To some, Datsun roadsters, the nickname for all models sold in the U.S (known as the Fairlady in Japan) are just Japanese copies of the popular MGB, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the predecessor to the Z was introduced prior to the MGB by several months, and any styling similarities are purely coincidental.
While the performance of the MGB began to slide downward after 1967, the opposite was true for the Datsun. The Datsun Roadsters were nicknamed MGB killers for good reason. Not only did they have sporty looks, they featured highly superior performance to that of the MGB. The Datsun included variety of standard features that cost extra on the European competitors, such as a radio, heater, seat belts, tonneau cover, clock, locking gas cap, and more, all for a lower price than the MGB. Roadster is defined as an open-top automobile with two seats. With dimensions at a wheelbase of 89.8 inches, an overall length of 155.6 inches, a width of 58.
9 inches, height of 51.6 inches and a curb weight of about 2,000 lbs, the roadster was not a very big car. The Datsun sports car was named the “Fairlady” in Japanese and Australian markets. The Fairlady name was inspired by the very popular Broadway play. In the play “My Fair Lady,” a humble young girl learns to act like a sophisticated woman in order to fit into high society.
Like that character, the humble sports car gained success and respect. While the Fairlady name wasn’t used in America, perhaps it wasn’t completely off the mark. Datsun roadsters are pleasant-looking with more of a bias toward “cute” than handsome and the small hood scoop and stacked tail lights are unique features. ROADSTER HISTORYFirst introduced was the fairlady 1500, designated internally as SPL-310. Fewer than 2,000 1500s were sold in America, making them significantly rarer than the cars that followed.
Produced from 1963 to 1966, the 1500 featured a unique single rear seat that faced sideways, 4 drum brakes, a low-profile removable windshield, a simple, flat dashboard with toggle switches, a grille composed of rectangles, and a 1.5-liter overhead-valve inline-four paired with a four-speed manual gearbox. Early, single-carburetor versions produced 77 hp, but most 1500s were equipped with dual carbs, bringing the output up to 85 hp.Next, in 1965, the Roadster 1600 was introduced with a number of differences from the 1500. First, the 1600 was introduced with the name Roadster 1600 to reflect its bigger 1.6-liter OHV inline-four engine as well as a new designation, SPL-311.
Along with the engine, the 1600 also received freshened styling with the most obvious change being the large fender flares. This change gave the car a much more aggressive and sporty look, as opposed to the minimal fender flare of the 1500. Another significant styling change was the use of a simplified three-bar grille. The Datsun 1.6 liter engine has a reputation for reliability.
The 1600 also came with twin-SU carbs and output rose to 96 horsepower. Front disc brakes with larger 14-inch wheels replaced the 1500’s drums, and the transmission, a 4 speed manual, gained synchronizers for better shifting. A leather package tray replaced the sideways rear seat due to safety and comfort concerns. Suspension featured a double wishbone and semi-elliptic leaf springs. Finally, halfway through 1967, a third variation of the roadster was introduced, the Roadster 2000. The only major styling differences between the 1600 and 2000 was the use of a single bar grille with a datsun badge in the center and the use of 2000 trim emblems, but the performance is a whole different story.
The performance difference between the 1600 and the 2000 was pronounced. Datsun engineers stroked the 1600’s engine to 2.0 liters and added a better-breathing, more efficient single-overhead-cam cylinder head. Designated SRL-311, the Roadster 2000 jumped ahead of most European rivals with its new high-revving 135 horsepower engine, a modern five-speed transmission, and a price that was lower than the 104-horsepower, four-speed Triumph TR4. A 150-horsepower factory competition kit with higher-compression pistons, dual Mikuni carbs, a hotter cam, and 7-quart oil pan was available for those who wanted to take their cars to the track. Datsun, active in competition in Japan and elsewhere, entered American racing competition in 1966 with the 2000 Roadster. It won 10 SCCA national championships between 1967 and 1987, a long time for a car to remain competitive. Much of this racing success occurred with renowned racer John Morton at the wheel, driving for Peter Brock’s BRE team.
Morton and BRE remained loyal to Datsun, later winning championships with the 240Z and 510 sedan. Spanning five decades of amateur and professional competition, Morton competed in SCCA, IMSA GT-P, Can-Am, F5000, CART, Le Mans, and Sebring. He is now a regular driver in historic racing events.Today, Roadsters enjoy a loyal following with active owners’ clubs and regular events. Aftermarket support is strong for the Datsun, with several U.S.-based specialists carrying most mechanical, electrical, brake, and suspension parts at reasonable prices.