What constitutes perfection? Some would argue it is when you can no longer improve upon what has been done or achieved. I would have to debate that a car can never be perfect. Innovation and competition breeds that drive to be perfect, until that next accomplishment of speed or elegance is achieved. But there are cars that come close. Cars that find a stopping point to be enjoyed as close to that perfect idea as it can be. Can a Datsun 510 be a perfect car? Or better yet, can you perfect the 510?
This Datsun embodies the pursuit of that idea; of being perfect. No, it doesn’t have a turbo, a V8, or fender flares. But step back and recognize what this car is all about. It’s about being the best interpretation of its origin. This car wasn’t sold in 1971 with a turbo, or fuel injection. So why try to over-complicate it? If the old adage is: “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, then this build embodies that. It really is that car you get in after you’ve had a bad day, just to put a smile on your face. The sounds, the smells, the emotion derived from this car is what makes it so good.
Simplicity is rare these days. Especially in the automotive community. With hybrid drivetrains, driver aids, and 10-speed automatics, there seems to be a lack of character developed out of vehicles these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love air conditioning and Bluetooth calls. But, when you’re an enthusiast and you’re looking for raw character, newer cars fall short in my opinion.
Enter Johnny Wildman and his 1971 Datsun 510. Johnny’s love for cars, racing, and especially 510’s, started at an early age. He remembers playing in his uncle’s 510 race car when he was a kid. He said that his uncle’s BRE inspired car was the first race car he ever sat in and it all spiraled from there. It became a bucket list item, a goal of his, to build a 510 per his design. “I wanted to pay attention to the details and create a complete package, not just a compilation of parts” Wildman said . Johnny decided to collaborate with some of the most venerable companies in the Datsun community to accomplish this build.
Over the last four and a half years, Johnny’s 510 has been torn apart, rebuilt, improved. Every addition or modification has been done with a purpose. These changes were done to make this car faster, stronger, and better looking than the original design. It definitely embellishes what Nissan designed back in the 70’s without going too far. This car was built with heart, and it definitely shows.
Starting With A Blank Canvas
The car was completely disassembled and put on a rotisserie to start from the ground up. The chassis was seam welded, sealed and coated before any paint would see the car. Leaving this notoriously rust prone car clean and prepped was no easy task, but definitely a must for a full restoration. Many hours were spent welding holes that used to hold plastic clips from the factory. The four corner lights that stick out like a sore thumb have been deleted and filled. A four point roll cage was added, as this was a build for the street and the track. The car was painted in single stage “vanilla shake” white aviation paint to mimic an original color. This was done so it could be driven, like it should be. If it ever gets a chip, it’s easy to fix.
Everything on the vehicle was color matched to carry out a theme of gunmetal and cream. The Bluebird tail lights were refurbished and painted. They were fitted with sequential firing LED lights inside as well. The grill was also refurbished and painted. The valve cover, you guessed it, painted to match. Attention to detail can be seen across the entire car. This seems to come naturally to Johnny as one would expect from an aviation technician. There are little hints of aircraft quality throughout the build.
Holding It All To The Ground
The suspension has been updated to modern coilover technology from Troy Ermish Racing. Utilizing 280zx front struts with Koni inserts in the front and QA1 shocks in the rear, Troy has developed a suspension package for the 510 that is incredibly adjustable for the street and the track. The car has upgraded control arms, steering arms, and a strengthened steering kit from Ermish as well. Completing the suspension update is the fully adjustable rear crossmember to dial in camber, toe, and allow for a three inch exhaust to pass through.
The car was corner balanced, aligned, and initially set up by Troy as well. With all of the modifications, including the addition of the roll cage, the car weighs in at 2090 pounds. It’s evident why Johnny employed the knowledge and products from Ermish Racing. Troy mentioned, “I have had the opportunity to set up close to two hundred 510’s over the last twenty five years.” It’s safe to say Troy knows what he’s doing when it comes to the 510’s chassis.
