From Restoration to Chauffeuring a World Champion
Owner: Dharma Krishnan
Year, Make, and Model: 1963 Datsun Fairlady Roadster 1500
Location: Selangor, Malaysia
Photographers: Sukun Wong
My father owned a classic car restoration garage, “Krishnan Autocraft” where we live and I am the second generation owner of the business now with my father’s supervision. I own a 1963 Datsun Fairlady Roadster 1500. This particular model was the first serious attempt by a Japanese car maker to make a sports car intended to compete with the European makes and, in my opinion, they succeeded.
This Fairlady was actually sent to us for an engine repair by a customer who is a local car dealer, after he took the car in on trade. The engine parts were not available locally and needed to be ordered abroad and so the owner wanted to swap in a later Nissan 1200 engine. We were not happy performing this swap as it would ruin the originality. Coincidently I was hunting for a rare classic convertible, so I offered to buy it as is and the deal went smoothly. The reason I was so interested in this car was the unique look it had, thanks to the designer Mr. Hidehiro Iizuka who sketched out this design, similar to a European look, with features like a hood scoop, stacked rear lights, sideways-mounted third seat, and a roaring G-series Datsun engine with twin Hitachi-SU carbs.
The Datsun Roadster has become a bit of an “invisible classic” in the world sports car scene. It appeared at a time when the Japanese auto industry was not well respected, and few observers took much notice. It was seen as derivative of other designs of the era. It has been most often accused of being a copy of the MGB, although they both came out in the same year.
But the true significance of the Datsun Roadster (called a “Fairlady” in Japan) goes far beyond that. In its evolution into the 1600 and 2000 versions, it represents the beginnings of a turning point in the auto industry and the end of a lineage of sports cars. The next sports car Datsun produced was the 240Z, which redefined what an affordable sports car was. And just to clear up one little point, the company’s name is Nissan; the make of car is Datsun. Kind of like General Motors and Chevrolet.
I purchased this car in 2003 and restored it over nearly three years. I only started the restoration in 2005, and it took some time because we have other clients’ projects to work on. When I got the car, it was in bad shape with modified rear MG lights, front Morris indicator lamps, and lots of alterations here and there where people might confuse it with an MG. I stripped the whole car for a complete respray, overhauled the engine and transmission, and replaced the complete brake system, suspension and steering.
After the car was completed, the first ever event I attended was the Malaysian F1 Drivers Parade in March 2008. My car was assigned to chauffeur World Champion Fernando Alonso around the circuit! It was an amazing moment for me as an F1 fan and I was very nervous to drive the Sepang circuit with a double World Champion in my car. Fernando was kind enough to sign the Fairlady dash and my model car and cap.
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