- 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 carburettors and a recent rebuild.
- The auction runs until 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: There’s been a sporty Datsun in American showrooms for the past five years.
Here, 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 open car that combines the best elements of open British sports cars with a stout 2.0 liter engine and Japanese build quality. With the auction expected to end on Tuesday, February 28, bidding is currently at $11,500.
Car and Drivermarked 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, consistently scoring class wins in SCCA races. It was the cheapest sports car in its segment, but it still beat the pants off everyone else.
Overseas, the SRL311 was known as the Fairlady, as was the 240Z. The Fairlady nameplate can trace its heritage back to the 1950s, with the second generation of cars arriving in the US in 1960. These cars are nice and cheerful, but pretty terrible to drive. They were based on the Datsun pickup, and they feel like it.
The later 1600 Roadster and the 2000 Roadster that followed are completely 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 at the rear. The engine was first a 1.6-liter OHV four-cylinder, which later received five main bearings for durability. The later 2000 Roadsters, like this example, saw a displacement bump to 2.0 liters, gained a five-speed manual transmission, and could be ordered with a competition package with dual carburetors. Power was rated at 150 hp SAE gross, quite lively for the 1960s, especially in a car that weighed barely more than 2000 pounds.
Along with many podium finishes, the road star also stars in an unknown David vs. Goliath Rivalry. When Toyota entered the beautiful 2000GT into 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 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 and win a few races. Hino was snapped up by Toyota in the 1960s and turned only to truck production—namely the Hilux. But the president of Hino was still on good terms with Brock, and he happened to go to school with the then president of Nissan. Brock couldn’t get Datsun USA to part with some Roadsters; instead, Brock’s came directly from Japan.
What followed was a game of cat and mouse where Brock would show up at races outside of California where Shelby’s 2000GT team hoped to score an easy win or two. The Roadsters ran in a different class, but it was easy enough to keep up with the 2000GTs and slip past the rival Porsches and Triumphs. In the end, the 2000GT team lost the championship, and Toyota slunk home in shame.
Even without the fun footnotes of early Japanese SCCA history, the 2000 Roadster is a great driver. The 240Z and the 510 are more famous, but you can’t beat an open car for full engagement. This example is set up as a driver’s car, with a tuned suspension, Dunlop Direzza performance tires, and a host of recent engine work. The decals that once covered the bottom 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.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He grew up with his knuckles on British cars, came of age in the golden age of Japanese sport-compact performance, and started writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, be it the races. career of Walter Cronkite or the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to constantly buy Hot Wheels.