Which Transmissions Work Best With The 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z?

Which Transmissions Work Best With The 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z?

Guide: What Are The Best Fuel Tank Options for Datsun Z Cars? Reading Which Transmissions Work Best With The 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z? 14 minutes

The process of picking the right transmission for your vintage Datsun might not seem exciting, but it's really important. The engine's power and its connection to the road can turn a great car into an incredible one.

It doesn't matter if you're a dedicated car enthusiast with permanent grease stains or someone who's just excited about their next vintage project; finding the perfect transmission is always important.

Now, let's start this process off on the right foot!

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.

First: Compatibility Between The Models

Before we start, I really need to mention something important.

First, 240Z transmissions are generally a direct fit to a 260Z and 280Z, and vice versa, with some exceptions. But for the most part. the L-series is very consistent between the models, and the spline of the transmission is the same. One of the many beautiful things about these cars!

Also, if you're planning to put a new 5-speed transmission from a newer 280Z into an older 240Z, make sure to keep your original gear for the back differential if you're not changing it as well. I've really learned from others' experiences that ignoring the differential gearing can cause some big problems, and you don't want your car to be unsafe or to not run smoothly.

Transmission Swap

Remember - paying attention to small details is very important when it comes to your transmission, too. To give you an example, my friend replaced his 4-speed with a 5-speed in his 240Z, and he forgot to check the starter bolts. He had to rush to the hardware store at the last minute. So checking all of these little things is pretty important, sometimes more than we realize. 

A quick note - if you own a 240Z or a 260Z and you want a little more power, the aftermarket Aisin TL70 6-speed swap kits are great. They're made to refresh your car's feel without needing to take apart the entire car's frame. I put one in a Z once, and it really felt like it renewed the car's spirit - it's worth looking into.

If you're thinking about an automatic transmission for your Z car, the 3-speed 3N71B from the 280Z is another option, particularly if you like a more laid-back automatic transmission. They were not widely chosen in the States, but many have come to appreciate the easy nature of an automatic transmission over time, and maybe you will, too. 

When you're looking into engine swaps it's important to think about how the new engine and the gearbox will fit together. If you stick with the L-series engines or go for something less common you have to think about the entire mix - like the right crossmembers which makes sure the electronics work well together if you're upgrading and custom driveshafts too.

The OEM Transmission Options for Each Model

I work with all sorts of transmissions that Datsun used in their Z series, and this experience has really made me particularly skilled at tracking down the right fit for each model. If you're new to the 240Z, 260Z, or 280Z, let me give you the rundown.

The first 240Zs in the US and Canada had an easy-to-use, tough 4-speed manual known as the F4W71A (or the FS5C71A for everywhere else). It's perfect for those who just love a classic driving experience.

F4W71A

Meanwhile, in Japan, drivers benefited from a 5-speed transmission, the FS5C71B, which offered an even smoother ride on highways, particularly at high speeds. If you, like me, want that extra gear in your American car, you can really install the Roadster 2000's 5-speed FS5C71A. It seems as though the two were just made for each other.

Moving on to the 260Z, it feels like a repeat of the earlier model with both 4-speed and 5-speed manual options readily available. Working on these cars has really made me appreciate Datsun's consistency; it makes the process easy for enthusiasts like us who enjoy restoring these classic cars.

Let's now talk about the 280Z shown from 1975 to 1978. These models kept in step with their predecessors, giving either reliable 4-speed or smooth 5-speed manuals. They also introduced an automatic option, the 3-speed 3N71B, which added a new dimension to the 240Z's automatic experience.

I love driving a manual, particularly with the 280Z's powerful engine. The mechanism invites a more involved driving experience. But I also recognize the attractiveness of a comfortable cruise in an automatic. While it's not my first choice for a unique drive, it definitely has its place in Z history.

So, if you ask me, manual transmissions are my favorite and I'll always stick with those. I understand that automatics have their place for laid-back trips but for true engagement with the car a manual transmission is the best. To each their own!

4-Speed and 5-Speed Transmissions

Let's talk about the 4-speed manual transmission that came on these Z cars. This transmission is very reliable, and these gearboxes have shown their strength, particularly in the classic 240Z / 260Z / 280Z models, all of which could endure a lot of wear and tear.

Again, in the United States - driving a 240Z usually meant you were dealing with a 4-speed manual. But then around 1977 the 280Z introduced an even more exciting 5-speed option providing a bit more power behind each drive.

As someone who loves to connect with the car I'm driving, the 5-speed manual introduction was important. It wasn't very new because the 240Z and 260Z offered it as well, but it really did give an exhilarating upgrade. Here's an interesting fact for those who love this kind of detail: the 5-speed came from changes to the Datsun Roadster 2000's gearbox, and you could only buy it through Nissan/NISMO USA - a detail that might appeal to some niche markets.

5 Speed

If you're excited to work on your 240Z and think about replacing the 4-speed with a 5-speed, you'll find it fairly easy. The two transmissions are basically the same in size and shifter placement, which makes the upgrade easy. This type of modification makes you feel like an expert without a ton of work.

Engine and Transmission Swaps

As far as swaps go, again, I really like the Godzilla Raceworks' Aisin TL70 6-Speed Swap kit for L-series engines.

When you open the box, you immediately find a shiny new Subaru Aisin TL70 6-Speed Transmission. It's kind of like getting an invitation to play in the major leagues!

The installation process isn't too bad, either. The Datsunworks/GRW transmission cross member fits perfectly, so sliding it into the transmission tunnel won't cause you to bump your head in frustration. They add a really great Torque Answer Performance Short Throw Shifter and a Cusco Shift Knob that make changing gears amazingly smooth.

