NZ Performance Car - - News - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: RICHARD OPIE

The Dat­sun 1600 sta­tion wagon is a rare sight on the road in any trim, but one built to the level John Healey from V-Sport has reached is a ver­i­ta­ble uni­corn. From the metic­u­lously de­tailed LT18 to the full in­te­rior re­trim, the ar­row-straight pan­els, and Ac­cuair air-ride, it’s a true all-rounder that you need to scope out.

The hum­ble wagon is some­thing of an enigma when you plonk it smack-bang in the mid­dle of the mod­i­fied-car sphere. I mean, hell, these ve­hi­cles were meant for util­i­tar­ian pur­poses. Straight-line per­for­mance, ra­zor­sharp han­dling, and even svelte good looks were surely never re­ally at the top of the brief when the de­sign­ers con­sid­ered a model vari­ant pack­ing a tail­gate and a D-pil­lar. Wag­ons were de­signed and mar­keted as child-haulers for the nu­clear family, mo­bile in­ven­to­ries for the trav­el­ling sales­man, or work­shops-on-wheels for the trades­man-about-town.

But then you mod­ify one. The re­sult is al­most un­de­ni­able in­stant cool, whether we’re talk­ing the early 2000s and a dropped BF Mazda Fa­milia wagon on 17-inch G-Ze­ros roam­ing Queen Street with a boot-load of bass, or a ’58 Chevy Brook­wood with a nice patina, draped over wide As­tro Supremes and soak­ing up some Beach Hop sun: mod­i­fied wag­ons are just cooler, pe­riod!

That’s why, ev­ery year, when we re­turn to Syd­ney for the World Time At­tack Chal­lenge (WTAC), we’re cap­ti­vated by this lit­tle Dat­sun 1600 wagon, which kept ap­pear­ing in var­i­ous states of build. The first year we caught a glimpse of it, the car was pok­ing out of a pit garage, de­void of in­te­rior, pack­ing a partly fin­ished en­gine bay but ar­row-straight pan­els and a ride height bor­rowed from a hov­er­craft. The fol­low­ing year, it had edged closer to com­ple­tion

The key to the un­de­ni­ably time­less aes­thetic is re­ten­tion of the stock body lines, coated in a cus­tom metal­lic grey hue based on an R35 GT-R colour

and was on dis­play in Trader Al­ley, with the be­gin­nings of an in­te­rior fit-out and a func­tion­ing en­gine bay, though it was still not quite there. Fi­nally, in 2016, the Dat­sun hit the event in a fin­ished state, and we man­aged to catch up with owner John Healey, man­ager of V-Sport Aus­tralia’s motorsport op­er­a­tion in Syd­ney, to ar­range some time to get the wagon ac­quainted with our cam­era.

When he ac­quired it, John had another rea­son­ably rare Dat­sun wagon, the B110 chas­sis 1200. By his own ad­mis­sion, the 1200 was show­ing its age, and the body­work was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, so the car was in a pe­riod of sta­sis while its fate was be­ing de­cided. Then, when a mate of his ran out of space to store his 1600 wagon project, the 1200’s fate was sealed. The small wagon was sold, and John duly pur­chased its big­ger brother, fully know­ing that he had a real project on his hands. Why? Be­cause the 1600 had spent the past decade neglected, with just a car­port for shel­ter and no driver’s win­dow, which meant that the in­te­rior was shot. Even so, John de­scribes the body­work as be­ing in de­cent shape for the car’s vin­tage. And, bet­ter yet, his in­volve­ment in one of Aus­tralia’s au­to­mo­tive af­ter­mar­ket in­dus­try lead­ers meant that John had the nec­es­sary skillset; knowl­edge; and, im­por­tantly, con­nec­tions to trans­form the wagon into a cre­ation over­flow­ing with the best kind of cool­ness — sub­tle but not too un­der­stated yet unique to the point

that ab­so­lutely every­one who strolls past the car has to stop and ex­am­ine it in depth.

