Datsun Roadster Buyers Guide REV 1.0
by Thomas Walter
(c) 1996

[last updated 6/10/96 tw]


Focus is on the USA market vehicles. Vehicles in other countries will vary slightly from the descriptions given (2000's in Australia, for example, were always fitted with SOLEX carbs).

Before looking to buy any Datsun Roadster it is worth while to review the following to get a better idea of what to look for and difference's between various years.

1500's: '63 to '65

The '63 to '65 year models wore "Fairlady" badges. Serial number will start with a XSPL310-xxxxx. First "X" denotes year.

Fitted with the "G" 1500. The first year ('63) had a single SU carburetor fitted. The '64 and later being fitted with twin SU's. '65 introduced the rear package shelf, replacing a sideways mounted third seat! '65 1500 very similar to the '65 1600. External trunk hinges, and positive ground battery are unique to the 1500's.
It is not unusual to see a '1500' model fitted with a later 1600 model engine (R-16) that was available in the RL 411 sedan and later 1600 roadsters.

1600's: '65 to '70

Starting in '65 was the Datsun 1600. Serial number will start with SPL311-xxxx.

The 1600's are pretty robust little motors. More so than most give credit for. If the compression is good, and not burning oil, just keep it together! I really think the motor should be good at 200,000 miles with attention to not overheating, adjusting valves, and paying attention to regular maintenance.
Always check to see the temperature gauge is operating, and shows normal heat levels. Overheating can be a sign of improper maintenance, or of a cylinder head that had been machined once too often, raising the compression ratio too high.

If the 4 speed is making a loud grinding noise, it really should be PARKED and inspected. There are two little $10 bearings, and shaft that need to be replaced every 60-80K miles. Usually when the clutch is out it is an easy job to do (countershaft support bearings).

2000's: '67.5 to '70

Introduced in the mid '67 year is the Datsun 2000. Serial number will be starting off as SRL311-xxxxx.

For 2000's: the timing chain is the weakest link in the motor. If the upper chain gets too much slack it will cut into a support bracket. The support bracket, once notched, will vibrate and crack... dropping a "L" section into the gears below. This takes a lot of miles, and time, but has lead to some great horror stories about "self-destructing roadster engines". No maintenance, not catching problems (chain rattle can be heard at 25 feet away!), and ignorance.... Chains/Gears/Tensioners for the U20 cost about $500... and should be replaced after 100,000 miles.[If you are replacing the chains, then it makes sense to inspect the rod bearings... usually I'll replace them after 80K miles]
5 Speeds fitted to the 2000 engines: nice gear boxes: bad habits are loosening of the main shaft nut (speedometer stops working, then all the gears start making noise. :-( ). Also the earlier boxes (up till mid '69) had a habit of 5th gear slipping off the press fit shaft. They suddenly become "5th gear neutral". Both are repairable, but should be fixed should they occur.
The very early 2000's built in 1967 were fitted with the Solex carburetor's and a different cam. They were a popular "competition" option on later vehicles. They are great fun for spirited driving, but you need to rev the engine a little more to get away from stop lights.

Check the VIN number stamped on the frame. It is on the left front portion of the frame, just below the area where the washer bottle is fitted. Usually the imprint is very lightly done, and quite easy to miss with dirt and oil on top. Even a heavy coat of paint seems to fill the stamping in nicely! COMPARE VIN # ON FRAME TO TITLE TO MAKE SURE IT'S THE RIGHT CAR '63 to 67.5 model had flat dashes, and low windshield. The chrome windshield frame was held on by four bolts, easily removed for road racing (plus two nuts hidden under the dash!)

'67.5 models had numerous minor items changed to improve the roadsters, which included upgraded seats, visors, aluminum brake drums, torque link, wider wheels, etc. Also other items were introduced to comply with safety standards, like the tandem brake master cylinder. Ignition switch is now located on the steering column. The ring around the instruments are black, compared to chrome on the earlier cars. [All 67 2000's use the 67.5 body].

