There are quite a few interesting details about this 1966 Datsun 1600, built by Japanese Classics LLC, which debuted at SEMA 2019 and caught our attention, along with thousands of others that made their way through the crowded halls and to the Fortune Auto booth. Sure, you can point out the chopped windscreen, unique green hue and perfectly matched wheel choice and just chalk it up to a well-done restmod, but that's just being lazy. There are so many distinct layers of detail applied to this build, the entirety of which took place in-house at Japanese Classics, that you really need to drill deeper than just a spec list and a handful of photos that you might have caught on social. It doesn't really sit comfortably in any of the labeled buckets we've all become accustomed to, whether being looked at as a show piece, restomod or even hot rod, because the truth is it's all of those things and more, and that includes being a driver.
Chris Bishop, the car's owner and the owner of Japanese Classics LLC, purveyors of fine JDM vehicles, is quick to point out that the car was not only entirely built at the shop, but also that it was truly a team effort with everyone lending their talents in different categories to piece together the ultimate build. The car was already in Chris' possession when he and Terry at Fortune Auto were talking about SEMA booth cars and he jokingly suggested the 1600. Now, the car at that time was nowhere near the level that it's at now, and Chris admits it was far from even being considered "SEMA worthy." Still, Terry liked the idea, and with the show serving as a deadline of sorts, Chris and his crew got to work.
The Beating Heart
You've seen these old Datsuns swapped and boosted before and they're great, but Chris felt that applying a mountain of power would not only complicate things but take away from the spirit of the build. He adds, "The first decision was to decide on an engine and the most important aspect of this build for me has always been to maintain a '60s feel with the car, just modernized in all the right ways. I think when you are building a car, one has to consider the whole picture rather than individual parts." Having purchased individual throttle bodies to extend the naturally aspirated angle on the SR20 he knew would eventually make its way into the bay, Chris decided not to incorporate them into the build. "The other factor that played a large role in the decision was reliability. I wanted to build a car that would start without hesitation, every time. I also didn't want to burden the car with a standalone [engine management] and having to tune and tweak constantly."
Keeping the mechanical portion of the car's motivation simple didn't mean that just any old junkyard swap would be tossed in - at least not while Chris knew that an Autech S15 SR20DE could be sourced. He adds, "After making the decision on which engine to run, the thought hit me... What if Autech built a Roadster in the '60s? What would they do? Of course, that comes with some creative liberty as the company wasn't even a thought at that time. Better suspension, wider wheels and tires, wider flares, special seats - the ideas ran wild! I wanted the car to look and feel like a vintage race car, but also be refined and finished like a production car. So, the tone was set for the build." The Autech SR was also equipped with a Freed Engineering intake and their custom stainless header and exhaust system, which terminates in a Yoshimura motorcycle muffler (that somehow just makes perfect sense on this creation) and brings power output up to 197whp - more than enough grunt for a featherweight chassis to get going and keep moving without breaking a sweat.
Much like the exterior, you're cheating yourself if you don't step in for a closer dissection of the details scattered throughout the bay. That otherworldly valvecover, which is actually a combination of an S13 and S15 cover that've been merged together seamlessly, is highlighted by a one-off oil cap that's also comprised of 2 different pieces. Top that off with a welded and smoothed channel for the ignition wires to pass right through the side and the math that equates to 40 hours of labor, just on the valve cover section alone, begins to make sense.
The same sort of meticulous details you find under the hood are hidden underneath the car's arches. Wanting to modernize the suspension, the body and frame were separated, and a one-off 4-link was fabricated for the rear. It's no small feat, seeing as how that's a critical part of the car's handling and even stopping characteristics, but Mike Poore, the shop manager, was game. Having built mini trucks in the past, he had a good understanding of the mechanics and was more than capable of making it all work around the original solid rear axle. "We thought that's what Autech would do, ha-ha!" With Fortune Auto coilovers then able to be added to the rear, the front was addressed by eliminating the factory front shock mounts in order to build custom shock towers and upper A-arms - something Chris admits Autech probably wouldn't have chosen to do, but in this case, it works well.
