the easiest swap ever.

The L28ET changes the tone of your without messing with the car's classic lines. Why mess with perfection when you can just give it a bit more power?

Slipping an L28ET under the hood of your 280Z is very easy since it's a perfect fit with the original engine setup. You're saving time and hassle and getting straight to the good part. And let's talk reliability; these engines run forever. The L28 engines are plenty of fun and still keep the 280Z's soul intact. So, you get that punchy performance while keeping the car's retro style.

280Z

But - it's not all sunshine and rainbows. If you're on the hunt for a massive power surge, the L28ET might leave you a little disappointed, and it is very expensive to modify them to the point where they are making serious power. Bigger beasts like the LS or some tasty JDM engines could make your horsepower dreams come true. The L28ET's been around the block, so finding parts can be a bit of a treasure hunt.

From where I stand, picking the L28ET is a great option if you're not trying to build an all-out race car and if you're on a budget. It keeps the car's character while sneaking in a bit more muscle under the hood. Perfect for those who love the car's vintage beauty but wouldn't mind a bit more pep when they hit the gas. It's like your classic watch - looks the same on the outside, but you know the magic that's been added inside.

The Pros and Cons of Each Swap

There's a lot to mull over, like performance boosts and what you personally want out of your car. You have options like the beefy LS series, high-tech JDM engines, and the classic L28ET, each bringing its own flavor to the table.

The LS swap? It's a strong option. You get an important bump in power without packing on the pounds, keeping your ride light on its feet. But, the idea of dropping an American engine into a Japanese classic isn't everyone's cup of tea - it changes the car's essence.

If your heart is set on keeping it strictly Japanese, a JDM engine like the RB26 or SR20DET could be a great choice. They're turbocharged marvels, packing advanced tech for some exciting rides. Be warned, though - these swaps aren't cheap, and tracking down authentic JDM engines can become a real mission.

JDM Engine 2

Then there's the L28ET swap, offering a sweet spot between power and preserving your car's original character. Though it won't rocket your horsepower stats as much as some options, it's a tribute to what your 280Z originally stood for. Finding one in great shape can be a bit of a mission, though.

So, before you talk about the engine swap world, think hard about what you want from your 280Z. Is it in the speed, or is keeping its spirit intact more your style? Each path has its benefits and quirks. Think about factors like cost, maintenance, legalities, and how each choice reinvents your car's identity. What you choose will map out your 280Z's process ahead.

How Much Do Engine Swaps Cost?

Let's talk about what it really costs, both in dollars but in effort too. Think beyond the price tag of the engine and the swap kit. You have to factor in other adjustments, maybe paying someone if DIY isn't your thing, and those always-peeking-around-the-corner, surprise costs. Smart move? Have a cash cushion for those just-in-case moments.

Take my buddy's experience - wanted to revamp his 280Z with a $5,000 budget. It boiled down to turbocharging the old-school L-series engine or picking something newer, balancing the scales of cost versus horsepower. Is he going to snag a RB engine for less than $500 stateside? Not likely! But, if you or one of your friends are mechanically inclined, you can save a ton of money on your build. Most of the cost is in time and labor, and engine swaps can take a ton of both.

Leaning towards an LS engine, widely favored for its power, could leave your wallet lighter than expected with those sneaky extra costs.

Really, nailing down the exact costs for slotting different engines into 280Z is hard to do. But sketching out a budget and hitting the books can save you from financial headaches later. Costs can swing wildly based on your engine pick, your mods, and whether you're rolling, improving your sleeves, or handing it off to a shop.

Honorable Mentions

We've covered the most popular engine swaps, but there are some other good options as well that we'll see pop up from time to time.

I'm a big fan of the Nissan SR Series, especially the SR20DET. It's turbocharged, packs four cylinders, and is a tuning dream. Plus, because it's a popular choice, parts, and advice are a Google search away. They are a little more accessible than the famous and expensive RB motors.

Thinking of bringing your 280Z into the 21st century without losing its vintage soul? The Nissan VQ Series engines, like the VQ35DE, are another common option. Sure, you might have to hunt a bit more for custom parts, but for those who get a kick out of overcoming mechanical puzzles, it's a rewarding path.

And then, there's the American major option - GM engines, like the 350 and 383 small blocks. These are legends in their own right, with a bunch of information and parts to talk about. A 383 stroker, in particular, turns the power dial up a notch, which makes it a favorite for those chasing a serious performance upgrade. Picking a GM engine will give your car a power signature that's distinctly different from its Nissan cousins. Plus, it's handy that parts are very cheap and plentiful.

