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Thinking of Buying a Datsun Roadster?

My 2 cents worth Buyers Guide...

I strongly urge you to learn as much about Datsun Roadsters as possible before purchasing a car. I would shamelessly suggest you pick up a copy of our catalog insert, and the roadster magazine article book.

I would also humbly suggest that you familiarize yourself on the various vin numbers and characteristics of the different years and models. This may help you spot a car that is a compilation of other cars. It still may be a nice car that's fun to drive, reliable and looks good, but you should know what's what up front. The critical things are of course making sure the frame number matches the title so you really are buying that car (except on some 70s, other vin locations are not legal vin tags). See vin info for more on this. Some states provide information on previous owners to aid in your historical research. We may have previous owner information on the car since we've been in business so long, all I can offer though is to contact the previous owner and ask if they'd mind being contacted by you (or calling you collect, emailing you etc.) We do not release any information like this without the person's express permission. I wish those %@#$#&% companies that we are all forced to use (banks, insurance companies etc.,)would adopt this policy.

When I have bought cars to fix up (I use the word "restore" very carefully) I have sometimes found my task much easier with a car that had some damage and had hardly any work done to it. Some cars that are repaired, body-wise or mechanically, end up with more problems than they started with. I've also found the cars that have had 15 owners usually suffer from more mechanical problems than the "fewer-owner" cars. People don't seem to care as much with a short term pet in the driveway as they do with a long term friend. These are of course gross generalizations. And although it's always nice to pay nothing for something, you may discover later, painfully, that sometimes spending a little more for a nicer car would have made sense. Just depends on your hurry to have it just so, and how much you want to work on it and "pay as you go."

There are not many facts when it comes to discussing the ins and outs of which car to buy. A car this old and this style defies any attempt to objectively compare good and bad points. It's all opinion, and as you talk to people I'm sure you'll get a basket from which to choose your answers. These cars are diversions, mistresses, excuses to buy tools, totally impractical and serve no real purpose except one, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of life!

I wouldn't buy any car, Datsun Roadster, Porsche, Dodge Viper or Borgward Isabella, as an investment or a way to make money. Car values go up and down, depending on the amount of speculators in the market at the time. It's nice to be able to recoup some of your financial expenditures if and when you want to sell it, and sports cars in general seem to allow that to some degree. (Just don't factor in the inflation rate, loss of the use of the money elsewhere, insurance, taxes, etc etc.) T-bills and no-load mutual funds may look nice in your retirement portfolio, but they don't have quite the same exhaust note or adrenalin producing ability that your Datsun does as you run down that winding road.

In your quest for a roadster you have to decide a few things in advance (unless nothing matters than owning a Datsun Roadster, any Datsun Roadster! Hey...a TRUE ENTHUSIAST!

The U20 engine has a lot more zip under the hood, but is a lot more expensive to rebuild. Roughly 15,000 of the engines were produced and they are a popular item to put in the 1500 and 1600 as it is basically a bolt in operation. They aren't any more tempermental than any other engine as long as the various idiosyncrasies are dealt with in a timely manner. The solex carb version, whether original or later converted many find unpleasant in a day to day situation. If you love to blast around with your foot in it you'll love them, if you like a wide torque band so you can put along at a a lower rpm you may not. There's no free lunch.

The early 1600 engines (below R-40000) have 3 main bearings versus 5 in the later cars. Don't be put off by what seems to be a deficiency. The 3 main bearings seem to be as durable or more so than the 5-mains and the oiling seems to be better on the 3 bearings it does have.

The 1500 is a little bit less powerful than the 1600 and a little more quaint, especially the rare 1963 single carburetor model. Many of the parts in the 1600 and 1500 were used in tens of thousands of engines, some fairly recent, in addition to the approximately 120,000 "R" engines.

The biggest difference is low windshield (63-67 1/2) versus high windshield (68-70). Drive both before you decide on looks alone.

Cars from 1968 on have a better padded interior and steering wheel center. In 1967 1/2 the brake system was changed to a dual system so if you lose a wheel you don't lose the entire system. A collapsible steering column was added so in a bad accident the steering wheel doesn't get pushed towards you. The 67 and earlier cars have a "classic" looking chrome trimmed interior. The 67 1/2 is between the two, it has a flat dash like the early cars, but everything is black and dull silver to satisfy the well-meaning but often backwards safety regulations. Don't want you to have an accident caused by the sun hitting the console lock! The dual brakes and collapsible column were a great improvement, I wish they could have stopped at that.

You can check our section on production
amounts, but most people seem to enjoy their roadster just as much if it's "common" as those with the rarer ones. None of the Datsun Roadsters are particularly plentiful, as a group they represent only about 1/10th of the MGB population. There are the purists that feel you must have a car with a single digit vin, or the last one made. You'll find cars that are kept as stock as possible and ones that have mild alterations or upgrades, and some just wild. There are as many different categories as there are owners, and each seems to bring a nice price if it is a nice car.

