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Californian Survivor: 1970 Datsun 1600 Roadster

The Japanese automotive industry has constantly proven that it can learn fast, adapt quickly, and develop innovative vehicles that set new benchmarks in build quality and performance. When you consider that Datsun virtually started from square one following World War II and was producing licensed versions of British cars, that they could progress to rolling vehicles like this 1970 Datsun 1600 Roadster off their line less than 25-years later is a remarkable achievement. This little Roadster had spent its life in California before finding its way to its current location, and it has managed to achieve that rare feat of reaching 2021 without a trace of rust. It is also in sound mechanical health, making it a prime candidate for a restoration project. If you find that prospect tempting, the Datsun is located in Blairstown, New Jersey, and listed for sale here on eBay. It has generated its share of interest, with twenty-three bids pushing the price to $4,550. However, that figure remains short of the seller’s reserve.

When you consider the links Datsun had previously enjoyed with British manufacturers, it was no surprise when they produced vehicles that attempted to capture the essence of classic two-seat convertible sports cars from that country. The 1600 Roadster shares many design features with cars like the MGB, although they generally enjoyed a better build quality in what would become a Japanese tradition. This Beige Gray Metallic Roadster is now 51-years-old, and it is pretty common to find them with some significant rust problems or a history of repairs to address earlier issues. This car is an exception because it seems that all of its steel is original. There is no evidence of anything beyond the occasional spot of surface corrosion on the exterior, while the same is true of the Datsun’s underside. If I were to buy this classic, I would probably treat this corrosion quickly because it could easily develop into something far worse if left unchecked. The owner claims that potential buyers will find no evidence of Bondo or other previous repair work, and the panels look impressive for a vehicle of this type and age. The exterior trim will require a refresh, and the owner includes a windshield to replace the existing cracked one. It also comes with a factory hardtop, along with the frame for a soft-top. So far, it seems to be pretty encouraging.

A complex road tax system meant that manufacturers like Datsun became adept at producing small cars that minimized the financial burden for potential buyers. Against this backdrop, a flourishing Kei Car industry evolved, and even their larger offerings like the 1600 Roadster offered excellent space efficiency and performance in what many would consider a small and lightweight package. At 2,094lbs, these were never heavy cars, meaning that their relatively small 1,596cc four-cylinder engines could provide lively performance. With 96hp under the driver’s right foot, the 1600 could romp through the ¼ mile in 18.5 seconds. While that would not be considered fast by today’s standards, that figure deserves to be placed into context. The obvious competitor to the Datsun was the MGB, but even though the British classic enjoyed the luxury of an engine that was 13% larger in size, it could only trump the Datsun by a tenth of a second over the same journey. If both cars were allowed to run to their factory-declared top speed, the Datsun could just outrun its British competition. This Roadster appears to be in good mechanical health. The owner has recently treated its numbers-matching four to a rebuild, but he didn’t stop there. He has installed a new clutch and hydraulic system, a new brake master cylinder, new front calipers, and new rear brake linings. That seems to cover all of the major bases, meaning that any remaining work should be pretty minor. That’s never a bad thing when contemplating tackling a project build. Further adding to the temptation, the owner includes a spare engine block, cylinder head, transmission, and other parts in the sale.

When I look at this little Datsun’s Black vinyl interior, returning it to its factory best might not be a significant undertaking. Before I spent any money, I would treat everything to a deep clean. There’s plenty of marks and dirt, and I suspect that a few hours of hard labor with some high-quality cleaning products could produce some surprising results. There appears to be a tiny split on the outer edge of the driver’s seat, but a competent upholsterer might be able to address this with a blind patch. There is also a warp in the driver’s side door trim, but I’ve seen owners apply steam and pressure to the backs of these with great success. The car will need a new carpet set, but that may be the only item that the buyer will need to source. As is the case with the body, whipping the interior into shape may prove to be easy and relatively inexpensive.

