SR20DET-Powered Datsun 510 Proves Family Members Make The Best Organ Donors
Photography by Daniel Piker
Glance at it and this car looks like nothing more than your average modified 510; the flares hint at more, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary if you’ve been to a Datsun get together before. Get closer, though, and you’ll find a few more hints.
The interior says Schroth and Recaro and what little of it is left is part of some essential purpose. No longer a ‘70s compact car on the inside, there’s a few missing bits on the exterior too: a missing headlight for one. It’s had its socket repurposed as an air duct, and the owner tells me it’s not just for the look. Keegan opens the hood and I get to see what needs feeding: keeping it in the family, he’s tucked a Nissan SR20DET in the Datsun’s bay. Dual overhead cams, turbocharged, fuel-injected, none of which were featured in this space in 1972.
Now that I’ve spoiled the surprise, let’s trace some of the car’s history. Winding back the clock to 1972, the original owner bought the car fresh off of the showroom floor. Shortly after he did, it was modified with adjustments to the front camber along with thicker front sway bars, an added rear sway bar, lowering springs all around, additional steering box bracing, and some BRE (they know a thing or two about these cars) fiberglass fender flares.
Already on the right track, the original owner began racing his hot Datsun and kept on doing so up until around the mid ‘80s! That’s when he went off the track and smashed in the front driver’s side, and as these things go, the car then sat in his garage with all sorts of racing parts just sitting in it until the mid 2000s, when he sadly passed away. In 2007, Keegan’s friend bought the car from the estate sale—typically these are where you find mint-condition malaise-era station wagons and mid-size Buick sedans, not cool period-correct track cars.
One of the coolest and most sentimental things that came with the car was its original logbook. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it sat for so many years, all the pages had stuck together and became one thick block, never to be opened again… However, on a brighter side, Dallas (the friend who purchased it at the estate sale) took the neglected 510 under his care and completely stripped it down, had the bent bits straightened out, and then buttoned it back up and repainted it. After that though, the Datsun was put back into a corner to sit for another eight years.
Finally, in January of 2015, Keegan decided it was time for a project car and so bought the 510 shell from his buddy. With a set three-month goal of getting the car up and going, Keegan got it done and had the car running. Poorly, but still, running! When April rolled around, they noticed that the L18 (a 1.8L inline-four) they had put in it started having some serious problems, and that only three of the cylinders were firing. Wanting nothing to do with the ongoing headache, Keegan went and bought an L20 (a 2L) for a whopping $100, and then went on to rebuild it with R1 motorcycle carbs mounted on a custom intake manifold.
At this point, Keegan decided to get rid of the old L18 and gave it to his friend Kevin so he could put it into a 1978 Datsun B210 GX. Not thinking much of it, he enjoyed driving around in his rebuilt 510 for a worry-free year and a half.
In the early spring of 2017, Keegan gets a phone call from Kevin who tells him that he’s coming over to race: it seems Kevin had taken the L18, rebuilt it, and made it as fast as possible for the least amount of money possible, always a good recipe. He’d taken a turbo from a Volvo—$20—paired it with a random junkyard intercooler and McGeyver’d it into life just to be able to beat his friend in a race with his old motor. He whooped Keegan in the drag, only to blow up the L18 shortly after, surprising few people in the process.
Naturally, Keegan couldn’t let this recorded win stand though, so he contemplated his options. The best choice came out to be the well-loved SR20DET from the Silvia S14, so he started on swapping in his Datsun 510’s third, and current, motor, which itself has quite a bit of history. It traveled from Japan to Canada, then between a couple more owners before ultimately finding a home in the hands of Keegan.
To be able to fit the SR20 in the 510, Keegan changed to a JB Coachwerks custom front subframe that uses an MR2 manual steering rack, along with custom steering knuckles. With the process just beginning, a custom 3” exhaust was made along with headers and an outlet pipe from Tomei, which were paired with a Mishimoto intercooler and an AEM water-methanol injection system. The car was then fully rewired by Keegan’s friend Josh, and it all fired up perfectly on the first try.
Keegan soon went on and started adding more parts worthy enough to deem this car as the Frankenstein’s monster of Datsun 510s. First on the list was a 2004 Subaru STI rear differential paired with T3 STI sub-shafts, which used a custom driveline to be able to fit it to the SR20’s five-speed. Moving on to the brakes, a 7/8” master cylinder was added with a 1979 Datsun B210 brake booster. The front units were replaced with 1979 280ZX rotors and calipers, and the rears were changed to 1986 Nissan Maxima calipers with 1984 Nissan 280ZX rotors.
As for the suspension, nearly everything was redone and upgraded. Polyurethane bushings replaced tired old rubber everywhere that was possible, and the sway bars were replaced with custom fabricated versions built to spec. 1979 280ZX front struts were sectioned and converted into coilovers by Garage Autohero with Koni inserts and Eibach springs. QA1 rear coilovers and Eibach springs live in the rear.
Keeping the exterior basically the same as it was when he bought the car, Keegan added 15×7” Weds Autobahn wheels, which are an obvious tasteful choice for vintage Japanese cars like this. Aside from that, not much else was added except for the front Sparco tow straps and an LED headlight conversion. Recaro LX seats with Schroth Rallye 4 ASM belts hold the two occupants inside, and Speedhut custom gauges line the sparse dash in front.
While waiting on Kevin to rebuild his Datsun B210, Keegan has ended up building an animal of a car to take it on in their next friendly meeting on an empty road, with power outputs of 300whp and 300wtq on a chassis only weighing 2,200lbs quoted for the 510 you see here. With the tension rising in this Datsun arms race, we can only guess that it will be enough for Keegan to come out on top, and Kevin’s in the process of building a Turbo KA24DE from a 240SX…