WWAD - What Would Autech Do
Often times when taking a look at restomods, there's a decent amount of forgiveness baked in regarding the exterior. Since the builder is dealing with a car that might be 30 or 40 years-old (55 years, in this case), you have to expect some imperfections. You'd be hard pressed to find anything like that on this 1600, and that's not because the starting point was so good, but rather how much effort the team put into the process. The shop's Restoration Manager, Andrew Clarke, led the charge on the car's bodywork and paint and incorporated a number of custom changes, like the newer model fenders with larger factory flares and elimination of the bulky chrome bumpers and the pronounced chrome body line that runs from the rear of the front fenders all the way to the taillights. Smaller touches, like deleted door locks, fender marker lights and the rocker panel jack points, all contribute to a smooth, fully custom look. Even the panel gaps were painstakingly reduced as the crew kept searching for perfection.
In the rear of the car, the original flares weren't going to make the cut. Chris adds, "I've always disliked the OEM fenders and prefer a round wheel arch in lieu of the awkwardly shaped OEM piece. Thankfully Ulterior Motives in California exists, and we were able to give them the exact specifications and measurements of the flare we wanted to build. We have used them in the past for previous builds and they always do a phenomenal job." After welding in the custom flares, the color choice was still up in the air and pulling the trigger, so to speak, held its own set of obstacles. Chris explains, "My original thought was to use a silver, it seemed fitting for the '60s theme. It also seemed "boring as hell" according to one of our restoration techs. My other thought was to use the Autech Green available on the R31 Autech Skyline - this color was a bit too dark though. So, we did about 20 different spray outs of the Autech color, each one tweaked just a little, until we got the color you see here, 'Japanese Classics Green'. I think the end result was well worth the indecisiveness." Highlighting the custom paintwork are 15x8/15x9 Work Equip 40 that feel like they were made for car. Not just Datsun 1600s in general, but the Japanese Classics roadster, specifically.
Adding a little muscle to the look of the tiny roadster is achieved with the larger flares but also a front lip that the group took it upon themselves to create in-house after searching for a suitable piece and only finding versions that used brake duct openings on each end - something they didn't want. In addition, that much talked about windshield that has a knack for stealing the spotlight was inspired by vintage Ferrari and Porsche race cars of the past and the drastically shorter windscreen visually sucks the car toward the road even further. Chris notes that its frame is easily unbolted for removal so that the factory version can be brought in to utilize a Japanese factory hardtop for any sort of weather because, again, this car gets driven.
A proper build addresses every part of the vehicle and that includes the interior. Rewrapped door cards and race buckets would probably fly by most standards, but based on the previous group of paragraphs, you already know these guys weren't going to settle for that. With very few vintage-style buckets available, Chris and the crew decided to just build their own based on an '80s-era Nismo seat. "We made a mold of the original seat. Next, we chopped up the seat to fit the roadster. We had two requirements: 1.) the seat must be at the top of the body tub and not above it, 2.) I needed to fit in it! After quite a bit of cutting and pasting, we had the perfect seat." The rest of the interior was designed, which included custom door cards, and with the help of Montross Upholstery, everything was covered in Relicate Leather's distressed Maroon with touches of black to contrast. The dash and gauges are original, though behind the refinished faces the internals were modernized to work with the SR20 swap, courtesy of Global Tech Instruments.
There are about 100 other fine details to this build that realistically could probably be written out as an entire book. There were absolutely no corners cut and, as Chris explained, it was 100 percent a concentrated Japanese Classics LLC team effort. As far as SEMA builds go, they tend to carry a stigma in many cases, as people point out any flaws and deem the car completely unusable and nothing more than a show piece for a week-long stint in Vegas. Chris Bishop's '66 Roadster is having none of that. Not only did it arrive to its red carpet unveil 100-percent complete, but it's been put back on the road time and time again and proven both reliable and real-world useable.