At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it's amazing how far tire technology has come in the past 20 years. Two decades ago, a 16-inch wheel was a big deal, reserved only for high-end sports cars and the aftermarket. Nowadays, rental-fleet Camrys come with 17-inchers. Go back further to the Mesozoic era of the 1960s and tires were bias-ply construction: thin treads, wiggly sidewalls and rock-hard rubber compounds, forcing you to hack away at the wheel drunkenly just to maintain a straight line. No wonder so many kids with muscle cars ended up wrapped around a tree back then; the tires were just miserable.
Around the same time, professional racers had it no better. Rubber compounds were softer, but they were still traction-limited; the rubber simply couldn't handle the power that the engines were putting out. Bigger, wider tires seemed to be the answer-more meat on the ground, more control and grip-and it worked for open-wheel racers like Indy 500 machines. But there are only so many ways to cram big tires under a car with fenders. Fiddle-farting around with backspacing will only get you so far, and the physical room in the wheel well further limits size. Unlike more modern cars, which are purpose-built to accept 18-inch wheels from the factory, old school wheel wells seem thoroughly filled by 15-inchers. Hacking away at the chassis subframes and completely rebuilding the suspension brings with it a-whole-nother host of issues. One recent solution is the donk trend, which is cool if you like old Chevys hopped up to look like monster trucks. But there's another solution: Widen the fenders!
It's true. Just like in '70s pantaloon fashion, flares are where it's at. We're not talking gentle little lips around the wheel openings; we're talking full-on fenders and quarters that are wide enough to rest your Big Gulp on. These so-called IMSA flares, informally named for the racecar sanctioning body, were born of the need to get more rubber on the ground-more rubber, more traction, more cornering power, more likely you won't end upside down in a ditch. Extending the fenders and wheel openings was a style trend readily seen in mid-70s issues of Hot Rod that your scary neighbor with the mullet and the Camaro had stashed in his attic alongside his AutoBuff collection.
Most trends come and go with the seasons, but flared fenders have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Some companies have restricted the idea to a raised lip around the wheel arch, while others have actually purpose-built extra space into their fenders and quarters (the Subaru WRX sedan comes to mind, as does the '80s E30-generation BMW M3). Widebody kits in Japan have been at the height of wild style for some time.
So it seems only right that Steve Pepka of Beaverton, OR, went the '70s route with that most quintessential of '70s Japanese cars, the Datsun 510. In truth, the wheels and tires-17-inch HRE 540s, 8-inch wide in front and a whopping 10 in back, with 40-series Yokohama AVS tires-are the most modern part of this clean build. Carrera coilovers front and rear, offering a near-3-inch drop, and Quickor sway bars (25mm in front, 23mm out back) ensure that this rad runner has a racecar feel to match its look.
This look goes far beyond the widened wheelhouses, mind you. The side marker lights have been shaved, a spoiler has been molded to match the front fenders and the rear license plate has been relocated into a smooth rear panel. Rock Creek Coach Body Works handled the deft application of '84 Honda Navajo Metallic Red paint, while Daniel Daneki sorted out the subtle striping.
Pop the hood and instead of the transplanted SR20DET that seems to have been universally adopted by the Dime community, the iron L16 engine that came in 510s remains. Of course, the entire reciprocating assembly has been balanced, nitrated and shot-peened; compression was bumped to a lairy 11:1 thanks to the combination of flat-top pistons and a hot home-market SSS cylinder head stuffed with competition Datsun valves and springs. An SSS cam lives inside the block, and a pair of 38mm SU carburetors dangle precipitously off the side of the SSS-spec intake. Also, a shorty four-into-one header with 2.3-inch primaries and a 2.5-inch collector blows through a single two-chamber, 2.5-inch Flowmaster exhaust.
Rather than make do with the factory-equipped transmission, Steve swapped in a dogleg five-speed out of a 1980 200SX (or an S11-generation Silvia, if you prefer the Japan-spec name), and added a Centerforce clutch, aluminum flywheel and custom mounting. The rear has been similarly beefed up, with a Subaru limited-slip diff with 4.11 gears now residing within the axle housing, along with custom axles and CV joints, and a diff cooler.
So will the w-i-d-e look of fender flares come back into vogue? Tough to say. But if the results look, sound and drive as sweet as this 510 does, we say, bring it on!
The 510 and Bluebird's style was a bit of a breakthrough for Japanese cars when it debuted in '68: clean and functional. Though home-market advertising called it a "supersonic" design, Nissan designer Teruo Uchino insists that traveling beyond the speed of sound wasn't his design objective. "I imagined a speedy car on a highway that could be built very soon in Japan ... but SST was not the motif of my original design. The truth is not always so exciting."
Uchino rose quickly through Nissan's ranks: he joined Nissan in 1963 after graduating from Tokyo National University, and clay work on the 510 started in the summer of '64. A 1965 design team reorganization postponed things, but Uchino's design concept won out in a design studio competition. Uchino's later ideas included the Datsun 610, 710, S11-generation 200SX, the interior of the Nissan Leopard (sold in the US as the Infiniti M30), and finally the 1990 Nissan Primera, sold here as the Infiniti G20.
OWNER Steve Pepka
HOMETOWN Beaverton, OR
DAILY GRIND Mechanic
UNDER THE HOOD 11:1 compression L16 I-4 with SSS intake, head and cam; balanced and nitrated rotating assembly; JDM 38mm SU side-draft carburetors; four-into-one exhaust
DRIVETRAIN '80 Nissan 200SX five-speed transmission with custom mount and Centerforce clutch; stock rear housing with Subaru limited-slip differential, 4.11 gear; custom axles and CV joints
STIFF STUFF Carrera coilovers; Quickor sway bars
STOPPERS cross-drilled front rotors; stock rear drums
ROLLERS 17-inch HRE 540 wheels (8-inch front, 10-inch rear); Yokohama AVS 215/40R17 front, 245/40R17 rear
OUTSIDE boxed wheel flares, smoothed-in front spoiler, reshaped rear panel with license plate recess, shaved side marker lights, '84 Honda Navajo Red paint
INSIDE recovered stock with Howard's Upholstery diamond-pleat button-tuck grey vinyl; MOMO Corse steering wheel
ICE Sony head unit; Pioneer speakers
PROPS Bob Erichson, Esquire Motors, Datsuns NW club, the Bluebird list, my son Sebastian and my girlfriend Kate