1983 Datsun 280ZX
The ZX of Doom
Nino Karotta acquires a splendid new Datsun 280ZX for peanuts.
Words and pictures: Peter Orosz
“If you perform a search for used Datsun Z’s,” Nino Karotta says in the stuffy, booming cabin of the car trailer, “the cheapest ones are listed for about a hundred thousand Hungarian forints (600–700 U.S. dollars). Were you to look at the attached photos, you would find that such cars are not happy sights to behold.”
As we pick our way through the afternoon congestion, passing a remarkable string of broken-down cars, he adds:
“The 280ZX I am about to buy is listed without a picture.”
The village of Sóskút sits nestled below a rock mine on the outskirts of Budapest. We arrive at six-thirty, light already leeching out of the April sky. The only road into the valley is a precarious, sloping affair. Tom, our driver, decides to leave the truck on the hilltop. We clamber out of the cabin.
The ZX’s owner approaches. We follow him down the dirt road to his house to see for the first time his magnificent example of Japanese engineering.
The front yard is littered with trash, construction debris and a Datsun 280ZX, somewhat offset by an apricot tree in bloom. We shuffle about, vaguely uncomfortable.
“I used to work as a salesman and the ZX was my daily driver,” the owner says. “Five years ago, I parked it here,” and he points to a dying patch of weedy lawn. “I used to fire the engine up every year or so.”
Parked on tires which have begun merging with the earth, discarded circuit boards for company, the Datsun sits twenty feet from its previous spot. The owner claims the car had moved there under its own power.
Stranger things have been seen by man, I suppose.
One unused to abandoned, hopeless Datsuns might at this point decide to run for one’s life and sanity, but Nino Karotta has seen his share of rust. His lovely white Datsun Gloria—which you may have seen leave its garage in this video—hadn’t exactly been a prom queen either at purchase. Besides, he has no plans to restore this car: it is meant as a donor vehicle for his 260Z, about to be transformed into a mean road racer.
He says the straight six engine could be scavenged. The transmission, too.
Tom motions me over for a quick word in private. “The state this car is in, the guy should pay and thank us to tow it from his property.”
I open the passenger door. It is musty and damp inside, littered with chewed-up bits of trash.
“How do you know?” I reply.
“Walnut shells dropped on the ground. They had made their home in the engine bay.”
Nino proceeds to buy the car.
Tom fetches the truck, only to find that front-wheel drive and a Datsun stuck in the earth on deflated tires equal wheelspin. A neighbor drives up in a 4×4 and hooks the car up. The Datsun begins to inch out of its neglected home for the last time.
Up on the hill, the ZX is detached from the 4×4. The heavy car is proving the be a bitch to load on the trailer bed. Men keep trickling in from the village to lend a hand. Kids follow. Then wives.
After ninety minutes of heaving and winching, the ZX is trailered and ready.
We say our goodbyes. Sóskút recedes in the rearview mirror.
“Did you pay actual money for your new Datsun?” I ask.
“Let me guess—ninety thousand?” Tom offers a counterpoint:
“I sincerely hope no more than fifty.”
“It was originally listed for three hundred thousand,” Nino begins and we burst out laughing. “He had reduced that to one fifty. I offered him fifty. And we agreed on—”
Tom and I prepare for the worst.
“—seventy-nine thousand forints.”
The three of us crack up.
“Why seventy-nine?” I ask.
“I so didn’t want to pay eighty thousand.”
As we prepare to stop for food and gas, he adds:
“If the engine and the transmission are fine, it’s not such a bad deal.”
Not to mention the potential for squirrel jerky production.
∞ Published on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008