Datsun 510: Are You Sure?

Datsun 510: Are You Sure?

by Frank Ewald – with John Paul Ellis

This Datsun 510 has belonged to John Paul Ellis for twelve years. His father bought it for him as a sixteenth birthday present. It needed work. And it sat for a long time while John Paul considered what to do with it. There were some significant factors that needed to be taken into consideration. First of all, this was a Datsun 510. It had a race history and came with a full cage. Not something you would want to mess with. Second, this car was a gift from his dad. JP’s dad is a Datsun fanatic. I do not doubt that his dad had a vision in mind for this car. Third, everyone is watching. Especially in this day and age of Twitter, FaceBook, auto forums, and more. They are watching and they will gladly comment about errors you have made and why you should not have done what you did. (Come on, some of you are already doing this and you have not even finished the first paragraph!) And finally, this Datsun 510 belonged to Tom Hnatiw before it became JPs.  Tom Hnatiw was a racer, a motor journalist, a race announcer, a television producer. Sadly, Tom passed away in July 2012, so did not get to see the 510 rebuilt.


We all say that building a car is for ourselves and we don't care what others think about it – but most of us do care.  That's irrelevant here, because you cannot help but like this car! Owned and raced previously by Canadian auto journalist Tom Hnatiw, John Paul has waited twelve years to build it into the car he wanted.

Not only was this build being watched by the normal folks ready to offer their ‘two cents’ worth when the project fell apart, but JP had the scrutiny of his dad and the challenge of building a car that had a history. Not just a classic automobile, but a classic automobile plus. So with this surrounding him, JP pulled out the saws, torches, and welders and set out to create the car that had been populating his dreams since he was sixteen. Many of us might have considered a BRE replica, but JP wanted more. That more included a Honda F20C.


The AP1 engine sits there like it was made to be there. And in this case, it was. You have to admire the clean installation.

My friend’s parents owned a Datsun 510. It was a family hauler – and as a kid that’s all I viewed it as. I had no access to racing information in the early seventies so I had no idea that this boxy little car was an award winning race car. It was a car that could be purchased new for around $2000. It came with disc brakes, MacPherson struts, and quickly became known as the “poor man’s BMW”. Of course, growing up in farm country I did not even know what a BMW looked like – unless it came on two wheels. (I was into motorcycles then, not cars.)


Datsun 510s have been successful on the track for decades. They're a vehicle that simply works. Add the F20C from a Honda S2000 and you've created a track beast. JP had no sooner fired it up than he hauled it off to the track to see how it performed. Pic by Jeff Beech.

John Paul’s 510 was not running. Sitting for a dozen years it actually was in the way more than once, and was sometimes moved with less attention to its history than it deserved. It was not forgotten; but it was derelict and at risk of sitting forever. It came with a 1.8 L series engine that was used in vintage endurance racing. Initially considering keeping the blood lines in the family a CA18DET was thought about. Then a KA24DE engine was considered – it was even placed into the engine bay. So was a built SR20VE drivetrain. Purchases were made and plans were in place, but then JP tossed them all out and moved to a 9000 RPM AP1 Honda S2000 engine. It is not the first time that an S2000 engine has been transplanted into a Datsun 510. But no other 1973 Datsun 510 comes with the history that this two door model contains.


After sitting for a decade, the Datsun really required a lot of TLC to get it back and ready for action. The L18 engine was not running. While an awesome engine in its own right, it simply didn't have the punch that was required. CA18DET – too hard to source. KA24DE – easily sourced but not enough power. SR20VE – lots of power, especially if a turbocharger was added. Would this have power and reliability? Pic by John Paul Ellis.


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