Project Car SOTU 2016: The 1971 Datsun 240Z Gets Some Dash and Shafted

While our collection of misfit cars may have been swelling in the driveway, rest assured that I haven’t forgotten my “running” project car, the 1971 Datsun 240Z. I put running in quotes there as a bit of literary foreboding, and I hope you were intrigued. Come on after the jump and see what dark tale my orange S30 has been spinning.
Okay, it’s not all that dark, although the black interior is a pretty stygian place to be. It wasn’t so dark in there that I didn’t notice that the dash cap that had been added to the car before my ownership was starting to deform and crack through, pretty much failing at its intended purpose of making the interior look fresh and tidy.
Yep, more crack than a plumbers’ convention and a major pain in the neck because I had to look at that every time I drove the car. Luckily for me the Z Store has replacement caps that weren’t too pricey and they offered a timely free-shipping promo that meant I needn’t drive all the way down to Orange and back. Yay me!

A closeup of the expanding crack.

Out with the old and in with the new, right? Well, not so fast there pilgrim. The old cap had been glued down with a thick but thankfully still pliable adhesive. What it took to remove it was a painter’s knife, some swearing, and a whole lot of elbow grease.
Once I had the entire cap off I was presented with the reason it was there in the first place: the underlying dashboard was in horrible shape. The Z was introduced at the time when Datsun was transitioning from lightly padded/mostly metal dashboards to molded plastic pieces underlain with structural foam. Over the years the sun does damage to the plastic outer layer, and dries out the foam underneath. That makes for a surface that no longer has the flexibility to ride out the expansion and contraction of the heat/cooling cycle.
DSCN5654The replacement cap would cover all of these sins and allow for a modest amount of movement underneath so that hopefully it will be years down the road before it too cracks.
The new one went down with the same sort of flexible adhesive as the previous one. I’ve heard people claim that two-sided tape is the way to go in these insatnces but in my experience it can’t handle the heat and hence should stay out of the kitchen.
The Z-Store cap was an excellent fit. I went with another half-cap as I’ve heard that the full cap can be troublesome in fitting on the early cars, especially ones that may be a little tweaked, like mine is.
No more crack!
No more crack!

With my new dash cap in place I pulled the Z out early the next Saturday morning with the intent of hitting the local Early Rodder’s meet up in Montrose, a short and pleasant drive from my neighborhood.
Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. A block and a half away from the house and I was already turning back. There was a loud clacking coming from the rear of the car, one that could not be ignored and which indicated that the universal joints in the half shafts were giving up the ghost. Not wanting to get stuck far from home with my spiders all over the street I reluctantly turned around and took the Z home. I made the trip in our Volvo V90 which engendered some interest at the show but wasn’t as much fun to show up in as would have been the Z.
Jacking the car up and checking out the joints I found the outer ones to be suspect. Seeing as I’d have the whole thing out to replace those I decided to do both outer and inner. After all the replacement spiders are common enough to be both cheap and easily sourced from the local parts store.
If only I had known just how tough it would be to press them out. Now I do.
I have a small 6-ton press that I thought would make quick work of the joints, pressing them out in no time at all. Boy was I wrong. I now have a 6-ton press with a new rod welded in as I bent the original one trying to get the spider to move.
I had taken the prerequisite first step of soaking the joints in PB Blaster, and yes, I did take out the C-clips first, but boy were they in there tight. I ended up taking the half shaft over to my father-in-law’s garage as he has a massive vice on his work bench, something I lack. It took both of us, a jack handle cheater bar, a mallet to bang on the yokes, and more effort than you can imagine to finally get one side out and the new spiders installed.
I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures of that process, but I don’t want you to see me crying. Because that was such a pain in the ass I’ve taken the other side over to a drive shaft shop near me and have them do the deed. Yes, I’m not too proud.
Here it is ready to go, and covered in ash from the latest Southern California wild fire. That’s also the reason for the eerie red tinge to the interior picture above. So as it stands right now, my Z is still sitting with its butt up in the air and down a half shaft. I’ll be picking up the second one on Friday, so I should have it back in the car over next weekend. That is, if I don’t get sidelined once again by one of the daily drivers.
Two weeks ago my Ford crapped out just as I was preparing to replace its power steering pump. I got the pump installed, and the problem with it not starting turned out to be a catastrophic failure of the battery. That sucked because the battery was only two years old. It’s now back up and purring like a kitten. That means the score is four cars running and three not, which is better than .500 ball so I don’t feel too bad.
Images: ©2016 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved

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  1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    At least the Z makes for an attractive driveway ornament when it’s not in commission.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      True dat.

      1. Manic_King Avatar

        What about changing the dash itself and not covering it with the (admittedly very good looking) cap? Fresh phthalate plastic softeners to inhale, maybe giving longer life than that cap provides?

        1. dukeisduke Avatar

          Looks like Z parts sources want $1500 to $2000 for a reskinned dash. I looked on Just Dashes’ site, and they reskin using the original thermo vacuum forming process:

          I don’t know what they charge, but I’ll bet it’s not cheap. They started out in ’81, doing dashes for cars like Pontiac GTOs and ’59 Cadillacs.

        2. Rob Emslie Avatar
          Rob Emslie

          Yeah, yikes that would be expensive. I’ve looked at dashboards on junkers at the yard, but have never come across one that was worth pulling. Getting an already pulled one that’s decent looking is a price to far for me and my Z.