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Labour of Love

How one DIYer 1600 enthusiast has (after performing his third engine conversion!) come up with the ultimate Datto street sleeper. And what's more, it's all been done at home....

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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There's a broad mix of people that are into modifying cars. There are those that have gotten on at the social level and've fitted monster wheels, a loud exhaust and mebbe a filter for some "sizzling" performance. Then - at the other end of the spectrum - are people like Peter Liebig. Peter's not here to take credit for a pair of custom vinyl headlight covers, he's dedicated to building up his streeter into exactly the beast he want it to be. A real modified car person. The type whose natural habitat is hovering around the local import wreckers and lying down on the garage floor with a spanner in hand.

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Nissan - or Datsuns, more accurately - are Peter's manufacturer of choice, and that's been the case since nearly the beginning of time. First up, Peter had a modified 180B followed by a pristine 240Z - that's how the love affair began. But buying his own place about 9 years ago meant it was time for him to sell off "all the good stuff" and stoop to buying an el cheapo bomb for basic transport duties. Of course, the bomb of choice (swayed by a collection of bits in the shed) had to be a Datto. But much to Peter's delight, he managed to score a tidy, straight and original 1600 for only A$2000. This car faithfully fulfilled its role as an everydayer for a year, but then had some cash thrown its way ("invested" Peter prefers to put it!) after a surplus of cash was left over from house payments.

Taking the body back to bare metal, he worked away bringing the individual panels up schmick and only had to remove a relatively small amount of cancer found in the doors - but nothing major. Atop of the nice straight and rust-free metal, several coats of Dulux Classic White 2-pack was lovingly applied. And this, believe it or not, was Peter's first ever attempt at a 2-pack spray. Not bad for a back yard job eh?!

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The braking department was revitalised too, with a simple Datto bolt-on conversion that takes 200B front struts with calipers, discs and master cylinder. "It's a really good upgrade" vouches Peter - who also decided to improve the suspension while he was down there and getting dirty.

Inside those 200B front struts went Monroe GT gas inserts along with lowered springs, a 22mm swaybar and adjustable radius rods, while at the IRS rear is another pair of Monroe GTs, some Lovells springs and a 18mm bar. Nolathane bushes are also splashed around underneath wherever they could go - the original ones were well past their use-by date.

The 1600 then tip-toed the streets showing off its new clothes, but whenever Peter tucked in behind the wheel he couldn't help thinking of dropping in a "bitchin' 2 litre L-series with all the trimmings".

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After doing some feeling around though, he soon discovered there was a new, much more efficient way to get the 1600 boogying - a Japanese engine transplant. Mind you, this was still in the fairly early days of the Japanese engine import scene, so the most common and eligible engine for the job was the DOHC 16 valve FJ20 motor. And before he knew it, "an atmo FJ20 was being wheeled into the shed on the trusty skateboard".

The engine and 5-speed 'box combo was purchased and teamed up with an aftermarket Injec programmable ECU that was soldered into the works to manage fuel and ignition. The fuel system, of course, was upspec'd with a VL Commodore EFI pump and associated lines, and other mods included fitting a N13 Pulsar alloy core radiator, a thermofan and a makeshift exhaust. Fabricated mounts and gearbox cross member and a modified sump were also required.

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About now, the standard 3.7:1 diff made an exit to make room for a much tougher 3.9 ratio LSD R180 unit, which was sourced from a modern Subaru AWD. To link to this, a hybrid set of custom Subaru/R30 Skyline shafts were fabricated and have proven totally reliable. And now was as good as time as any to flank this assembly with bolt-on 240K drum brakes for some more braking power. Don't you just love how Datsun and Nissan (and some Subaru) parts interchange? But after all this, as Peter tells "reality can be bitter disappointment". Although very tractable, the highly cracked up performance of the FJ in fact left him feeling empty. And any plans of porting, more compression and big cams would have screwed over the budget big time.

As time went by though, the later model SR 2 litre motors started landing in the country with reasonable price tags. So - inevitably - a very clean atmo inducted example was duly purchased complete with its factory computer, sensors and wiring. After setting it up in the shed, it kicked into life with a smooth and quiet idle - just like the FJ20 had before it. Though, one thing that was immediately noticeable was that the SR's hydraulic cam followers created much less valve train clatter than the rackety FJ.

