“Nature that framed us of four elements, warring within our breasts for regiment, doth teach us all to have aspiring minds,” quoth Italian philosopher/politician/poet (amongst many other titles) Niccolo Machiavelli, who we suspect would have really jonesed for a taste of this 350-horsepower Datsun Roadster seen on these pages. Its aspiration, though great, is far from natural.
There is a reason why the old-school Japanese-car scene thrives around the West Coast: steel lives forever there. Even neglected machinery is generally clean; any rust you find is limited to surfaces where the sun ate through the primer. Their engines may chug oil and fart blue smoke, and the vinyl interior fittings may be more baked than a Snoop Dogg concert, but the basic bones are frequently intact.
Visit the Midwest or East Coast, where wintry roads are salted to melt snow into an icy grey porridge designed to promote cancer of the rockers, and the old-school scene gets a lot thinner. Their mechanicals, as ever, promised to last forever, and the interiors were often all right, but within a decade, the steel—the skin, the unit-body chassis—would first turn bubbly under the paint, then break out in oxide hives; soon there was more scabby rust and elemental creep than painted steel, followed closely by holes you could fist without scraping the skin on your hand.
Yet the East Coast was a hotbed of (largely European) sports car activity in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It seemed only natural and right that the Datsun Roadster should be at home in such company, and it’s safe to say that what East Coast enthusiasm there was for the Japanese car in those days was nurtured by the success of Bob Sharp and his team of Datsun racers. Starting in 1964, and with factory backing from 1965, Connecticut-based Sharp raced Datsun Roadsters to great effect: in ’65, Sharp was the SCCA Northeast Divisional champion (a first for both Datsun and Sharp) in a 1500 Roadster. For 1966 and ’67 Sharp raced a 1600, winning a national SCCA title for Datsun in 1967. He went on to win the C/Production title in ’68 and the D/Production title in ’69 (with Jim Fitzgerald behind the wheel in the SCCA’s Southeast division) before moving into 510s and Zs in the ‘70s. Racing improved the breed, and although 50,000 Roadsters in eight model years is hardly a smash-hit, Datsun’s (and Sharp’s) on-track activities sold cars. Today, four and a half decades worth of Northeastern winters later, the news is that any streetable examples still exist there.
So it was something of a surprise that William Izaguirre of Katonah, New York (located in the state’s little prehensile tail that splits northeastern New Jersey and southern Connecticut) managed to find a complete, running 1969 Datsun Roadster in Buffalo, home of winters as bitter and cold as your ex-wife’s mother-in-law, and as salty as stag night in Vegas. Of course the former owner of a turbocharged Toyota MR2, a twin-turbo Nissan 300ZX, a 2004 Subaru STI and a Nissan 350Z with an aftermarket turbo kit hung on the exhaust would have plans—plans that got as far as installing an S15 Silvia’s SR20DET between the fenderwells. There was, however, an issue. “I twisted the frame,” he says. As you might imagine he would when installing two and a half times the stock power through a pile of rot. “I bought another car for the frame, but when I took the body off my ’69, the whole thing was just destroyed—so I just ditched the whole car.”
The replacement machine, a ’68 model, was located via message board pals directing William’s attention to the greater Baltimore area. “This one wasn’t that bad,” William suggests. “The motor wasn’t good, and it wasn’t in perfect shape, but it didn’t have the rust issues that the other car had.”
The chassis was far cleaner on the second go-‘round, but this time, he took precautions. “I gusseted all of the mounting points at the X in the frame. We ran an oval 3-inch exhaust through the frame; you have to go through the frame or else the pipe would be too low. But once everything was reinforced at the corners, we powdercoated it as well.” Also, William is proud to tell us, “every single nut, bolt and washer on that car is brand new.” It can now handle the dyno-registered 352 horsepower (at 7,500rpm) and 333 foot-pounds of torque that Nissan’s huffed, nitroused, all-aluminum four-pot wonder-nugget is pumping out. Front brakes to stop the madness come courtesy a twin-turbo 300ZX from the mid-1990s (more than enough stopping power for a car that barely tops a ton) but the rear rotors were part and parcel with the Mazda rear axle, which also came with a limited-slip differential and 4.11 gears.