There may be others but remember - the further you stray away from these top options, the harder your build will be. It's very convenient to buy things like engine mounts and transmission mating options, but the more creative you get, the more you'll find that your parts don't exist - you'll have to fabricate them from scratch! That can be a fun project, too, but make sure you budget for those things in your build.

Making the Right Choice for Your 280Z

Have a 280Z and are thinking about giving it an improvement under the hood or keeping its classic tone alive? You're in good hands. Engine swaps spice things up by adding power, improving reliability, or keeping that original appeal. Each swap is its own adventure, offering a mix of challenges and benefits for those who love to make their ride uniquely theirs.

Here at Skillard, we're helping Datsun lovers bring a new lease of life to their classic beauties. Whether you own a 240Z, a 260Z, or a 280Z, we have you covered with custom parts that improve both styling and performance.

Think bumpers that turn heads, door cards that catch eyes, consoles, and spoilers that clean improve your car and improve looks, durability, and performance. We're committed to merging sleek design with functionality so you get parts that don't just look good but improve your driving experience.

Starting this a restoration or upgrade process for your Datsun? Check out Skillard.com. We have the parts to help you piece together the car you've always wanted. Your dream ride is a project away!

4 comments

Skillard Team

Skillard Team

Absolutely, it’s a pretty awesome swap. You’ve pointed out some great advantages, like the compatibility with existing components. It’s not the easiest swap or the cheapest but wow… it’s something else. It’s always exciting to see more enthusiasts appreciating the potential of these engines!

Absolutely, it’s a pretty awesome swap. You’ve pointed out some great advantages, like the compatibility with existing components. It’s not the easiest swap or the cheapest but wow… it’s something else. It’s always exciting to see more enthusiasts appreciating the potential of these engines!

Skillard Team

Skillard Team

Hey Ken! It sounds like you have a great setup with your 260Z and Titan – the best of both worlds with that blend of JDM and American muscle. The 351W and T5 combo in your 260Z must be a blast to drive too. The upcoming LSD will surely make it even better. You’re totally right about the LS engines; there’s just so much aftermarket support here, and they’re a beast engine. There’s a reason it’s such a popular swap! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep us posted on your build!

Hey Ken! It sounds like you have a great setup with your 260Z and Titan – the best of both worlds with that blend of JDM and American muscle. The 351W and T5 combo in your 260Z must be a blast to drive too. The upcoming LSD will surely make it even better. You’re totally right about the LS engines; there’s just so much aftermarket support here, and they’re a beast engine. There’s a reason it’s such a popular swap! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep us posted on your build!

@Bdez.19

@Bdez.19

I think the rb20det is an under appreciated cheap swap. Although it does cost some serious cash to make substantial power, the base swap is relatively cheap only requiring the RB, RB transmission, and a cx racing rear sump oil pan to get started. The Stock engine cradle, transmission cross member, drive shaft, etc can be utilized (major cost savings)

I think the rb20det is an under appreciated cheap swap. Although it does cost some serious cash to make substantial power, the base swap is relatively cheap only requiring the RB, RB transmission, and a cx racing rear sump oil pan to get started. The Stock engine cradle, transmission cross member, drive shaft, etc can be utilized (major cost savings)

Ken

Ken

I love the idea of engine swaps. Specially when I can combine my two favorite groups of car JDM & American Muscle. I currently have a 1974 260Z paired with a 351W, T5 transmission, and I’m building up a 3.73 LSD to throw in back. This also pairs well with my Titan that has the 5.0L Cummins Turbo Diesel in it, two Japanese cars with American power plants and I love it!

LS seems to be the easiest and most efficient option for any engine swap because you said there is a huge market for it with a crap ton of support. I’ll be curious to see what other swaps are out there. I love the topic!

I love the idea of engine swaps. Specially when I can combine my two favorite groups of car JDM & American Muscle. I currently have a 1974 260Z paired with a 351W, T5 transmission, and I’m building up a 3.73 LSD to throw in back. This also pairs well with my Titan that has the 5.0L Cummins Turbo Diesel in it, two Japanese cars with American power plants and I love it!

LS seems to be the easiest and most efficient option for any engine swap because you said there is a huge market for it with a crap ton of support. I’ll be curious to see what other swaps are out there. I love the topic!

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