Import Tuning, ’70s Style

SEMA News - September 2010

By Drew Hardin

Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives

  SEMA News-September 2010-SEMA Heritage 
   

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y 1972, the handwriting was on the wall: Musclecars were a dying breed. Performance enthusiasts—and the magazines they read—were looking for new ways to have fun with cars. That’s how this tidy little Datsun 510 wound up in Hot Rod magazine.

“Not being blind to the fact that mini cars are steadily becoming more popular with hot rodders and everyone who appreciates performance, we’ve begun to get ourselves more involved with this kind of car,” wrote Steve Kelly in the March 1972 issue. “Our Datsun 510 is just one of many import and/or mini cars we have lined up for tests.”

Kelly called the 510 “a well-engineered little car, but it isn’t much of a performance car in the eye of the hot rodder.” To change that, he called on Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE), the company Pete Brock formed after he left Shelby American. Brock and BRE had been tearing up the club racing circuit with very fast Datsun 2000 roadsters and 240Zs; by 1971, John Morton had won a championship in the SCCA’s 2.5L Trans-Am class at the wheel of a BRE 510.

“Because of BRE’s success in Datsun racing, more people are aware of the availability and good quality of BRE parts from
El Segundo, California, rather than performance parts from Nissan Motors,” wrote Kelly. You can see many of those parts scattered around the still-stock 510 in this photo.

Kelly filed two stories about the 510’s upgrades. The first concentrated on suspension parts, including BRE’s Mulholland Kit, a coil-spring swap named after the “diabolically laid out ‘race course’ running along the tops of the mountains from Hollywood to Malibu,” Kelly wrote.

Those springs, plus front and rear sway bars, Koni shocks and a set of Goodyear Polyglas tires on 13x6 American Libre aluminum wheels, made for an improvement in handling that “is nothing short of fantastic,” said Kelly. A month later, BRE valvetrain pieces, camshaft and headers, along with a set of Venolia forged pistons, brought the 510’s 1.6L engine from 96 hp to 124 on BRE’s dyno. The BRE components knocked more than a full second off the 510’s quarter-mile time, lowering it to 16.72 seconds at 80.78 mph. Handling was measured on the skid pad, where the car’s .823g seemed a race-tire swap away from the 1.01g generated by BRE’s Trans-Am 510. 

“This may not be a 409 Chevy, as evidenced by quarter-mile times, but you don’t see many of those anymore,” Kelly said, in a nod to the passing of the performance torch. “After a little work, a small investment and some good planning, this Datsun 510 has become a performer.”   

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