When I was 16, I had an “incident” in my car, a sweet little ’78 Datsun 280Z. And when I say “incident,” what I really mean is that I thought wailing over a raised railroad track at 90+ MPH sounded like a good idea and proceeded to go for it. I survived — fortune sometimes favors young dumbasses — but the struts on the Z never felt quite the same after bottoming out so hard. (The Dukes always made it look easier.)
New struts checked in at around $350 at the time, plus massive installation costs at the dealership. Round it to an even $1,000, or about $900 more than I had at the time. I was first-class boned.
Around that same time a Jeep-owning friend gave me a copy of a JC Whitney catalog.(JC Whitney was famous back then for carrying pretty much every part of any kind for a Jeep. My buddy joked that you could build an entire — very expensive — Jeep out of aftermarket parts from Whitney alone.) I generally flipped through it looking for cheap-ass stereo gear and CB radios, but I discovered something else: They carried strut “cartridges” for my Z, too. For about $20 each.
Doubtful but out of other viable options, I ordered a set. They arrived a couple of weeks later and I discovered (by peering at the dirty little diagrams wadded up in the boxes) that the Z’s shock mechanisms mounted inside the strut. To install the cartridges I’d need to remove the assembly, compress and remove the springs, cut apart a particular portion of the strut, then install the aftermarket cartridge in place of the original. Being too young and dumb to know how difficult/dangerous the project was, I did it. A week of evenings and busted knuckles later, I was back on the road.
Why am I telling you this? Easy: You might still think of JC Whitney as the catalog equivalent of a hub cap shop. They certainly don’t do much to dissuade you from it, packing their home page full of bolt-on accessories and questionable performance mods. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some really cheap-ass stuff — stuff that’s not nearly as slick as the stuff it pretends to be, but slick enough to do the job if you can’t afford better.
For example, you can still get ’78 280 Z strut cartridges from Whitney. Inflation’s caused a bit of price change since the mid-’80s, but they’re still just $55. And you can still just about build a Jeep from their catalog.
I’m not suggesting you buy everything from ’em, nor am I recommending their products as awesome. But if you don’t have Whitney on your list of places to find stuff for cheap, you’re missing out.
(Sadly, the picture at the top isn’t my Z. It’s a CC-licensed photo from crazyoctopus. But it could very well be mine. Originally the same blue as the one in the picture, I painted mine red. I eventually gave it away to a friend when Florida’s buy-your-car-here-or-else tax would’ve cost me more than I had.)