Of course, there’s that ride height to talk about. John re­vealed that the de­ci­sion to use airbags in the Dat­sun came about after the panel work had been com­pleted. Not that this is a bad thing, by any stretch; the sim­plic­ity of those stock lines drib­bled lib­er­ally over a set of eye-catch­ing rolling stock while quite lit­er­ally scrap­ing terra firma with its un­der­car­riage is a win­ning recipe, no mat­ter what flavour you favour. How­ever, this did present a chal­leng­ing set of re­stric­tions that had to be faced be­fore he could achieve the ideal ride height, while keep­ing ge­om­e­try ac­cept­able for us­abil­ity.

Again tack­ling the job him­self, John em­barked on a process of trial and er­ror, fig­ur­ing out ex­actly how the Air Lift Per­for­mance bags needed to func­tion on all four cor­ners. Un­like the in­de­pen­dently sprung rear of the 1600 sedan, the wag­ons use a coil-sprung live axle, and John’s now sports a short­ened R31 Sky­line diff, fourlinked with cus­tom rose-jointed arms that nes­tle into a mod­i­fied floor­pan — the only de­vi­a­tion from stock met­al­work — to al­low max­i­mum low­ness. Up the front, CXRac­ing rose-jointed lower arms sup­port a pair of Air Lift univer­sal struts, with the whole shoot­ing match over­seen by Ac­cuair’s much-lauded e-Level Con­troller.

The afore­men­tioned eye-catch­ing wheels are none other than 15-inch Work CR01 three-piece ex­am­ples, with eight-inch-wide vari­ants at the back and seven-inch at the front, all tucked neatly into the arches. Cou­ple those with a cheeky chin spoiler, gleam­ing re­stored bright­work, a rare 1600 SSS ‘Su­per­sonic’ grille, and those oh-so-Aus­tralian rear vene­tian blinds, and the over­all aes­thetic pre­sented by John’s wagon is sub­lime — if a pic­ture speaks a thou­sand words, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the 1600 in the metal writes the book on just why a mod­ded wagon is cool.

But beauty, as they, say isn’t merely skin deep. Pop­ping the bon­net on John’s Dat­sun re­veals an en­gine choice that is as

com­pre­hen­sive as the ex­te­rior and sus­pen­sion treat­ment yet is pos­si­bly not what the ca­sual ob­server’s guess would put be­tween the struts. It’d be all too easy to as­sume that John would have taken the retro-tech route and dropped an SR20 in the hole — but, as a nod to the car’s pe­riod and a key re­ten­tion of the 1970s char­ac­ter, the 1600 now sports a mod­er­ate up­grade in the form of an 1800cc L18 four-cylin­der. While the mild-built long block may be a pe­riod power plant, the sup­port­ing cast is most def­i­nitely bang up to date.

These en­gines are of a non-cross­flow de­sign, and, hang­ing from the pas­sen­ger’s side, is a set of twist­ing stain­less head­ers, topped with a quar­tet of EFI Hard­ware throt­tle bod­ies with as­so­ci­ated fu­elling com­po­nents. The driver’s side fea­tures a be­spoke coil-on-plug ar­range­ment, and, to en­sure the up­dated fuel and spark set-up be­haves as it should, John’s cho­sen ECU is an Emtron SL8. This, in ef­fect, means that, although the L18 is an older en­gine, it now runs with the kind of smooth­ness and ease as­so­ci­ated with mod­ern hard­ware, an al­ter­na­tive take on the retrotech con­cept, and one that John couldn’t be hap­pier with.

With ex­te­rior, sus­pen­sion, and en­gine-bay spec­i­fi­ca­tions all ticked off the list, John’s at­ten­tion needed to switch to the in­te­rior, or, more ac­cu­rately, what re­mained of the orig­i­nal cabin. Start­ing from es­sen­tially noth­ing, the for­merly work­man­like Dat­sun 1600’s in­sides have been trans­formed with the de­ploy­ment of red leather through­out. The 1970s vibe has been re­tained through the care­ful choice of tex­tured pat­terns and em­boss­ing, but, in keep­ing with the theme of sub­tle up­grades, a pair of mod­ern — but not too mod­ern — Re­caro fish­net re­clin­ers flank a cus­tom cen­tre con­sole hous­ing the e-Level Con­troller and Nismo-topped shifter. Other items of note in­clude the SSS six-dial dash clus­ter and the retro-es­sen­tial Nardi Deep Corn steer­ing wheel, while the au­dio has been brought into the 21st cen­tury cour­tesy of a cus­tom in­stall fea­tur­ing JL au­dio splits front and rear, with a sym­met­ri­cal boot in­stal­la­tion hous­ing a JL sub and amp and in­te­gra­tion of the air tank into the cargo area.

