SEMA 2017: Datsun is the new “it” marque

Despite brief surges in sport compacts, drifting, VIP, and other trends from the land of the rising sun, SEMA is still mostly an American car show. If we had to put a number on the resto modded muscle cars pushing 1,000 horsepower, lifted pickups, and acres of new Camaro/Mustang/Challengers, we’d say it was 85 percent of the show. This year, however, we noticed a trend. There were Datsuns among them. 

Many of these aren’t just Datsuns owned by average joes like those of us who read and write JNC, either. These were celebrity sleds, shown off by those who could easily plunk down fat stacks for more obvious choices like a West Coast Customs Mustang or Porsche 911. For some reason, Datsuns have broken through.

Perhaps its the hipster cred of having a car from a defunct marque, but not so defunct that the company went out of business altogether. Maybe it’s that Datsuns are more plentiful than other Japanese marques of the era. Or it could just be that, nearly 50 years later, they’re still badass performance cars.

At the Nitto Tire booth was a metallic green 280Z 2+2 built by Big Mike and Gas Monkey Garage (one of several cable TV shows that is either about a shop that works on muscle cars or guys with beards arguing). Under the hood is an S14 black top and the fully adjustable suspension was basically built with every part from the Arizona Z Car catalog and matched to 17-inch Volk TE37s.

At the AEM booth Drifter Chris Forsberg displayed his 1972 Datsun 510 Wagon. Wearing SSR MkIIIs, a Hakosuka-style nose and some odd-looking box flares, it was said to be a companion to his Datsun 280Z. It had a Mazworx SR20DET under the hood, fully adjustable suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. The project was a quick build, taking something like two weeks.

Here is the famous Rotsun, which the mad scientists from the Roadkill show have Frankenstein’d together with a 5.0 Mustang V8 and probably some chicken wire.

At the Braille Battery booth was a 510 created by Datsun royalty, racer and designer Peter Brock. It was, of course, wearing the Brock-designed classic BRE spook popularized on his championship winning race cars of the early 1970s. The V8 under the hood is probably something that we’ll never get used to, but it’s hard to argue with one of the key figures responsible for making Datsun so beloved in the US.

At the Toyo Tires Tread Pass was the Datsun 510 of martial arts action star Daniel Wu, which we spotlighted in detail already. Wu rides a motorcycle in his show Into the Badlands, but we would love to see the 510 make an appearance.

At the KW Suspension booth was Hot Wheels designer Jun Imai’s Datsun 260Z, which we also spotlighted in detail. Of course, Jun was into Nissans long before this year’s Datsun-palooza, and he is another person largely responsible for the current frenzy — he’s created some of the coolest Hot Wheels in the past few years and they’re mostly Datsuns.

At the Vogtland booth was a beautiful 240Z built by Jack Mardikian. Another long-time Datsun devotee, Jack’s car has been around for years in the JNC community wearing the same classic, understated-but-means-business look. Jack is also a Touge California veteran, and his Z should be the template for those wanting a street brawler that can also do track duty.

The OS Giken booth never disappoints. The TC16 twin-cam head is a work of art. With the valve cover removed, you can see how there is no timing chain or belt; instead, everything is gear-driven to ensure bulletproof reliability and a monstrous sound.

OS Giken also showed off their 7-speed sequential transmission, built for serious owners of Honda S2000s, Miatas, and Toyota GT86s. All the gear ratios, including the final reduction can be changed. OS Giken says that the propeller shaft and shift linkages need to be fabricated, however. Tragically, only a select few in the US are building cars serious enough for these parts.

Back at the Toyo Tires Tread Pass was Dominic Le’s 240Z. This was an unorthodox Z build, with an SR20DET with drive-by-wire throttle system. A custom radiator support was fabricated out of titanium and lots of modern tech is hidden throughout. Setups like these have been seen in Japan, but it’s nice to see one on this side of the Pacific. Exterior-wise, it retains a classic Z body look with Marugen flares over massive 15×10.5 front and 15×11.5 Work Equip 40s.

Another Toyo Tires Tread Pass find was this Datsun 620, well patina’d and wearing the Rocket Bunny Pandem kit. The SR20-swapped pickup is the shop truck of Barramundi Wheels USA.

Rota Wheels also had an S30 Z at their booth, showing off their Watanabe replicas. The black and gold Z was finished by old school painter PJ Bonifacio. Though PJ has been focusing on Euro cars in recent years, we are glad to see him return to his roots with J-tin.

Between the Central and South Halls was the KamaruZ, a build from the UAE’s Carbon Signal. It was a great debut for one of the top Nissan shops from the Middle East. The car Z showcased wore a complete unidirectional weave carbon fiber front end that included not just a hood, but (flared) fenders, headlight bezels, front lip and nose.

Last but not least, out in the central lot where the drift demonstrations happen, was  another 620. Finished in raw metal with a speed spoiler on a covered bed, it clearly was the work of someone who knew metalworking. Under the hood was a built Nissan RB25DET, and its inner fenders and firewall had all been cut to accommodate the large six and fully adjustable suspension. We look forward to seeing what the finished product looks like.

For those wondering where all the Skylines are, we will have another post that includes them. Remember, this was only the Datsuns, and it was likely more Datsuns than at any SEMA since 1982, when the company changed the name in the US market to Nissan.

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18 Responses to SEMA 2017: Datsun is the new “it” marque

  1. Ken said:

    Does anybody remember the 432 Fairlady, i saw one over here in Australia some years ago with a 2 litre turbocharged six cylinder motor in it. Not knowing what it was at the time i dismissed it as someone’s idea of a hot rocket, i later found it was a limited build prototype and worth quite a lot of money.
    Regards Ken.

  2. Bob said:

    Nissan actually changed its name to Nissan beginning in 1984 in the U.S.

    • Ted said:

      85 was the official change. 1984 was thelast year for Datsun badging, and featured both on the 1984 300zx.

      • Liteshow said:

        My ’83 810/Maxima had both badges too. I always thought it had a split personality, until the 1979 landyacht behind me smashed the rear bumper into the backseat one night and they were recombined…

  3. Cesariojpn said:

    Hahaha, I’m in one of the photos in the background. But yeah, there were a lot of Z’s this year. Surprised.

    Then again Gas Monkey Garage doing one is a very scary thought.

  4. Ginash said:

    I actually thought this trend started last year…. seemed like a ton more compared to this year?

  5. CS said:

    No Kamaruz coverage

  6. A K Mandal said:

    I’m keen interest in New DATSUN GO CROSS (petrol)
    When it will come with features and price etc in INDIA at Kolkata?

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