'68 to '70 models have a "safety" dash, with push pull switches replacing the earlier toggle switches. The USA versions were fitted with smog equipment (air injection pump and associated plumbing). The body now had a one piece *non removable* windshield frame which was physically two inches taller than the earlier version car. '68 to '70 models are commonly referred to as the "high windshield cars"

In addition, the '68 model had clean sides - no side markers lamps.
'69 had a tear drop maker up front, and round red marker on the rear.
The '70 model had rectangular markers front and rear.
Usually the clutches are robust, but replacement does involve pulling the engine and transmission as a unit. (time consuming!)

There are quite a few with "swapped engines" from later model Datsuns. It is not uncommon to find a L18 (1800cc OHC) or L20B (2000cc OHC) engine fitted to them. Those engines were found in 1970 era model sedan and trucks, and are fairly robust. Resale value of a model such fitted is usually lower than otherwise.

The '63-'65 cars had almost no rust protection at all. Inspect carefully for ones that come from areas that salt roads, or from coastal areas.
Common rust area's include:
The bottom rocker panels (especially between the doors and rear wheel wells).
The trailing edge of the front fenders is known for holding in dirt, leading to rust.
The cold air intake, just below the windshield, has been known to rust on cars driven in salted roads.
The trunk area, including the inside rear fender wells.
Above the rear fender wheel well is two panels that seem to trap dirt as they meet. Usually the first sign of rust is for the paint to start to blister as the rust eats from the inside out.
The floor mats should be lifted to check the condition of the floor panels. Ditto the trunk floor mat.

Careful maintenance will insure a long life for ball joints, tie rod ends, and other components. Sadly, many cars have been neglected by owners and shops who miss greasing all 22 zerk fittings under the car.
Steering boxes typically leak, and should be checked for gear oil. It is not uncommon to find steering boxes filled with water after a car has sat in the elements for many years, needing expensive repairs. If there is excessive play (more than 1" at the wheel) the steering box may need replacement. Later models (starting during the '69 model year) were fitted with an improved design.You should lift up the grease cap on the idler arm, and while a friend twists the steering wheel back and forth observe it for any movement. Parking the front wheels on several sheets of newspaper, have a friend move the wheel back and forth while looking at the ball joints, A-arms, and tie rod ends for any unusually movement. Then swing the wheel from lock to lock while looking at the ball joints.

One vehicle I looked at had the sway bar mount ripped clean off the frame. Even odder was no indications of a major accident which would explain such damage. This was easily explained, as the owner was once stuck in the mud and a friend used a tow rope wrapped around the sway bar to pull him out!

Roadsters have excellent brakes when everything is functioning correctly. When roadsters haven't been driven in a few years, it is not uncommon to find that all the rubber seals and cylinders are bad.

Also check the top. If the ragtop is torn it can be replaced, but the metal frames are getting harder to find. Not uncommon for a owner to have stored it in the garage, and forget about it while selling a vehicle! (ditto for a Tonneau & "boot" covers)
The "High Windshield" vehicle's have a different top from the earlier model. The front bow being made of sections of welded sheet metal. It is common to find a "bend" in the middle, which is repairable.

I highly recommend buying the cleanest, best looking, restored model you can afford! As parts are becoming harder to obtain, especially the sheet metal and chrome parts, it makes sense to buy a vehicle in the best possible condition.
While you'll find prices ranging from $2000 to $8000 for a running 2000, you could easily spend over $10K restoring that car you paid only $2000 for!

There is a "buyers checklist" put out by the British Car Mailing list. It is excellent to have in hand BEFORE making that call about that roadster for sale in the local paper!

Do not rush into buying a roadster.
If at all possible, plan on contacting a local Roadster club (contacts are listed in the FAQ) and looking at various examples of the cars.
Of course my favorite place to enjoy a Sunday breakfast is in Modesto, California! (Where else can I get the "managers special" --breakfast with eggs, bacon, toast and coffee for $2.95-- while feasting on some of the best restored roadsters around!)

Also If there is a major meet, do attend! The sight of 50+ roadsters at Shasta is fantastic. Take along a camera and note book, as you'll soon discover many variations to the vehicles.

While my desire to purchase a 2000 in 1974 started me down this road of The World of Datsun's. The best of all, has been a sense of commerade in meeting with other owners. We all spot Miata's on the road, but if it is another roadster there is an instant recognition of "Hey, Welcome to the club!"

(C) Thomas Walter 1996