Published Work: Pistonless Datsun
This is a story I originally wrote for Garage 710. In an effort to compile all my work into one place, I have archived the story here on my personal site. I had a great time working on that project, and hope you enjoy the fantastic content that came from it.
While we were out in Las Vegas for Stance Wars, we spent a lot of time hanging out in the parking garage of the Boulder Station Casino. With the show being held there the next day, it seemed to become a communal space for those of us who got into town early. Different cars rolled in and out at all hours, and in a way, it was like an ever changing car meet. We spent a lot of time down there polishing our cars, adjusting suspension and just generally talking with other enthusiasts.
Later into the evening a rather distinct, whining sound started echoing around the garage. A small, blue, Datsun pickup rolled by us, and there was immediate discussion as to what the noise could be. We watched it round the corner, make a full lap of the garage, and park nearby. We debated what it could be for quite a while, before a few of us decided to ask what could possibly be the source of the sound.
That’s when we met Noah, the owner of this fantastic truck. As it turns out, he is a Las Vegas local that had come to the parking garage to meet up with some other Datsun enthusiasts, who were in town for the shows that weekend. He was more than happy to pop the hood, and talk about the details of his project. What we saw surprised us quite a bit initially, as the factory L16 was nowhere to be seen. In it’s place was a 6 port, Mazda 12a.
But that wasn’t the source of the sound we had been trying to identify. Noah pointed out the rather aggressive belt on the alternator. He had been having issues with the considerably smaller, stock belt slipping, and did away with that system entirely. With this belt in place, he hasn’t had issues with slipping since. He noted that this was something of a prototype engine, as he had another rotary ready to drop in soon. This setup was a test run to ensure everything worked properly.
We spent hours talking with Noah. He told us how he had recently undergone knee surgery, and he was just cleared to drive again that very night. Naturally it was a perfect opportunity to take his Datsun out for a nice cruise and hang out with other car guys. If that isn’t dedication to a project, I don’t know what is.
Originally coming from Okinawa, he explained how engine swaps like this were pretty common. The idea to put the rotary came to him partly as a way of adding reliability to the truck. He admitted that the original L16 wasn’t his favorite engine either. He mentioned that it was a relatively simple swap, and the only snag he hit was putting the engine and transmission in as one unit. The rotary certainly looks at home in the engine bay, and ultimately adds a lot of personality to an already fantastic build. There is a great deal of creativity, and ingenuity that went into making this swap happen.
While the rotary swap is a show stopper, the truck is also full of subtle details. It has a fantastic patina throughout, giving it a well loved look. This is all contrasted by the more modern wheels. They are the first hint that there is something different about this particular Datsun. The stance is subtle as well, as the truck isn’t laying frame, but has a slight rake that suits it quite well. Even small details like the side view mirrors are addressed, being relocated slightly higher on the door. These are the sort of details that you can miss at just a glance.
The interior continued on with the theme of being subtle, and it is an incredibly nice place to be. The bench seat is like new, while the dash had only the necessary gauges in place. Noah plugged the unused holes in the dashboard with splashes of personality, which adds real character to the build. The truck is obviously about a driving experience, it shows that he knew what he wanted out of the project. It can be so easy to over complicate project cars sometimes, and showing restraint like this can bring incredible results.
Even small details like the dome light are fantastic. Noah added this, and had he not pointed it out to me, I likely would have missed it entirely. There were no visible wires, or any indication that it was anything other than a stock light. But it filled the cabin with light with the simple flick of a switch. It is a fantastic solution, and spoke to how well he had thought out every detail. This truck isn’t a gutted out race car, but rather a well rounded cruiser.
Sometimes even the smallest things can bring car enthusiasts together. We can connect over small details, and make friends over common passions. In this case, something as simple as the whine of his serpentine belt, lead to a night of talking cars and sharing stories. We learned a fantastic amount about Noah’s build, he shared information that even will go on to help us with some of our own cars, and most importantly, we made a new friend. It’s moments like these that we look forward to as car enthusiasts.