Small car + plucky engine = epic thrills

LISTEN 04:08

Healthy and safety guides tell you that a car missing a full-width windshield should not be driven on public roads yet here we are, looking at a gorgeous open-top Datsun from the late ’60s that, courtesy of the SR20DET inline-four is so fast it literally blows your cap off.

And then there’s the soundtrack and the fact that you’re never fully in the car because the doors are low enough so that most of your upper body is exposed to the elements. Grassroots Garage gets a taste of this automotive guillotine.

This Datsun is perfect for Australia’s twisty mountain roads

You'll See Some Great Classic Cars In this Video, But the Datsun Fairlady SR20DET Is Definitely The Highlight
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Everyone remembers the Datsun Fairlady Z, Yoshihiko Matsuo’s masterpiece that proved imports can be more than dull, lifeless econoboxes but not too many people recall Datsun’s other Fairlady models. Throughout the ’60s, the Japanese automaker built a number of open-top, two-seater sports cars culminating with the Sports 2000 as it was known Stateside. Before it, however, there was the Sports 1600 and this is one of the (not so) many that have ended up in Australia.

Built between 1965 and 1970, the Sports 1600 featured a re-styled fascia penned by Count Albrecht Goertz, a German designer known for his involvement in the design of both the Toyota 2000GT and the Datsun Fairlady Z.
You'll See Some Great Classic Cars In this Video, But the Datsun Fairlady SR20DET Is Definitely The Highlight
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With a slightly new face came a bigger engine in the form of the 1.6-liter H-Series R16 inline-four. Fitted with a pair of SU carburetors, the unit churned out 96 horsepower and that was enough to send the Roadster, as it was commonly referred to in America, to a top speed of 105 mph.

While the cast-iron block/head unit wasn’t what you’d call punchy, it was quite powerful for a car weighing effectively nothing not to mention that the BMC B-Series 1.8-liter engine powering the larger MG B was just as powerful. All the power reached the rear axle via a four-speed synchromesh ’box. Drum brakes were the norm all around while the front suspension was independent with coil springs over hydraulic shocks.

You'll See Some Great Classic Cars In this Video, But the Datsun Fairlady SR20DET Is Definitely The Highlight
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Overall, it was a neat little thing when new but that’s not what James, the owner of this Datsun 1600 Sport, got his hands on. His Fairlady was merely a shell when he rolled it into his garage. He got it with the scope of sticking in it the S13-sourced SR20DET engine that came with the car but that wasn’t in it.

So, after a few years of gathering dust under a tarp, the Sports 1600 was brought back from the dead and it's now having fun again on Australia's twisty mountain roads.

The engine and gearbox are both from an S13 Silvia and they are mostly stock. That means the turbocharged inline-four produces about 205 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 203 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm with an 8.5:1 compression ratio.

Engine 2.0-liter engine
Horsepower 205 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 203 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM
You'll See Some Great Classic Cars In this Video, But the Datsun Fairlady SR20DET Is Definitely The Highlight
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This may not seem like much but remember, it’s more than twice what the original engine could do. As such, James had to update the brakes and he ended up fitting Nissan Altima rotors hugged by Volvo four-piston calipers in the front while drums are still part and parcel in the rear. The engine bay, as mentioned, is mostly standard although there’s a Honda CRX radiator sitting in front of the engine.

The list of exterior mods is longer than that of mechanical upgrades as you can see. Besides the lack of a proper windshield, James threw some Rota RB wheels with Toyo tires on it which sit nice and close to the edge of the flares. Inside, there are Cobra seats facing a tiny Momo wheel. The dashboard, too, has been changed and it’s now grey like the exterior. You’ll have to watch the video to find out more - and, especially, to hear the thing at work - but one thing we can tell you is you’d probably feel less exposed driving a kart than you would behind the wheel of that Datsun!

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert -
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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