Troy also mentioned, “The brake package on Johnny’s car is great for the street, and fully competent on the track as well with a simple pad change to handle track use.” It consists of Wilwood calipers all around with two piece rotors in the front, while single piece rotors reside out back. Individual Wilwood master cylinders control the front and rear stopping power. This is a custom design by Ermish to fit the 280zx struts and 15” Watanabe three-piece wheels used on the car. The vintage Watanabes were stripped, polished, and painted to match to motif of the build as well. They are wrapped in Federal RS-R 195/50zr15 sticky street rubber to take advantage of all suspension upgrades and help put down as much of the horsepower to the ground as possible.
Four Cylinders Of Fury Under The Hood
So how do you take advantage of all the new grip and lightweight chassis? You add more horsepower. The Rebello Racing L Series engine was punched out to 2360cc enabling it to produce 234hp at 6400 RPM, and 218 lb-ft at 4900 RPM. Compare this to the factory specs of the L-16 at 96hp and 100 lb-ft, and you end up with a massive increase in power and fun.
Dave Rebello mentioned; “These are the same quality parts we put in our race engines with a different crank and rod combo to increase the displacement.” He also mentioned the street camshaft chosen for this allows for power all the way to redline at 7200 RPM. From what Johnny has said about this car, it cruises around town very well and is quite impressive in the speed department. Keep in mind it has a better power to weight ratio than the outgoing Mitsubishi EVOx. It’s not scary fast, but it’s predictable. It begs you to drive it at it’s limits. That’s what it was built for.
All the air the engine can use goes through two FAJS side-draft carburetors. They are mounted to a custom Rebello intake manifold. A Nissan competition header is mated to a custom exhaust for the best flow and fit possible. It really gives the car a sound unlike most vehicles today. The rest of the engine bay has been decluttered for visual appeal as well as safety. It’s much easier to find an issue at the track if you can see everything clearly. An MSD 6AL ignition box is used in cooperation with custom MSD wires that were made to spec for reliability and better performance over factory replacements. Keeping temperatures under control is a race-spec radiator from Ermish Racing with a SPAL fan attached. Everything in the engine bay is very well thought out.
Feeding this new power plant is a 14 gallon unit filled with 91 octane. Pyrotect created a custom fuel cell that sits flush in the trunk. An in-tank electric fuel pump helps keep everything tidy inside. The pump feeds proper AN-lines to an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator. It is a low pressure specific unit from Aeromotive that allows the user to set it all the way down to 1psi. However, these carbs like fuel fed at just under 4psi.
A lightweight DP Racing flywheel and six-puck clutch help the violence of the L-23.6 connect to the ground. This all goes through a 280zx five-speed transmission, aluminum driveshaft, and ultimately to a Subaru LSD. The factory U-joint axles were replaced by a much stronger and efficient CV upgrade offered by Ermish Racing.
All Business Inside
Simple but efficient seems to be the theme of this car as we get to the interior. Two Sparco Sprint seats hold the driver and passenger in place while going through the gears. They are mated with four point Sparco cam-lock harnesses. Finishing off the driver’s controls is Sparco’s L777 steering wheel and a hand machined delrin shift knob. An impressive observation about the interior is the immaculate factory dash. It is rare these days to find a plastic dash from the 70’s that isn’t cracked. The carpet is removable with quick snaps to lose that little bit of weight for precious time at the racetrack. DP Racing modified the original pedal assembly, adding a balance bar to the brakes for fine tuning of brake pressure.
A very cool touch, literally and figuratively, is a push-button start switch out of an R35 Nissan GTR. A Switch-Pros keypad and Racepak IQ3 dash are the only creature comforts inside. Other than that, it’s the sound of the wind rushing by, the road underneath you, and all 2360cc’s screaming to 7200 RPM is what this car has to offer.
When viewing this car as a complete idea, it truly is a complete package, and one of the best interpretations of the 510 design. It brings a touch of modern while staying true to its classic roots. This 510 evokes a certain feeling that is hard to describe to those who aren’t enthusiasts. It will bring you back to that moment when you realized cars were more to you than just transportation. And it will definitely put a smile on your face.