With such a com­pre­hen­sive level of mod­i­fi­ca­tion in­side and out, com­pleted to such a metic­u­lous stan­dard, you might as­sume that the 1600 is re­served for stop­ping shows and the oc­ca­sional cruise. John’s not one to dwell on the odd stone chip, though, and the wagon has been en­listed as a daily-driver ev­ery now and then, not to men­tion into use as a family-hauler on the week­end.

You shouldn’t need fur­ther proof that mod­i­fied wag­ons are cool — when they pos­sess as much char­ac­ter, ef­fort­less style, and us­abil­ity as John’s Dat­sun 1600 load-lug­ger, it’s tough to think of an ar­gu­ment to re­fute the fact!

To­gether with friends Richie, Dar­ren, and Scott, John set about mas­sag­ing the 45-year-old steel­work back to ar­row-straight per­fec­tion. A chal­leng­ing as­pect of the panel-work process reared its head when the team re­al­ized that the 1600 wagon’s front doors are unique to the bodyshell, but it was soon dis­cov­ered the driver’s door didn’t quite fit cor­rectly, as it was a sedan part!


EX­TE­RIOR PAINT: Cus­tom metal­lic grey based on R35 GT-R EN­HANCE­MENTS: Dat­sun Blue­bird Su­per­sonic grille, chin spoiler, halo­gen head­light con­ver­sion, yel­low high beams

SHOES WHEELS: (F) 15x7 (+7) Work CR01, (R) 15x8-inch (-7) Work CR01 TYRES: (F) 155/50R15 Achilles, (R) 185/50R15 Achilles

The brakes are kind of “what V-Sport does”, and the 1600 show­cases a beau­ti­fully overkill set of End­less four­pot front and two-pot rear calipers grasp­ing 296mm front and 280mm rear DBA ro­tors, a combo that fights for at­ten­tion with the Dat­sun’s wheels

SUP­PORT STRUTS: Air Lift univer­sal front struts with 280ZX hubs, Air Lift airbags BRAKES: (F) End­less four-pot calipers, 296mm DBA slot­ted ro­tors; (R) End­less two-pot calipers, 290mm DBA slot­ted ro­tors EX­TRA: Cus­tom four-link, CXRac­ing rose-jointed front arms, rose-jointed rear four-link, Ac­cuair e-Level airbag-con­trol sys­tem DRIVELINE GEAR­BOX: SR20 five-speed CLUTCH: Exedy heavy-duty sprung-cen­tre DIFF: Short­ened R31 Sky­line LSD

IN­TE­RIOR SEATS: (F) Red leather– trimmed Re­caro re­clin­able STEER­ING WHEEL: Nardi Deep Corn INSTRUMENTATION: Dat­sun 1600 SSS tacho in­stru­ment clus­ter ICE: JL au­dio two-way 6.5inch splits, JL Au­dio 10-inch sub, JL Au­dio five-chan­nel amp, Pi­o­neer head unit EX­TRA: Ac­cuair e-Level Con­troller, full trim in red leather, red loop-pile car­pet through­out, rear screen and side win­dow vene­tian blinds, Dy­na­mat through­out, cus­tom cen­tre con­sole, mod­i­fied trans­mis­sion tun­nel, Nismo Du­ra­con gear knob, cus­tom boot in­stall with Dat­sun ‘Su­per­sonic’ logo, cus­tom speaker pods in kick pan­els

DRIVER PRO­FILE DRIVER/OWNER: John Healey AGE: 37 LO­CA­TION: Arn­dell Park, New South Wales, Aus­tralia OC­CU­PA­TION: Man­ager

THANKS: Todd, Greg, Brett, Scott, Dar­ren, V-Sport, Emtron Aus­tralia, Scott’s Pres­tige Panel and Paint, In­sight Motorsport, King Trim

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