Style-wise, William left everything more or less alone; the most visible body mods are the air dam that replaced the front fascia and bumper, custom carbon-fiber fender flares and (occasionally) the one-off carbon-fiber hardtop. The color was a last-minute decision; work was progressing on another hue, but “I went to the New York Auto Show in April, and I saw the Mercedes SLS AMG McLaren sitting there ... it was painted this same color, Designo Allomite Grey Matte. I saw it there and I called the shop on the spot, told ‘em to stop whatever they were doing, paint-wise, and told them that this was the color of the car now.”
Another change was to ditch the foam-padded ’68 dash, with its safety switches, and install an earlier unit featuring fun toggle switches. “I just wanted the classic look,” William tells us. “The gauges with the chrome rings around it were mechanical, but now they’re all digital, by GPS in Ohio. Also, I was able to get the guy who does my hydrographics to get the wood-look on the dash.”
Ah, yes, the wood look. The dash face, console, shift knob, steering wheel, all appearing to be made of wood and all part and parcel for the course of a ‘60s sports car. Seeing wood-look details on the nitrous bottle and the valve cover under the hood, however, was something of a surprise. “I’ve seen a lot of people do powdercoating, crazy paint, airbrushing and one day, I just thought, wood! The process is called hydrodipping; they do it with shotgun stocks. They spray a film into water, a chemical melts the film, then dip what you want coated. It sticks to what you dip, they clearcoat it, and it looks like wood.”
We caught up with William at the fourth round of the Formula Drift series, in Wall Township, New Jersey, in mid-June 2013; that was less than a month after it was completed. “I haven’t had time for the track yet but it’s gonna go eventually.” In the meanwhile he’s put more than a thousand miles on it since completion. “I drive my Roadster anywhere: Boston, Connecticut, New Jersey. People are shocked; they ask why don’t I trailer it? I always tell them, what’s the fun in having a car if you trailer it and don’t drive it? If it breaks, just build it better next time.” And if that’s not an aspiring mind to make Machiavelli proud, what is?
1968 Datsun Roadster 2000
Engine 2001 Nissan SR20DET by CIP Motorsports; AEM air intake; polished intake manifold; TODA 264° camshafts and 14760 valves; Tomei 12.5mm valve springs and rocker-arm stoppers; Crower titanium retainers; Power Enterprise Kevlar timing belt; custom header with 3-inch exhaust; Garrett GT2871R turbo with custom plumbing; GReddy Type S blowoff valve; HKS 740cc injectors, wastegate and turbine shield; custom Spearco intercooler; NSXpress CO2 intercooler chiller; Bosch Model 044 fuel pump; GReddy oil filter relocation kit and filter; Mishimoto radiator and fans with custom radiator cooling plate; custom tucked wiring harness; NGK Iridium H7 plugs; Optima Red Top battery
Drivetrain S14 Silvia 5-speed; ACT Xtreme clutch; custom-length driveshaft; custom ’84 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE rear end with limited-slip differential and 4.11 gears; custom axles
Footwork & Chassis Datsun Super Comp 860lb front coil springs; Datsun Competition 180lb lowering rear leaf springs; 23mm front sway bar; sandblasted, gusseted and powdercoated frame
Brakes Complete Z32-spec Nissan 300ZX twin-turbo disc conversion with custom 2-piece front rotors; stock Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE rear rotors; Hawk HP Plus pads; SS stainless brake lines; StopTech brake fluid
Wheels & Tires 15x7.5" +11 front, 15x10.35" -37 rear SSR Longchamps; 205/50R15 front, 225/50R15 rear Falken Z1EX tires; custom 20mm wheel spacers
Exterior custom carbon-fiber flares and a custom front lip; AMG Mercedes Designo Allomite Grey Matte paint; custom carbon-fiber hardtop; retrofit OEM 350Z HID headlights; emblems powdercoated matte black
Interior 1967 dash conversion with GPS custom gauges; Stock OE bucket seats and door panels with Bride fabric; custom Takata Drift III harness; MOMO Indy wood wheel with NRG quick-release hub; Sparco pedals; custom woodgrain console; Apple iPod head unit with JL Audio 300/4 amps; custom Corona bottle shifter