Stock-looking cars are for nerds, right? Especially '60s cars, with all of that chromed gingerbread seemingly added on with a trowel. Clean lines aside, brightwork and filigree are a throwback to a more genteel era, when sports cars were driven by genteel pipe-smokers in flat caps who were happy to substitute outright speed for sporting feel. How easy would it be to shave off some trim, to yank the bumpers for both weight and style, to flare the fenders so wider tires would be accepted, to straight-pipe the exhaust and eschew mufflers, to strip off all of the factory bling and embrace a monochrome future, to make that chosen color some retina-scorching hue not found in nature?
And so, what to make of this? It's a '67 Datsun 1600 roadster wearing nearly all of its factory jewelry. Awww. Isn't it cute? The body side moldings, the bright headlight and taillight bezels, the factory grille... all of it is as it came from the factory. Oh, the wheels and tires are a little oversized—16x7-inch, when dinky little 14x4.5-inch were factory issue—but only that, and the lettering on the front fender, a couple of missing 1600 badges, and the watermelon-diameter exhaust tip, are clues to the truth that lies beneath that faux-scooped hood. It's not even all that loud. Super-sano, your grandfather would have called it when both he and this car were much younger.
There's a reason why those 1600 fender badges have disappeared - truth in advertising. Jon Frampton of Huntington Beach, California, didn't want to trade outright speed for sporting feel; he wanted both. He wanted a Datsun Roadster to go out hunting for Porsches on PCH and still keep the element of surprise on his side. Frampton turned to Kevin Desirello at Kevin's Roadster Designs in Riverside. Desirello, whose family had roadsters longer than they'd had him, was a natural choice; he's built more than a handful of quality Roadsters in the last few years. Plus, there's something about Datsuns and Riverside that just seem to mix; the marque received its first SCCA National Championship there in '68 (see sidebar), and now Desirello's shop is there, mere minutes away from where the legendary track once stood.
Pop the hood. Unlike the U20-powered beasts that duked it out around RIR for road-course supremacy, you're looking at a turbocharged stroker SR20 putting out 341 reliable, repeatable dyno-tested horsepower. At the rear wheels. There's a lot to unpack here, but the basics are these: An SR20DET pirated from an S15 Silvia was stroked with a K1 Technologies 92mm stroker crank, and custom 86.5mm Carrillo pistons and Manley rods brought displacement up to 2.2 liters. The head is from an SR20VE with variable cam timing out of a Japan-market P11-generation Nissan Primera and required some machine work to mate to the block. With the stroker kit, the combination measures out to 9:1 compression. That's plenty of room for the 12 pounds of boost from the Garrett GTX2867R turbo, mounted on a custom top-mount manifold. Mix in the NISMO 740cc injectors, some tweaking via the Megasquirt 3 DIY Autotune system, and an afternoon's worth of dyno time, and there's your 341 horses.
Assuming the Roadster weighs 2,300 pounds, which corresponds with some "as-tested" curb weights on road-test machines from back in the day, you're looking at 6.7 pounds per horsepower as it sits. That puts it in Dodge Charger Hellcat territory. Admittedly, the ultimate goal is to find 500 hp with 22 pounds of boost, but the combination is so dialed in at the moment that everyone is leery of messing with a good thing.
The engine is connected to an Aisin-built six-speed stick out of an S15 Silvia. That transmission features a 3.626 first, 1:1 fifth, and 0.76 overdrive sixth. Desirello claims he cautioned against it, "That trans can't handle much more torque than what we're putting through it now; Jon picked the wrong trans to handle a lot of power, but he wanted the six-speed, so he got it." It's one of the reasons they're not cranking the boost up to 22 pounds in search of those 500 horses just yet. It also meant some work for Desirello: He had to move the tunnel an inch on the right-hand side to clear the wider case, but as a bonus, the shift position slots exactly into the stock Roadster shifter location.
Moving back, the rear end is out of a mid-'80s Mazda RX7 GSL-SE, narrowed half a foot to clear the Datsun's narrow hips. Much as the idea of keeping the driveline all Datsun is appealing, economics are on the Mazda third member's side. "The FB Mazda rear end came with disc brakes. A limited-slip differential is much cheaper, and there are a couple of gear ratios available for it. Plus, there's the cost: An original Datsun H190 rear—not including gears, bearings, or fluid—costs as much as a complete RX-7 rear does. It's just cost-effective, and it's a tougher unit."
