Datsun 510: Are You Sure?

by Frank Ewald - with John Paul Ellis

This Datsun 510 has belonged to John Paul Ellis for twelve years. His father bought it for him as a sixteenth birthday present. It needed work. And it sat for a long time while John Paul considered what to do with it. There were some significant factors that needed to be taken into consideration. First of all, this was a Datsun 510. It had a race history and came with a full cage. Not something you would want to mess with. Second, this car was a gift from his dad. JP’s dad is a Datsun fanatic. I do not doubt that his dad had a vision in mind for this car. Third, everyone is watching. Especially in this day and age of Twitter, FaceBook, auto forums, and more. They are watching and they will gladly comment about errors you have made and why you should not have done what you did. (Come on, some of you are already doing this and you have not even finished the first paragraph!) And finally, this Datsun 510 belonged to Tom Hnatiw before it became JPs.  Tom Hnatiw was a racer, a motor journalist, a race announcer, a television producer. Sadly, Tom passed away in July 2012, so did not get to see the 510 rebuilt.


We all say that building a car is for ourselves and we don't care what others think about it - but most of us do care.  That's irrelevant here, because you cannot help but like this car! Owned and raced previously by Canadian auto journalist Tom Hnatiw, John Paul has waited twelve years to build it into the car he wanted.

Not only was this build being watched by the normal folks ready to offer their ‘two cents’ worth when the project fell apart, but JP had the scrutiny of his dad and the challenge of building a car that had a history. Not just a classic automobile, but a classic automobile plus. So with this surrounding him, JP pulled out the saws, torches, and welders and set out to create the car that had been populating his dreams since he was sixteen. Many of us might have considered a BRE replica, but JP wanted more. That more included a Honda F20C.


The AP1 engine sits there like it was made to be there. And in this case, it was. You have to admire the clean installation.

My friend’s parents owned a Datsun 510. It was a family hauler – and as a kid that’s all I viewed it as. I had no access to racing information in the early seventies so I had no idea that this boxy little car was an award winning race car. It was a car that could be purchased new for around $2000. It came with disc brakes, MacPherson struts, and quickly became known as the “poor man’s BMW”. Of course, growing up in farm country I did not even know what a BMW looked like – unless it came on two wheels. (I was into motorcycles then, not cars.)


Datsun 510s have been successful on the track for decades. They're a vehicle that simply works. Add the F20C from a Honda S2000 and you've created a track beast. JP had no sooner fired it up than he hauled it off to the track to see how it performed. Pic by Jeff Beech.

John Paul’s 510 was not running. Sitting for a dozen years it actually was in the way more than once, and was sometimes moved with less attention to its history than it deserved. It was not forgotten; but it was derelict and at risk of sitting forever. It came with a 1.8 L series engine that was used in vintage endurance racing. Initially considering keeping the blood lines in the family a CA18DET was thought about. Then a KA24DE engine was considered - it was even placed into the engine bay. So was a built SR20VE drivetrain. Purchases were made and plans were in place, but then JP tossed them all out and moved to a 9000 RPM AP1 Honda S2000 engine. It is not the first time that an S2000 engine has been transplanted into a Datsun 510. But no other 1973 Datsun 510 comes with the history that this two door model contains.


After sitting for a decade, the Datsun really required a lot of TLC to get it back and ready for action. The L18 engine was not running. While an awesome engine in its own right, it simply didn't have the punch that was required. CA18DET - too hard to source. KA24DE - easily sourced but not enough power. SR20VE - lots of power, especially if a turbocharger was added. Would this have power and reliability? Pic by John Paul Ellis.