Ever experienced drivetrain shakes? They are definitely annoying but this kit includes a new steel driveshaft with high-quality U-joints that remove those difficult shakes and make sure a smooth power flow. I've personally upgraded the clutch and flywheel picking for their Subaru Clutch Disc and a lightweight Flywheel Kit and the car's acceleration? It's now absolutely immediate!

The small parts deserve some praise as well, like the OEM clutch release bearing collar. It may not seem like a particularly amazing part, yet it really has a really important job in keeping your drive as fun as your favorite music. Then there's the Motul 300 Gearbox Oil. Not high-quality fluids is a big mistake if you want your high-performance parts to last.

If you're thinking about keeping a 5-speed, you could definitely use the one from a 280Z and a 240Z. But remember - making sure that all the parts work well together is super important, and the goal is the small details like clutch compatibility and pilot bearings.

Aftermarket and Rebuilt Transmission Solutions

I'm a big fan of the Transmission Rebuild Kit with Synchros for the Z cars. These kits are just perfect for those who enjoy the thrill of getting their hands dirty. They come with everything - bearings, synchro rings, gaskets, and some more. They also fit both 4- and 5-speed models from '73 to '83. I've put one of these kits into an old transmission, and the result, which ends up with smooth changing, is just amazing.

But if you're thinking about a total replacement rather than a rebuild, remember that California Datsun Inc. has these Rebuilt OEM 5-Speed WIDE RATIO and CLOSE RATIO Transmissions that are really very impressive. They give you a redone low-mileage transmission with all new parts, and they even slap on some new paint. This is like giving your car's drivetrain a fresh start.

Close vs Wide Ratio
Image source: ClassicZCars.com

From all the forum conversations I've taken part in one piece of advice I can give is to not cut corners on quality. While those deals on eBay might be tempting, picking cheaper transmission parts usually turns out to be a hassle.

Based on my own experience - spending a bit more on a quality transmission rebuild is well worth it, as it makes for buttery smooth gear changes and a ride that feels just really solid.

Racing or Spirited Driving

Every time I talk about a good choice of transmissions for exciting driving, particularly in classic Z cars, I now get really excited about modern technology in those old frames. I think of Gearstar gearboxes first. My own driving experiences have shown me that their AOD TH350 and TH400 models perform strongly at high speeds. As for the 4L series - like the 4L60E, 4L65E, and 4L70E - they have electronic controls that deliver sharp and precise changes that are really important in racing.

Here's a tip from an experienced driver: the Gearstar Turbo 400, the TH400, is exceptional for a 280Z. These Gearstar units can handle a lot of torque. I've noticed that they are installed in cars that produce way more power than the original L-series engine. So it's clear why they're favorites among drivers who really test their vehicles.

Gearstar Website

For me, the goal is to find the perfect balance between the appeal of a manual and the slick performance of modern automatics. Driving a manual depends on your skill - I like that I control the action and set the pace. That connection is at the heart of what makes driving these classic cars so fun. Even so, I must admit the speed at which a good automatic gearbox changes gears, particularly in a race, can be really nice. Just look at Porsche's buttery smooth PDK transmissions.

Now, I understand manual enthusiasts completely. The excitement of a forceful shift in the engine's roar and the pleasure of flawless clutch work are exciting. This hands-on experience has always made driving exciting for me; it's kind of like having a direct conversation with your car on the road.

But we shouldn't underestimate the advancements in automatic transmissions. Seeing them work is like watching a conductor perfectly time each shift. This technology is so advanced that it can surprise even some veteran manual users.

Again, this is a matter of personal preference and the kind of driving you're doing, too!

Transmission Ratios and Recommended Rear Gears

I want to talk about how Datsun Z series cars work, and I must say - they're really well put together.

If you're restoring a 240Z or 260Z to its original state, as I mentioned before, the F4W71A 4-speed is a reliable choice. But, for those who frequently drive on the highway, the FS5C71B 5-speed is the top pick because of its overdrive gear, which is great for long drives. This is particularly true for driving a 280ZX or a Maxima.

FS5C71B

As for differentials, the options are a R180 and R200. My advice is to keep the stock gear ratios for that authentic old-school driving experience. A 3.364 rear differential ratio works well with the original design intentions. But if you're going for race-track performance in your 240Z or customizing a 260Z, a 4.111 or 4.375 ratio will add some extra power that can be really better than many modern cars.

The important thing is to balance your transmission and rear gear ratio for the best performance and driving enjoyment. Pair the 5-speed FS5C71B with a 3.364 differential on a 280ZX for a smooth highway driving experience.

If you want your 240Z to accelerate quickly, think about pairing the 4-speed F4W71A with a 4.111 rear gear ratio. Also, for everyday driving, the standard differential usually meets all the needs without compromising fuel efficiency or enjoyment.

The goal is to find out what each car needs to be great and create the perfect setup that respects the legacy of these incredible cars!

Build Your Dream Car

You get that excitement from revitalizing an old Datsun Z series, don't you? It really feels like you're lighting up history again, and picking a transmission to make your drives smoother and a lot more fun is one thing. But going all in on an upgrade that really helps the car's performance is a totally different game.

Now, just think about taking it even further. You own a 240Z, 260Z, or 280Z, and it already turns heads with its classic lines and strong build. But, with the right modern parts, it could totally blow people's minds. At Skillard, that's what we focus on - from eye-catching bumpers to custom door cards, louvers, center consoles, and more.

Skillard cta

At Skillard, we understand, and our parts are exactly what you need to make that happen. All you have to do is visit Skillard.com and pick the parts that really speak to you.

The road is just open, your Datsun is ready, and the adventure is all yours for the taking. Let's get those wheels turning!

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