The most sought after car has always been the 67 2000. Only about 650 left hand drives were made. It is the only 2000 with the low windshield and except for a few 68's sold before Jan 1, 1968, the only one that could have come originally with the 150hp Solex Option. During the late 80s some of these in Japan were selling for the equivalent of $30,000. Things have calmed down greatly since then in Japan but for a few

There's also a growing number of people really trying to do justice to the early 1500s, which are rare from production numbers and age.

The bugaboos of having the original engine# that came with the car, or the original color paint don't seem to alter the price of the roadsters. Paint can be redone anytime, and having an "original number" engine might make a difference someday, but when?

I would pay far more attention to crude patch jobs to repair an accident or rust. Anything can be repaired or "re-repaired" but at what cost? It is a time consuming job to repair cars properly, and unfortunately there are a lot of frustrated sculptors working in body shops that apply body filler like they are doing their 3rd grade clay-art project. If a car is known to have had an accident, and being 30 years old makes it likely, be sure to check the frame of the car for ripples or even tears near the front and rear ends. Have an alignment shop make sure the front end can be aligned. If it's been hit hard enough it may not be able to be aligned without straightening the frame. It may look fine, but may never track straight, and/or may wear out tires extremely fast. The cars usually don't have rear frame damage as most accidents that would damage that nice strong frame would really demolish the body, but it's always worth a look. Front frame damage is far more likely, as the car frame is designed somewhat to crush inward, either to absorb an accident's force or just because the frame is typically lighter on any car towards the outer ends. If looking for typical accident evidence, usually the inner fender isn't replaced, and is left in a slightly "crinkled" state. You can see it by looking in the space behind the grill, in front of the radiator all the way to the left or right. In the rear open up the trunk and look at the floor and wheel wells. A crack in the trunk floor under the tire is quite common just due to the stress of the tire above, and gas tank below. I've seen more than a couple cars that have been rearended and fixed by cutting off the entire rear half (just behind the seats) of another car and tacking it on. I'm not talking about a careful professsional fully welded reattachment, but a slapped on new half with a few welded or bolted together spots and a liberal amount of some kind of goo to keep the water out. You can get away with something like this because the roadster has an extremely strong frame, but you still have a mess unless it is done properly. It's worth putting the car up on a hoist and having someone go over the body if you are paying a pretty penny (or not). Carpet can hide serious floor problems.

If a car, any car, has 50-100,000 miles on it, it can need virtually anything, whether it is a 35 year old Datsun or a 4 year old Ford. If it's been serviced improperly or not serviced at all it can need just about anything sooner. It's part of car ownership, you take care of the problems and you're done with them. Engine wise, the basic block assembly can have a long life with care. There are many things to look for on the roadsters, some common, some not, some easily checked, some not. These all become negotiable points on purchase. Some of the repairs if caught at a certain point can be economical to deal with, and financially disastrous later. Typical expensive mechanical problems include steering box gear damage on Type A boxes (63-mid 69); loose upper timing chain, (2000), and unusual transmission noises, especially on the 1600. Keep in mind that to do a clutch replacement you have to pull the engine and transmission, usually a 10+ hour job for a typical shop. The catalog
insert mentioned above has a section on many of these types of situations and if your question isn't answered there I might answer your email if I feel especially merciful that day; assuming my fingers and/or mind aren't numb from tearing cars apart, packing boxes and banging on this keyboard. Dark hydraulic fluid usually indicates moisture in the system, which can rust the front calipers. Finding no oil in the steering box, or low oil in the transmission and differential is also a sign of not much care. I've drained a couple of transmissions lately that haven't had the amount of oil it takes to fill my pressure washer!

Sometimes the obvious can escape detection. One item is just looking at the car from 8 feet away. Do each front fender have the same flare over the wheel? How about each back fender? They'll look different front and back, but shouldn't LEFT AND RIGHT! Many cars have been repaired with a junk yard fender that doesn't match. Many of the parts look the same...until you look at them twice! As we expand the sheet metal section of this website you'll be able to see the different flares that different years have, but whatever the car has, they should match, especially on the rear which is $$$$ to redo later.

Another item which may damage a car's future value to purists (but still be a great car) is the installation of the wrong year body on the frame. We see this now and then. There is no vin number stamped on the body, so the body itself is just a replacement part I guess. Sometimes this will give itself away by the hole for the shifter being modified, something you can see with the car on a hoist. You can see examples of unmodified floors here.

Much of the aspects of an inspection and test drive are covered by your typical "how to buy a car" books and are worth reading up. A general inspection by a shop that does that sort of thing may bring up some other concerns. It's hard though to not let your rational mind be overcome by what you feel when you are going through the gears with the top down on a sunny day on the test drive. This is especially true if you're used to a newer "Did I drive over a curb dear?" cars. Forget that the car is such a bright color your sunglasses don't even help, forget the fact that those two girls just pointed at you, forget that suddenly you're back in high school and remember the old rules. Turn the radio off, put the top up, roll the windows up and start LISTENING. Rod knock? Piston Slap? Transmission Howl? Speedo Whining?



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