Rory Baldrey's show-stopping bosozoku style Laurel.
November 20, 2007 -
Words by Ben Hsu, Photos by Dan Hsu
Make no mistake about it, we're seeing history in the making. Over the past several years, the vintage Japanese car scene has been evolving like a creationist's worst nightmare, from informal gatherings to full blown galas with corporate sponsorship. The pioneering Japanese Classic Car Show
) provided something that was desperately needed for the community - a venue. Only in its third year, the JCCS has become such a landmark that enthusiasts are lying in wait with hidden projects and unleashing them upon an unsuspecting public at the show.
Thats exactly what happened when Rory Baldrey of Idaho Speed Center pulled up on a chilly October morning in his primer black 1976 Nissan Laurel. To say that it wowed the crowd would be like saying Diana of Wales was a popular gal. When you have the only C130 Laurel in the United States, it's hard not to make a splash, and when it's decked out like this one, well, it's like an asteroid slamming into the Atlantic.
The Laurel first appeared in April 1968 in Nissan's lineup as a "high owner car," which had more to do with the driver's social standing than his or her pharmacological state, though in the late sixties, the two probably weren't mutually exclusive. Known in chassis-speak as the C30, it fell into the mid-size sedan class, slotting in neatly between the Datsun Bluebird 510 and the upscale Cedric. Prince Motor Co. originally developed the Laurel as an entry level luxury car above the Skyline, but plans changed after the merger with Nissan.
The same month the C30 debuted, the famous Tomei Expressway, that vital artery linking Tokyo and Nagoya, opened to the public. Later known as a proving ground for illegal, ultra high-speed runs, it and gave the Laurel a nice, long ribbon of asphalt to stretch its four wheel independent suspension on. The standard 1.8L four-cylinder produced 100hp, letting you stuff it down the Tomei at 103mph, straight into the heart of Aichi Prefecture and home of rival firm Toyota.
As it happens, Toyota's Corona Mark II debuted in September of that year, sparking a decades-long duel between the two models, but the Laurel's forward struts and rear trailing arms gave it handling characteristics far ahead of its rivals. In fact, as a result of the Nissan merger, the C30's layout, styling included, resembles that of an elongated 510 in much the same way the Mark II looks like a stretched Corona.
This two-for-one design seemed like a cheap cop out until precisely June 1970, when the 2-door hardtop joined the roster. Thankfully, the styling departed from the 510 coupe's, forming a stylish fastback body that came with a 2.0L motor good for 120hp if decked out in top-shelf GX trim. Not that we have anything against the 510 coupe, but the pillarless hardtop was the first of its kind in Nissan's portfolio, and it paved the way for one of the slickest shapes ever to grace pavement.
That shape, ladies and gentlemen, is the butaketsu. In Japanese, that means "pig's butt," and it refers exclusively to the 2-door hardtops of the second generation C130 Laurels that debuted in April 1972. With bulging haunches delineated by a sharp crease arcing over the rear wheels, fusing with flanks shaped by another character line starting at the fender tip, and capped off by a sweeping fastback, why, it's more voluptuous than J Lo. You can even see shades of the just-launched 2008 GT-R in the C-pillar. Yes, the sedan shares a similarly wide booty, but the hardtop's taillights, integrated into the bumper, lend it an extra helping of cool, especially when lowered to the max.
No wonder, then, that the butaketsu quickly became a favorite among the bosozoku, Japan's "speed gangs". A dizzying buffet of engine options ranged from 1.8 to 2.0L versions of Nissan's G and L series motors, both available with single or twin carb setups in either high or low compression ratios. You could get a 2.0L G20 four banger or an L20 with the exact same displacement, just two extra cylinders. To really live up to the bosozoku spirit, however, you had to wait for the 2.6L straight six in late '73 or better yet, the 2.8 in late '75.
Baldrey's C130 hardtop is one hot pig's butt. His shop, Idaho Speed Center, built muscle cars for 16 years until the import craze about 8 years ago. With the first R32 Skyline GT-R in Boise, they took the mildly tuned machine down to the local strip, where, according to Baldrey, they beat every domestic in attendance and were asked never to come back.
A love of Skylines put Rory in search of a GC10, but he got sidetracked upon discovering the Laurel. The specimen you see in these photos was found on Yahoo Japan auctions, and had either been owned by a very lazy bosozoku member or had most of the aftermarket goodies removed. After shipping it home, Baldrey cruised the streets of Boise with it for a couple of years, using its L20 to garner a respectable 22mpg. But then, Baldrey caught wind of the JCCS and began preparing it for the show. Don't worry, though. For confusing the potato farmers, he still had his daily driver, a '95 Nissan Stagea wagon.
To get that mean stance, Baldrey kept the stock struts but replaced the cartridges with those from a VW Rabbit, cut three inches, and paired with KYB shocks. Idaho Speed Center custom made the side skirts and fender flares, but aero elements like the front air dam and spoiler were gifts from the previous owner. In front, 165/60-14 BF Goodrich tires were stretched over 14 x 8in SSR MKI wheels, but the rear got massive 245/50-14s over 14 x 11s for that aggressive bosozoku posture.
As an SGX, the L20 nestled within is good for 128hp and a top speed of 109mph in stock form, but at some point in its life, this car was converted to fuel injection, mated with headers, exhaust and a Koyo radiator. The oil cooler hanging off the front doesn't connect to anything meaningful, but it's there for the proper bosozoku look, as is the subway grip on the rear. Coated in primer black, the car looks so menacing, even Freddy Kreuger would be afraid to fall asleep. Baldrey spoke of plans to install a Nissan Titan V8 to give it a bite to match its bark. That, and because everyone in Idaho thinks its a domestic.
In January 1977, the third generation C230 Laurel debuted, increasing in size and plushness. Gone was the porcine badonkadonk, replaced with the straight lines that would come to dominate the remainder of the Showa Era. Subsequent generations got less and less daring with the styling, and in 2002 the Laurel name was discontinued and replaced with the Teana. But while the Laurel name has faded, the nostalgic scene is only just beginning, guaranteeing more surprises for 2008.