Feature: Fellowship of the Datsun

0Z”That’s hot! ”

A leggy woman in full leather says to Dave as she exits out of IHOP, a bulldog of a man with tats linked on her arm.

“Thanks!” says Dave with a grin while leaning on his grey Datsun Sports 2000 Roadster.

Dave is a 40-something Datsun enthusiast, and runs the website “MyAutoProject.com” which chronicles his life with his Datsun Roadster, organizes meets with other enthusiasts, and generally talks about his life with cars.

He has organized this “Datsun Twisties Tour”, which is essentially a group of Datsuns driving around the Okanagan on some of the better roads in the area. Most of the leg will include a loop around Okanagan lake, with an extra loop heading out to a farm area.

Map of the route taken (courtesy of Dave from MyAutoProject.com):

There are some special cars in this parking lot, and I get some funny looks when I pull up in a Miata. There are many Roadsters (which sort of resembles a Japanese Triumph TR6), a 300ZX, 280Z’s, a 240SX, and a Datsun 510 wagon.

Gathering of Datsuns (slash Nissans) in the IHOP parking lot. From Left – Dave’s Roadster, 240Z, 810, and 300ZX

Amongst them is a beautiful Datsun 240Z – the first “Z” car by Nissan – which is owned by a more “experienced” gentleman named Brian, a retired auto service manager. Brian opens up the clam shell hood and shows off his prized possession; you can see the twinkle in his eye.

Brian’s 240Z on display – so cool….

There’s been some TLC applied here…

The cars are all here now and Dave signals for everyone to follow a Roadster up front while he will bring up the rear to ensure nobody gets left behind.

I hop into the 240Z for the first leg of the drive with Brian.

I am surprised by how comfortable this car is. The seats are comfortable yet supportive, and the inside looks like a race car with its dials and spartan steering wheel.

Steering wheel = cool. Love the Datsun emblem and those 6 flush mounted screws.

Racy dials which show engine temperature, oil pressure, battery amperage, fuel gauge, and old school clock.

Love the simple and old school shifter…

Then it clicks in that you see hints of these elements in the newer Z cars – both the 350Z and 370Z have similar dials and gauge clusters. Its really nice to see a car company like Nissan pay homage to a car 40 years earlier without making it obviously retro.

Interior of the 350Z – notice the same 3 gauges on the center dash, drawing from a design from the original Z car 30 years earlier (courtesy of http://automobiles-designs.blogspot.ca/2011/08/nissan-350z.html).

This car that Brian drives now he bought without ever having driven. Brian orchestrated a remote inspection from Calgary, then caught a plane down to San Jose to pick up the car. The car wasn’t perfect when he picked it up; the engine ran really rich (which means that the fuel:gas ratio of the gas mixture going into the engine was really high) and the car had no air conditioning so he had to drive it back to Calgary with the windows down. The fuel-rich fumes would re-enter the car causing his eyes to water. All the way home.

I’m trying to take pictures while Brian is telling me this but I’m distracted by the car.

It makes a beautiful, mechanical sound; like the sound you would expect a car to make. Hearing the car is like having listened to a tape of your favorite band all your life, and then seeing the band live – there is just no comparison. It’s easy to see how you could fall in love with it.

Brian tells me that his affinity for Datsuns came early.

In 1969, Brian was a mechanic for a race team which prepped a Datsun 510. When the 240Z came out, it was a revelation for Datsun – the first GT (grand tourer) bodied coupe. Brian ended up buying two 240Zs – one for the team to race (which ended up doing quite well), and another for himself.

Brian shifts his focus to the current drive. He backs off from the Roadster in front of him before burying the accelerator.

The car squats and lurches forward. The sound and tension builds until it is released with the next shift. I let out a really high pitched “OOh yeah!!!”, sounding like a pre-puberty Justin Bieber in the process.

Brian proudly tells me that his engine is actually Mercedes derived. The engine of the 240Z, and descendents 260Z, and 280Z are essentially versions of an engine developed by a Japanese motor company called Prince in the 60’s. Prior to Prince’s merger with Nissan in 1966, Prince had developed a 6-cylinder engine (with influences by Mercedes) specifically for their performance sedan, then known as the Skyline. When Nissan purchased Prince, the 6-cylinder engines were then used for the very first Nissan GT-R (called the 2000GT-R), which was at that time a 2.0L engine. For the Datsun 510, Nissan simply lobbed off two of the cylinders, and when the 240Z came to be, they returned the two cylinders back onto the engine to form an inline six once more, but scaled up from 2.0L to 2.4L.

Back to the engine – it is an absolute beast. Even though I am not driving the car, it feels like it is constantly urging you to break the speed limit.

“Go FASTER!!! Why are you driving slowly??! I want to go FASTER!!!”

