- Before the 240Z arrived, the Datsun roadster showed Japan could deliver sports-car thrills.
- This example has the later 2.0-litre engine, with twin SU carburettors and a recent rebuild.
- The auction will run till February 28.
When the Datsun 240Z landed in California for the 1970 model year, many were shocked that Japan could produce a world-class budget-friendly sports car. Those more familiar with Datsun weren’t so surprised: A sporting Datsun had existed in US showrooms for the past five years.
Here, for sale at Bring A Trailer—like that car and driver, part of Hurst Auto—one of the best of breed. This Datsun 2000 Roadster is a zippy little open car that combines the best elements of open British sports cars with a 2.0-liter engine and Japanese build quality. With the auction ending on Tuesday, February 28, the bid is currently at $11,500.
car and driverDatsun 2000 roadster tagged as future collectible
Back in 2010. Known in Datsun cognoscenti circles as the SRL311, the 2000 roadster was driven by Bob Sharp and John Morton, and it scored consecutive class wins in SCCA racing. It was the cheapest sports car in its division, but it still outperformed everything else.
Overseas, the SRL311 was known as the Fairlady, as was true for the 240Z. The Fairlady nameplate can trace its heritage back to the 1950s with the advent of the second generation of cars in America in the 1950s. These cars are cute and cheerful but quite terrifying to drive. They were based on a Datsun pickup truck, and they feel like it.
The later 1600 Roadster and the 2000 Roadster that followed are completely different machines. Nissan (Datsun’s parent company) switched to a sedan-based design, with an independent front suspension and a well-tuned leaf-spring setup at the rear. The engine was at first a 1.6-liter OHV four-cylinder, which later received five main bearings for increased durability. Later 2000 Roadsters, like this example, saw a displacement bump to 2.0 litres, got a five-speed manual gearbox, and could be ordered with a Competition Package with dual carburetors. Power was rated at 150 hp SAE gross, which was very lively for the 1960s, especially in a car that weighed over 2000 pounds.
Along with several podium finishes, the roadster is also involved in a little-known David vs. Goliath rivalry. When Toyota brought the legendary 2000GT into SCCA racing, the cars were to go to Peter Brock’s BRE Racing team. At the last minute, Carroll Shelby flew to Japan and charmed Toyota executives into giving him the contract instead.
Brock made a name for himself in Japan by getting a car called the Hino Contessa to perform in and win a few races. Hino was snapped up by Toyota in the 1960s and switched to truck production only—namely, the Hilux. But the president of Hino was still on good terms with Brock, and it happened that he went to school with the then president of Nissan. Brock couldn’t get Datsun USA to part with some of the roadsters; Instead, Brock came straight from Japan.
What followed was a game of cat-and-mouse that would see Brock race out of California where Shelby’s 2000GT team was hoping for an easy win or two. Roadsters operated in a different class, but it was easy enough for the 2000 GT to catch up and let competitors Porsche and Triumph slip by. In the end, the 2000GT team lost the championship, and Toyota came home embarrassed.
Even without the funny footnotes from early Japanese SCCA history, the 2000 roadster is an amazing driver. The 240Z and 510 are better known, but you can’t beat an open car for outright involvement. This example has been set up as a driver’s car, with a tuned suspension, Dunlop Dyrezza performance tires, and a host of recent engine work. The stickers that once covered the bottom of the trunk spend a lifetime participating in various California rallies and generally having a lot of fun. Now it’s time for the next owner to add his own.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He grew up cracking his knuckles on British automobiles, came up on the golden age of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the contrast between humanity and machinery, whether it be the racing of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is forever grateful for an excuse to buy Hot Wheels.