Looking out the plane window flying over the 3rd largest city in the world, hoping the next time we make this trip it’ll be on the ground and in something with two seats and no roof. Instead it’s 100 seats and a feeble breeze barely reaching my face from the small overhead vent, the teenage girl in front of me fully reclined into my lap. Flying used to be more fun. My wife and I are heading to our home in southern Mexico after spending a month in the states seeing our families for the first time in almost 2 years, it was a great trip and we are really grateful for the chance to come and see everyone. There was another reason for the trip though, a Fairlady 2000 roadster. My brother in law, Jesse, who was awesome enough to fly us up, is also responsible for finding a car I have wanted to own since the day I knew it existed. The Datsun Sports doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Everyone loves the Z, and the 510 and don’t get me wrong I’ve owned and loved both, and even own a business centered around 510’s, but the Sports is what started it all, the original Fairlady. Jesse recently moved to a small town in southern Washington and not long after he got there he started asking around about cars. As it turns out his new boss, of all people, happened to have a 69 2000 roadster sitting behind his house, where it had been for 10 years. The car appeared very rough to say the least, sitting outside, last tagged in 96. Jesse asked a few times “how much” but wasn’t given a number until his boss asked if he wanted him to drop it off at his house. He would never get to it and he knew it would be in better hands, payment was made; $40 to cover the gas money and some left over Pozole made by my sister in law, and the roadster took up residence in a new driveway. $40!? They’re still out there. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to turn a wrench on my own car and I was really looking forward to this. I had only seen the car in pictures, and while it looked rough, it also looked like it had good bones. Still, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, after all the car had been sitting outside for 20+ years and I knew there had to be more cancer somewhere, right? Nope! As it turned out the car really was solid, solid floors, frame, all the important parts were rust free. The lips on the rear wheel wells are rusted out and there’s some holes under the rockers, but I’d say that’s pretty good considering. I only had two weeks with the car, but my goal was to get it moving under it’s own power with as little money spending as possible. First step was getting it running. We already knew the fuel pump was bad and Jesse had already installed a new one before I got there. We realized the carbs were also sticking so I took them off, pulled them apart cleaned everything, reassembled, and reinstalled them. Bypassing the dirty tank and clogged fuel lines we were able to get the car started and while it didn’t want to idle, it ran strong. Big win number one. Next we removed the tank and clogged fuel line. We boiled out the tank and cleaned out the lines, reinstalled everything and got the car running without an IV. Win number two. Next; tuning. New plugs, tune up kit, and new custom length plug wires. And we did our best to tune the carbs in. The old U20 ran strong but still wasn’t wanting to idle or run quite right. After playing with the firing order and timing, I finally pulled the distributor and took it apart, suspecting a problem I had run into before on an A12 I used to own… and sure enough the springs on the mechanical advance had broken causing the weights to flop around. It won’t run right like that. A quick late night run to a random local wrecking yard, wandering around through a goldmine of old cars with the owner spitting his chew, I would expect nothing less from eastern Washington. After searching the yard completely and not finding any Datsun’s that still had their distributors intact, the owner revealed to us that he used to run a re-curving business and had boxes full of springs. We picked a couple that looked good enough to work, paid him for the springs, and the tour, and headed back to the shop. Amazingly they did work, advancing the U20 right around 3000 RPM as they should. Although a full re-curve kit will come in the future. The car now idled but still didn’t have much bottom end, I’m pretty sure this is now just in the carb tuning. Next step moving and stopping… The front discs were in great shape, and the master cylinder had been replaced and some point in the past and had just enough fluid left in it to keep it alive. Getting the rear aluminum drums off was another story and took the good part of a day. But once everything was inspected, there were no leaks, not even a bad wheel cylinder. We were able to bleed the brakes and get them working. Win number 3. On to the moving part, it became obvious pretty quickly that the slave was bad. At this point I was running out of time and ordering one from a roadster specialty shop wasn’t going to be an option. After searching all the local parts houses, we started cross checking other slaves that were available, and as it turns out the 521 truck used the same slave, which we got. We installed it, bled the system and with no other leaks or issues, we had clutch! Win number four. Now the big day, driving this thing for the first time in over 20 years. Feathering the throttle to keep it going because the tuning wasn’t right, pumping the brakes because they needed more bleeding and cautiously taking it out on the road. It was as awesome as I expected. Love at first drive, 1st, 2nd… uh oh not 3rd.. back to 2nd. Still amazing. We were able to get the car into 3rd later and we’re hoping it’s a symptom of sitting and the fact that we haven’t changed the fluid yet. Still unbelievable, sitting outside since 1996 and all we replaced was a fuel pump, plugs, wires, tune up parts, slave cylinder, advance springs and one tire. With a total investment so far under $300. And it runs and drives, win number 5. The final step was stripping the interior and cleaning and painting the floors. Then it was on to polishing the rust, yep it’s possible. Most of the original white paint buffed out leaving an awesome patina on the back half of the car. Some flat black paint for the roll bar and steelies and the car already looks 1000 times better than it did just a few weeks ago. We also found out a little of the back story on the car from a local friend who recognized it. It turns out it was a one owner car and bought new locally. For some reason the car had been left in a field years ago and the owner moved back to Mexico (ironic). Then a few years later the field caught fire and a local fire fighter rescued the car and brought it home where it sat again untouched until Jesse’s boss bought it with plans to fix it, but again it sat untouched in his driveway this time for 10 years. The car still has it’s original plates, and shows 100,000 miles. Unfortunately the paperwork was lost long ago and we’re currently working on that. After I headed back home to Mexico, Jesse ran a compression check on the U20 out of curiosity… 150 PSI on every. Single. Cylinder. The thing is still new inside. The ultimate goal is an epic road trip in the roadster, that we dubbed Avispa, due to the wasps nests all over the car when it was found, to our home in southern Mexico. Before that though we need to get the car licensed and reliable enough to make the 3,200 mile trip. Chris Doney will be helping us get the car tuned in the near future. Now I have to sit and watch from a distance until next time.
Words and photos by: Logan Neet