1968 Datsun 2000 Roadster Is Our Bring a Trailer Auction Pick of the Day
Before the 240Z arrived, the Datsun roadster showed that Japan could deliver sports-car thrills.
This example has the later 2.0-liter engine, with twin SU carburetors and a recent rebuild.
The auction runs through 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 who were more familiar with Datsun weren't so surprised: There'd been a sporting Datsun in U.S. showrooms for the past five years.
Here, up for sale on Bring a Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—is one of the best of the breed. This Datsun 2000 roadster is a zippy little open car that combines the best elements of open British sports cars with a gutsy 2.0-liter engine and Japanese build quality. With the auction slated to end on Tuesday, February 28, bidding is currently at $11,500.
Car and Driver tagged the Datsun 2000 Roadster as a future collectible way back in 2010. Known as the SRL311 in Datsun cognoscenti circles, the 2000 Roadster was raced by Bob Sharp and John Morton, and it continually posted class wins in SCCA racing. It was the cheapest sports car in its division, but it beat the pants off everything else anyway.
Overseas, the SRL311 was known as the Fairlady, as was true of the 240Z. The Fairlady nameplate can trace its heritage back to the 1950s, with the second generation of cars arriving in the U.S. in 1960. These cars are pretty and cheerful but fairly terrible to drive. They were based on the Datsun pickup truck, and they feel like it.
The later 1600 Roadster and the 2000 Roadster that followed are entirely different machines. Nissan (Datsun's parent company) changed to a sedan-based design with an independent front suspension and a well-sorted leaf-spring setup in the rear. The engine was at first a 1.6-liter OHV four-cylinder, which later got five main bearings for durability. The later 2000 Roadsters, like this example, saw a displacement bump to 2.0 liters, got a five-speed manual gearbox, and could be ordered with a competition package with dual carburetors. Power was rated as 150 hp SAE gross, pretty lively for the 1960s, especially in a car that weighed barely over 2000 pounds.
Along with many a podium finish, the roadster also features in a little-known David vs. Goliath rivalry. When Toyota fielded the gorgeous 2000GT in SCCA racing, the cars were supposed to go to Peter Brock's BRE racing team. At the last minute, Carroll Shelby flew to Japan and charmed Toyota execs into giving him the contract instead.
Brock had made a name for himself in Japan by getting a car called the Hino Contessa to perform and win a few races. Hino was snapped up by Toyota in the 1960s and turned to truck production only—namely, the Hilux. But the president of Hino was still on good terms with Brock, and he just so happened to have gone to school with the then-president of Nissan. Brock couldn't get Datsun USA to part with a couple of Roadsters; instead, Brock's came direct from Japan.
There then followed a game of cat-and-mouse whereby Brock would show up at out-of-California races where Shelby's 2000GT team was hoping to pick up an easy win or two. The Roadsters were running in a different class, but it was easy enough to hold up the 2000GTs and let the competing Porsches and Triumphs slip by. In the end, the 2000GT team lost the championship, and Toyota slunk home embarrassed.
Even without the fun footnotes of early Japanese SCCA history, the 2000 Roadster is a wonderful driver. The 240Z and the 510 are better known, but you can't beat an open car for full involvement. This example is set up as a driver's car, with a sorted suspension, Dunlop Direzza performance tires, and a host of recent engine work. The stickers that once covered the underside of the trunk show a lifetime spent attending various California rallies and generally having a lot of fun. It's time for the next owner to add their own.
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