Page 1 of 7 Next Page
Bookmark and Share
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 6:54 AM
Awesome to see a classic car segment on MIQ. Any chance they did a build log and posted progress pics? I'd love to know more about this car. Always looking for more motivation to get to work on my own 510 project.
And now I criticize :/ I'm a bit disappointed they chopped up the firewall and tunnel. Was it that necessary to fit the motor? I put a 4G63 with a Toyota R154 transmission in without cutting anything. A flipped crossmember was all it took. Even using stock Might Max motor mounts and 620 rubber mounts on the stock 510 mounts. The transmission mount is even in the stock location, though it was custom made.
Other than that it looks awesome. I'm not a fan of the bubble flares, but they look right on this car. I'd like to know more about the brakes and suspension setup as well. Nice job.
Nick B
Nick Blink
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 7:42 AM
Love the 510, this one must be a blast with the F20C. Nice car!
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 11:24 AM
Jeff, I mentioned earlier that you'd be interested in the upcoming article - this one. I'd have to have JP comment but I know in my discussion with him he could not fit the setup in without the metal work. And the fender flares do work really well with this car - the fact that they came with the car over a decade ago means they're simply part of it!
Nick, thank you. I just wish I was a foot or so taller so that I could someday possibly drive this car! A short ride and it was fantastic.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 11:26 AM
P.S., Jeff - there's always room for constructive criticism. ;)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 6:11 PM
Aside from the awesomeness of a 9k rpm redline, the S2000 transmission is one of the best feeling/shifting made.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 6:22 PM
I love the build and agree that 9k redline plus that 6 speed is awesome. I would concur that it's the best feeling transmission I've ever driven.

I can't say I've heard of SCAT ducting, but a quick search on it brought up this page where it said it's not recommended for negative pressures. Wouldn't it be a bad choice for an intake?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 8:13 PM
spdracerut, very good points. I didn't dwell on the transmission very much.
MDR, that's a good point. It's a high temperature ductwork but it does specify not good in negative pressure settings. I wonder if the negative pressure is different in aircraft than in automotive settings. Either way, I'll make sure JP is aware of that.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 10:22 AM
Needs some suspension tuning. We can help. Such a cool project!
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 2:11 PM
Hats off to JP for sticking it out. Engine transplants in these cars have timelines measured in months and years, not days. Patience and research required.
I do like how it does not resemble any of the Socal glamour queen 510's we always see...with their spotless and gleaming SR20's, and they all use the exact same components.

Since I am an anonymous internet A-hole, I will now spout my worthless opinion.
(you asked for it Frank!) p.s. this is all in good fun, dont take me too seriously.
+Get a proper aluminum intake tube on there.
+Remove the stickers, all of them. They dont look good on a vintage car.
+Put the front grille and headlight garnishes back on, it looks uncompleted.
+Wheels and tires do not look they fit, they are too large for the arches.
+no white lettering on tires. just no.
+Almost all the chrome trim on the car has been blacked or removed. Combined with the black paint, there is no contrast to bring out those interesting details. I would polish out all the stainless trim to its natural beauty.
+Put the high beams back in there.
+That catch can.... We can do better.
+Strut braces on these cars make a noticeable difference. Take a look.

Not sure why this made it on this site. It is an average 510 swap, nothing too special. It has some sentimental value to the owner and some people he knows, but nothing that concerns the rest of the internet world. Not especially clean, or well executed. Maybe i have just seen so many Datsun's with swaps over the years I am jaded. Sorry!
Having said that. I would buy it in a heartbeat from JP!

Thursday, March 24, 2016 6:28 AM
In my homecountry, there are still a very large following of these 70's Datsuns, such so that there is a very popular series using the lesser 1200 version that, none the less, is quite fun to watch:
Thursday, March 24, 2016 7:26 AM
Marillionado, I've never seen so many old Datsuns in one place at the same time. Thank you for sharing!

Cartechs, I love it. Thank you for posting up. Since the article was written a number of things you've pointed out have been addressed, we'll have to do a checklist to see how many of them! As to why it made it here, it's a car that I really like. So I did the article. Plus, unlike hard parkers, this car was made to be driven on the track and that is what is happening. As a result, function over form/clean. Glad you enjoyed it but when it's up for sale, I'm in line before you! LOL
Post Comment Login or register to post a comment.

MotoIQ Proudly Presents Our Partners:

© 2018 MotoIQ.com