But again, it still didn't throw a match into Peter's underpants. And despite fiddling around with some custom vernier cam sprockets (which picked up a little mid-range torque), "the inevitable was looming large". A turbo.

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Unfortunately the 200-odd horsepower SR20 Turbos were thin on South Australian soil - and it was even more difficult to find a half-cut (something Peter had since decided were the only way to go). About 2 years after commencing his search, he finally tracked down a '91 model 180SX with only 38 thousand clicks. It was all complete, although it had copped a heavy hit that had folded the front left wheel back into the wheel well. It was lucky for Peter he'd decided to check the ECU hadn't been taken. It was there alright - but it had been terminally smashed up by the straying wheel. Ouch.

Unperturbed Peter coughed up part of the overall cost to secure the half-cut - with the rest of the money to be paid up when he got a replacement ECU to go. Well, it did eventually show up, but "the right computer" turned out to be the wrong one After more waiting, the correct box finally arrived and once Peter had gone through the mass of wires and fiddly jobs to convert to the turbo engine, he was at last ready to hear the sound of his first hairdryer-fed motor. Ahhhh

"It finally went like it should. Now I know what it is like to have traction problems - and I love it!". Peter beams. Now his pants were well and truly on fire!

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Under the bonnet, he's retained the factory 180SX air-to-air intercooler (which was mod'd to fit in front of the engine radiator) and to make the most of having a turbo, boost has crept to a still relatively mild 14 psi with a simple bleeder valve. Getting the entire half-cut meant Peter could keep things neat with the factory airbox too. The all-important exhaust system is a big 3 incher off the turbo, which tapers down to 2½ inch towards the rear. Peter's measured the peak back pressure from this system at around 2 psi - which is nothing to fret about. The clutch and gearbox remains 100% factory stock - and why would it really need to be otherwise?

Okay, so after all these different engines and farting around, you must want to know how fast it is? Bearing in mind this is a genuine streeter that idles perfectly and gives kick-arse fuel economy, the car has run a G-Tech timed 0-100 km/h time of 5.62 seconds and has proven itself with a 13.55 second quarter mile pass at 104 mph. On the chassis dyno rollers, it can ease out a creditable 126kW at the aforementioned 14 psi boost pressure. And this is a car with absolutely no race pretensions.

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Some of the more recent developments on the 1600 have been fitting up of a set of sharp-looking 15 x 6.5 inch ROH Astrons wearing an easily smoked set of 195/50 Toyo FZ4s on the hands and feet. The reason for the bigger wheels is they're needed to fit yet another braking upgrade that uses the 180SX 11 inch ventilated discs, Mazda RX7 4 pot calipers and R31 Skyline rear discs and calipers. To work with these, the 180SX's master cylinder (with an inbuilt proportioning valve) is in service, as are Bendix Ultimate pads. The fuel system received a small prime pump in the tank (which needed to be modified) and this passes PULP onto a surge tank to prevent any fuel starvation.

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Inside the cabin, it's also apparent the Peter is still hard at work integrating the 180SX's comprehensive cluster into the 1600's dash. On top of this are an Autometer boost gauge, a thick-rimmed Datsun Sunny steering wheel, Recaros, central locking and an alarm system. It's also a lot cosier and quieter than standard thanks to the added sound deadening and the charcoal/black retrim.

So is it completed yet you ask? No sir, but it does seem to be getting close. Peter wants to finish off installing the 180SX cluster and he's also recently moved on to playing around with the ECU - the aim is to end up around 140kW at the wheels (while retaining the stock turbo). And if we know Peter correctly, he'll achieve that and then want "just a little bit more". I hope his underpants are flameproof!


"The very helpful, honest and friendly" Big Al at Allen's Japarts
+61 8 8265 3455

Ron at Pulsar Parts
+61 8 8266 0455

Adelaide 1600 Club (Craig Williams)
0412 1600 25

(And take note all 1600 enthusiasts - the Adelaide 1600 Club's big Y2K rally is coming up, so for details contact Craig on the number above!)

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