Digital Exhibition: Ron Johnson


Name: Ron Johnson

Vehicle: 1981 Datsun 280ZX

My story revolves around a Datsun 280ZX that I purchased January 11th, 1981.  In October of the previous year, I had been burned over twenty percent of my body and was destined to spend three weeks in the Harborview burn center in Seattle.  When I was discharged from the hospital, I questioned why I was saving all my money. I decided it was time to have some fun. I went to a local Datsun dealership and told them to order me a black 280ZX.  When the car arrived it was black, but with those awful grey panels. I told the dealer that the car was ugly and I wanted a solid black car. I was informed that the totally black cars had been saved for the turbocharged model coming out later in the year.  I told them that I did not see myself in this car. I had been friends with the dealer, and he said, “Don’t tell anyone, but we will paint it black." I told everyone it was the best horse in town. The dealer told me later that he had had the most positive feedback ever on this car.  

I had a sports car and a ski boat; I was single and living large.  Over the next two decades, my car had impeccable care, but after 250 thousand miles it was getting a little tired.  I could not bear to part with the car, and I stored it with the thought of having it restored. Time slips away, cars come and go,  but my black beauty was still ensconced in the third bay of my garage.

While in Austin, Texas visiting my daughter, I  found a company that restored only Jaguars, and they encouraged me and gave me an idea of what to expect in the way of cost.  When I got home, I looked at the car and said, If I am going to restore this car, now is time. I talked to my mechanic, he had restored a couple of cars of his own, and he agreed to do all of the mechanical restorations.  He referred me to a body man that did complete restorations in between his various insurance jobs. His name was Kelly. He came to my home and looked at the car and said, “When I get through with this car it will be better than the day you drove it off the showroom floor.”  

The mechanic and the genius painter/body man began accumulating the parts that we would need and worked out a schedule to share the car when they had the time.  When new parts were not available, we resorted to rebuilt parts. The veracity of the gentlemen dealing restoration parts is a little disheartening. The meaning of the terms “rebuilt”  and “as is” seem to be interchangeable, depending on who is in possession of the part at the time.

They took the paint down to the bare metal, every time I stopped by to see their progress they were still sanding.  The last stop was on the road to complete restoration was to the upholstery shop for leather interior and carpeting.  When I drove it home that day with the windows down and my favorite tunes playing, I felt like a kid again.

I was at a gasoline station, and a man came up to me and said, “I used to have one just like this.” I  asked him what happened to the car. He said, “ I got married.” I said, “Well there you go.” I had been married twice since the car was new, but I still have the car.  I was at the bank in the drive up window lanes, and a woman pulled alongside and her seven or eight-year-old son in the back seat, grinned at me and gave a thumbs up. Some cars are timeless.