There is lots of torque down low and the engine makes a vicious, even evil sound. The bass trembles and burbles at idle, and on the gas the car sounds like its gurgling fuel. You can hear gears meshing together, and the car pops off the gas (which Brian tells me is the sound of the engine literally dumping fuel out the exhaust) – it is an intoxicating experience.

We pull over at the next stop to allow the group to catch up and take some group shots. The door closes with a loud “clank” as I get out.

Stopping for photo ops. Lots of roadsters showed up today.

Getting back on the road again, I start to notice other things. The car handles well. Very well for something from the 70’s. Brakes work well too. And the engine has more power than I would have anticipated from a 2.4L engine from the 70’s as well.

Brian explains – he upgraded the front brakes to 4 piston calipers (better stopping power), a limited slip differential (to better put the power down onto the road and power out of corners with), a 3.9 final gear ratio which made his gears shorter (thus improving acceleration), and implanted a 5-speed close ratio box from a 1975 (again improving acceleration). He also fitted the larger 2.8L engine from the 280Z (more power).

Brian telling me about some of the upgrades he made to his car.

We continue on and eventually stop on Predator Ridge in Vernon where I meet Ted who owns an refurbished Datsun Roadster. I say farewell to Brian and I hop in to the Roadster for the journey back to Kelowna.

Ted’s restored Datsun Roadster 2000.

Ted used to own a Miata, and after being in his car I can see why he drives this 2000 Roadster. I asked him what prompted the change to the Roadster.

“More fun, more class!” He says simply with a laugh.

I can see where he is coming from. In some ways, his Roadster reminds me of my Miata, if it had been born in the late 50’s. There are definitely some similarities too – the Miata was modeled after British open-topped Roadsters (mostly the Lotus Elan S), while the Roadster bares some similarities to classic British roadsters such as the Triumph TR6 and MGB Midget. It should be noted however, that the Roadster debuted in 1959 (long before the Triumph TR6’s debut in 1969) and before the MG MGB debuted in 1962.

Mazda Miata (gen 1) vs. Lotus Elan (Series 1)

Datsun Roadster looks similar to the Austin Healey 3000 and Triumph TR6 – British roadster classics.

I look around the cabin. There are some modifications that don’t seem to fit Ted’s character. Apparently Ted bought this car second hand from a wealthy previous owner who poured $40,000 of “upgrades” into the car before he lost interest. Ted then swooped in and purchased the car for $15,000 (US). He admits the upgrades aren’t all to his tastes, but couldn’t pass up the deal (understandably so). He goes on to tell me that despite the modifications, the company the previous owner had contracted to do the work weren’t exactly thorough in their job. Since Ted purchased the car, he has poured many hours into fixing little niggles that have plagued the car.

The not exactly stock cabin of Ted’s Roadster.

Ted starts the drive taking it pretty easy. This car is a very different animal to the 240Z I just got out of. See the link below for a clip of what it is like:

Short Clip of Ted’s Roadster from the passenger viewpoint

For one thing, the open top means you are exposed to the elements, and even though it does compromise the chassis a bit I think with a convertible you get to experience the joys of the car – you are closer to the elements, and noises the car produce are more evident. His car handles quite well, and like the 240Z you can hear a very mechanical sound from the engine despite the newer engine swap (from a later 240SX – the KA24 engine for you nerds out there). With only 4 cylinders you can tell it doesn’t have that “el diablo” feel of the 240Z I was just in, but its a thrilling experience nonetheless.

Ted’s Roadster with the KA24 engine

Although this car was meant to be a cheaper alternative to the British Roadsters out there at the time (Triumph TR6, MG Midget and others), it was a significant car for Nissan/Datsun as it eventually paved the road for the first Z car – the 240Z.

You can see evidence of this in the “Fairlady” insignia, found throughout Roadsters:

The first mention of “Fairlady” – and father to the eventual Z car (found in Ted’s car). Looks awfully like the Peugeot lion though, although I guess that was technically a Griffin.

Another Lion from the Fairlady logo – found on another Roadster

As we make our way back to Kelowna, I am just enjoying my time here. A Miata owner hanging with Datsuns; owners who have welcomed me and have shared their stories. There is something special about owning a Datsun, and although they have had some perceptions of being “tin cans” in the past, you can see with these cars that this is where Nissan/Datsun really started to produce something exciting.

There is a reason why Brian, Ted, and many others on this tour have had an option to own newer, modern, more convenient, better on gas, more reliable cars but they have chosen to have a Datsun. It is not just a car they own, but an experience, an event, something special they can get into. They own a piece of history.

Kind of makes me want to get one….

Thanks to Dave for organizing the event, and special thanks to Brian and Ted for sharing their time and stories with me.

http://www.myautoproject.com/

Another fully rebuilt and restored Roadster. Panels were all refurbished by hand by the owner. Colour is from a Corvette. I can’t remember the “official” name of the colour he used but “Gourgeous” certainly fits.

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