I have always had a soft spot for Datsuns because they have generally offered decent engineering and build quality in an affordable package. That may explain why nine cars wearing their badge have found their way into my garage over the years. The 1970 1600 Roadster is developing a solid following, and good examples tend to be snapped up pretty quickly by enthusiasts. It is common to see spotless vehicles regularly change hands for more than $30,000, although a pristine car can command a higher price on a good day. As a restoration project, this one looks like a beauty. With a healthy drivetrain and no history of rust, it is one that a buyer could tackle in a home workshop. I can understand why the bidding has been healthy to this point, and I won’t be surprised if we have readers who throw their hat into the ring to become the car’s new owner. Could you be one of those people?


  1. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    I never got the rude statement “Serious Buyers Only” when you are selling a car, or any item for that matter. Is it really that big of deal to talk to someone for 5 minutes, really?? I have met some of the nicest and most knowledgeable car and guitar people over the years that were nothing more than “Tire Kickers” at the time, but eventually turned out to be buyers or even friends down the line.

    Like 12
    • Terrry

      Is there such a thing as a “comedian buyer”? I think the seller meant “serious inquiries only” because a buyer is going to be serious enough to plunk money down.

      Like 2
      • bikefixr

        Such a thing as comedian buyers? Absolutely. Tire-kickers. They come, waste your time and offer 1/3 your asking price. Or they just want to ‘test ride’ your Corvette…more nonsense buyers than serious IMO.

        Like 5
      • Armstrongpsyd Armstrongpsyd

        I think Jerry Seinfeld is a comedian buyer.

        Like 5
    • PRA4SNW

      Trying to figure out sellers is an exercise in frustration.

      Recently I saw a car on Craig’s List with a 1 sentence description and no pictures. And it said “Serious Buyers Only”.

      No phone number listed, so I emailed asking for some pictures of exterior, interior, and engine bay along with the VIN so that I could look up the car’s history.

      I would say that request makes me a “Serious Buyer”. Of course I got no response.

      Like 2
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    This is a nice car. Don’t see many without rust any more. One thing I don’t get is the underside of this car is cleaner than the topside or interior. I’ve bought and sold a lot of cars over the years and not one of them left my driveway dirty, even parts cars. Dirt, to me, is not a great selling point.

    Like 12
    • MrBZ

      bobhess and Bluetec320 make great points here, if the seller is so “Serious” why wouldn’t he/she clean up this poor little pig sty?!

      Like 8
  3. Terrry

    In Japan, these were called the “Fairlady”, and so were the later “Z” cars. I like that name. I would have liked for them to have used it on the upcoming 400Z.

    Like 1
  4. fordor

    One of my college room mates had a 1600in pale yellow. He could never get parts for it(maybe it’s better now?) and got rid of it for an early Barracuda.

    Like 0
  5. Gerard Frederick

    What you write about the Japanese auto industry is spot on. When Prince Hirohito (the later Emperor) visited Europe in the 1920´s, he visited and examined the British motor industry and the German piano industry in depth. He decided to sign development contracts with both industries, sending dozens of master carpenters to Leipzig to study piano building techniques at the Blüthner piano company. The resultant Japanese piano industry is a testament to the Prince´s wisdom. Whether he send technicians to England I don´t know but it is more than likely. In 1964 I spied a 1959 Toyopet sedan at a used car lo not only that – a worker at Kia lives in housing financed by Kia, sends his children to Kia administered schools and wouldn´t even think of driving any car other than a Kia. The hegemony of these people is total – hence their incredible success. The Asians are utterly amazing and have my respect, 100%. We could learn a thing or two from them.

    Like 2
    • Philip

      I agree with your assessment about the Asian cultures. We could learn from them but to embrace those behaviors we would need to become like them. If this pandemic has shown us anything, the individual desire to defer to the common good of the society is sorely lacking; selfishness and ignorance disguised under the banner of individual freedom.

      Like 0
      • Gerard Frederick

        Sorry, I left the impression of favoring Asian culure in every form. That is certainly not the case. There isn´t a culture which does not have its flaws. I am a very choosey person and descriminate against all things mediocre, bad or closed-minded. Gandhi said: ¨My living room´s windows are wide open and invite the winds of different civilizations to sweep through.¨

        Like 1
  6. ramblergarage

    My sister drove one of these to college in the early 1970s from PA to MO. She had it up to 125mph at one point on a MO flat road. I always like the looks of them.

    Like 3

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