Q: How long did it take you to prepare the car for this trip?
A: I opted to just freshen the car up mechanically for this trip, as the trim and finish was in ok-but-not-stellar shape and I figured it’d just get beat up anyway. I pulled the motor, transmission, suspension, brake system, and rear end out, re-gasketed, re-bearing’d, and re-sealed everything, replaced things that looked like they needed replacing, and swapped out the stock four speed transmission for a five speed out of a ’69, as I figured I’d appreciate the extra gear going through the Midwest. Everything on the car other than the five speed and the wheels and tires is stock for the '67. All of this took about six weeks.
Q: How has the car been behaving/performing so far?
A: It’s been amazingly good. My only real breakage was a freak hardware failure on a brand new lower ball joint, where I luckily avoided any real damage (and didn’t put the car in the ditch), but other than that it’s been a trouper. The other issues have been a leaky radiator petcock (replaced with a plug), a leaky oil pressure sending unit (replaced with a new one), and an electrical short from an insulation failure (taped up). I also did some proactive maintenance, first when one of my alternator bearings started making some ugly noises (replaced the alternator in Portland, Oregon), and then when one of the transmission bearings also started making some bad noises (new bearing installed at a friend’s house in Dayton, Ohio). I actually knew about the transmission bearing before I left, but I was too lazy to tear it all down to get at it, going instead with the “oh, it’ll be fine” plan. Luckily, the car is very easy to work on; I had the new parts drop shipped to Dayton and then did a motor and transmission pull, transmission teardown and rebuild, and full reassembly between breakfast and dinner on a Saturday. It’s a great car.
Q: What was the most exciting thing you have seen so far?
A: If I was being sassy, I’d probably say that seeing the car finally come to a stop while still on the pavement after losing a lower ball joint and stuffing the tire up into the fender was the most exciting thing—from a pure adrenaline standpoint, the moment that thing broke was the clear winner in that category. However, it’s really hard to pick out a single thing as the most exciting, as there have been so many things that have been exciting and interesting and sublime, all in their own ways. Driving down a tiny dirt road through the redwoods in northern California was amazing, like being in a cathedral. Putting the car on a ferry to the San Juan Islands at sunrise was a moment I won’t forget. Hiking through lava tubes at Lassen was surreal. Finally seeing and feeling and smelling Yellowstone after years of just looking at postcards was a humbling experience. Waiting for a bison traffic jam in South Dakota was unusual and a little intimidating. Devil’s Tower in a thunderstorm at night was awe-inspiring and a bit spooky. Watching the tides transform the Bay of Fundy while the tidal bore rips down the river was unbelievable. And driving top down through Times Square through a sea of humanity in a vintage sports car after 20,000 miles of travelling to get there was incredibly gratifying. I’m looking forward to what the rest of the trip will bring.
Q: Have you met other vintage car enthusiasts in this trip?
A: I have met many vintage car enthusiasts, and they’ve been some of the most warm and generous people I’ve run across on the journey. I was able to attend two of the big Datsun Roadster meets, the one in Solvang, California (on the pre-trip shakedown run), and the one at Mount Shasta (in month two of the trip), and it was great to see that many fellow enthusiasts in one place. I’ve also been able to stop in at several local car shows (and sometimes participate) all over the country as well, and all of those have been great. Everybody seems to appreciate seeing the car actually being driven, and it gets more attention than I expected. In fact, the car seems to have hit some sort of "sweet spot" in the pantheon of sports cars, where it’s interesting enough to be pretty cool, while not so exotic that it’s completely unapproachable. It’ll turn heads first just because it’s unusual, but then when people see it’s a Datsun, they really open up—everybody’s uncle had a 240Z, lots of people drove to college in B210s, somebody’s brother always has an indestructible Sentra with 350,000 miles on it, and they love the fact that this car is the great grandfather of all of those. I suspect that I wouldn’t be meeting as many people or having as many friendly conversations with locals at gas stations if I was driving a Ferrari or an Aston Martin.
I also have to give a shout out to the Datsun Roadster community at large. I’ve had a support group cheering me on via the internet for the whole trip, and many of them have opened their homes to me, shown me around their local areas, taken me to dinner, or otherwise just been fantastically helpful and generous people. It’s really made the trip more special.