The owner supplied a vintage NISMO suspension kit with stiffer coils in front and leafs in rear, plus a fat front sway bar. With the rear brakes already converted to disc, the roadster's front now stops with factory twin-turbo Z32 calipers grabbing a set of custom Coleman rotors.
The body itself looks stock, but it took a lot of craftsmanship and hand fettling to get it looking this good. "When we got it," Desirello recalls, "it was just old and ratty. The floors weren't too bad, and there were just small rust holes in the bottom of the fenders. We tried to keep it as stock looking as we could, so that when the hood was closed we could present as if it were original. Just a little shinier." Other than the removed fender badges, the gas cap was moved to inside the trunk, rather than jutting out through the rear fascia below the trunk opening. Even the wheel openings have resisted a massage for clearance: "You have to get the offset just right, and you may need to play with spacers to center things up, but you can fit 16x8" in the back," Desirello tells us. Frampton's car runs VTO Motorsports wheels, but "Panasports...they'll fit right in there. I've even gotten 17x7" to fit."
The build took two and a half years part-time. "I work a 4/10 schedule at my day job, so I would get two days off per week. It's really not a lot of time, when you break it down." The result saw this very car make the Top 20 in '15's SEMA Battle of the Builders - a huge honor for any builder, much less one operating out of his home garage.
Beyond a glance at the wheels, and maybe the interior (with fortified buckets and ample carbon-fiber touches), only hardcore Roadster-istas would know anything was changed. Without popping the hood, you'd never know. And that's OK by all parties concerned. You'd lose the element of surprise any other way. I mean, how will you go about scaring unsuspecting supercars in your vintage Datsun Roadster if you advertise?
DATSUN'S RACING RECORD
Back in the '60s, when SCCA was the ultimate arbiter of road racing in America, it established the American Road Race of Champions—an end-of-season invitational race for the top three points placers throughout various SCCA regions. The ARRC was the world series of American sports car racing; it pits the nation's best of the best against each other in individual classes. Between '64 and '69, the American Road Race of Champions alternated between Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California, and Daytona, Florida. (Riverside ran the series on the even-numbered years.) Starting in '66, ARRC were declared national champions.
The production-based classes generally were filled with MGs, Austin-Healey Sprites, Lotus, Triumphs, Morgans, and other British sports cars of the type; some other continental European stragglers like Alfa Romeo and Porsche would also increase their presence as the '60s went on. Through '64, Japanese cars simply weren't considered to be in the same class, literally or figuratively.
But this was to change. Datsun's first visit to the ARRC was in '65, at Daytona, when Connecticut Yankee Bob Sharp took third in class 3G Production; a year later, at Riverside, Sharp came in fifth. A Datsun placed 11th in the renamed C-Production for 1967, but in F-Production, Sharp won outright, with a second Roadster placing on the podium. (Another Datsun placed Fourth in G-Production.) For '68, F-Production saw more than a third of its 20 drivers behind the wheel of a Datsun, with Sharp again leading the pack with a second-place finish. In the '68 C-Production runoffs, 8 of the 18 entered racers drove Datsuns, and while the top Datsun finisher was Jack Scoville in sixth, most of the cars ahead of him—Porsche 911, Toyota 2000—were six-cylinder machines. For the '69 runoffs, C-Production's top Datsun was driven by Donald Kearney, who placed seventh in a field of 18 cars otherwise comprised of Porsche 911s and six-cylinder Triumph TR6s; Sharp was again top Datsun in F Production, placing Fifth, while Scoville won D Production outright in an 18-car field that saw no fewer than 11 Datsun Roadsters running for the title. (Datsun, which embraced racing as a marketing tool, crowed about it in period magazine ads.) The 1969 runoffs were the last year that Datsun Roadsters were campaigned with any aplomb; they were replaced by the six-cylinder 240Z soon enough, although plenty of SPL311s are still campaigned in local events.