With Elite-class car crafting in his genes, Aaron Fitzpatrick was always destined to build a Summernats Grand Champion
This article on Aaron's Datsun was originally published in the August 2006 issue of Street Machine
IT’S not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Simple words uttered by generations of parents and teachers over the years — and mostly ignored by kids — but they sum up why Aaron Fitzpatrick’s Datsun 1600 has already earned its page in any Australian street machining history book. After an intensive five-plus years in the build, the car debuted at the 2006 Street Machine Summernats and drove away with a gaggle of awards including Top 10, People’s Choice and the coveted Grand Champion.
Finished for its debut with just hours to spare, the Datsun is a rolling testament to where one quarter of Aaron’s 21 years have been invested, beginning with someone else’s unfinished project.
“It’d been stripped and left outside for winter,” says Aaron, “so it had rusted over a bit. But it was a good start. Originally I was just going to do a retrotech street car with some tubs for the independent rear end to fit some 265-wide tyres. But then I thought again, bought a set of 315 tyres and sat them underneath. That showed that what I wanted would require a conversion to a live axle.”
Gradually, the car’s build blueprint blurred from street to elite. The independent rear suspension — already modified — was removed, as was the floor from the windscreen wipers to the tail-lights. Aaron — assisted by his father, Peter — measured then fitted the almost-naked Datsun with a tailor-made chassis. It’s constructed from 25x75mm beams that splice into the rear of the original front rails and terminate at the rear bumper. Outriggers span to the sills and joist the flat-sheet floor and tunnel.
A Commodore/BTR rear axle — suitably narrowed — was chosen for its simplicity, strength and the disc brakes’ compatibility with the Leyland/Commodore brakes bolted to the Lovells-modified front struts.
Apart from ride height, the rear geometry is fixed but the front end runs adjustable caster bars. You’re wondering about the Leyland front discs? They reduce the car’s track, allowing a deeper-dish wheel. With the Commodore rear end, they also convert the Datto’s hubs from four to five studs, giving better symmetry with the five spokes of the 17x7 and 17x11 Intro GT Sport wheels.
Most of the sheet-metal work was performed at home but some of the more specialised tasks, such as the dash, were given to experienced tradesmen.
“One of dad’s mates, AJ, bent up and rolled the dash. He’s a boilermaker and sheetie but helps us out with tricky stuff when we need it,” Aaron says.
Power comes from a late-90s Nissan SR20DE. With twin cams punching 16 valves over an alloy-blocked two-litre bottom end, it shares its basics with the turbo engine used in the Nissan 200SX. This one was rebuilt by Aaron and Peter with help from Jake’s Performance Modifications.
“To make it tough, we installed forged pistons and rods and what you’d call a full-house head,” says Aaron. “I could have used an older FJ20 turbo engine but they’re far heavier, with an iron block. Two people can lift the SR20, with one hand each.”
SR20 donk is beautifully detailed, but where's the blower? (see below)
It differs from most hot Datto transplants by being centrifugally supercharged rather than factory turbocharged. The ProCharger pushes K&N-filtered air through a recessed PWR front-mount intercooler and an Edelbrock throttlebody. A polished plenum with tuned-length intake stubs hides 1000cc squirters. For now the ProCharger is idling at just 3psi boost. However, Aaron says the little twin-cam manages 220hp at the tyres. Future work will include a tweak to the management system to tune it for big boost.
Massive ProCharger is mounted down low on the passenger side of the engine bay
“I’m not stopping until I have a solid 450hp at the wheels,” says Aaron.
Five cogs come courtesy of an SR20-spec ’box with an uprated gear-set. The flywheel is a one-off Jake’s Performance piece with a heavy-duty clutch.
“It’s a bitch to get on and off the trailer,” says Aaron of the tough but catchy clutch. “I had to learn to drive all over again during the Summernats Super Cruise.”
Being one of Aaron’s favourite cars, he didn’t fiddle with the Datsun’s exterior styling too much, sharpening it up by removing the pillar vents, fuel filler, rear door handles and front door locks, then boxing in the number plate. That done, Trevor Davis Auto Refinishing in Dandenong, Vic, — responsible for Dad’s FC Holden — took the rolling shell for nine months, straightening it before applying the House of Kolor paint. The car was assembled between September and December last year using brand new exterior trim that Aaron sourced from Japan. Flush window rubbers, detailed with black paint-outs applied to the glass, help enhance the smooth lines.
Frank at Classic Car Upholstery in Cooma, NSW, stitched an asymmetric pattern for the ex-Mitsubishi front and Fitzy-built (to cover the tubs) rear seats before the vanilla leather went on.
Everything that matters in the interior electrics — from the gaggle of white-faced instruments through to the sound system which includes a show-stopping sub boot display — is VDO gear.
“One of my mates, Petros at Super Audio Installations in Phillip, ACT, came over and we nutted out the stereo installation. The steering column is from an S14 [late-model Nissan 200SX] to get the headlight and wiper controls off the dash.”
The sound system in the boot is a trophy winner all by itself
Lying on your back, stargazing at the underside of the Datsun — as I was lucky enough to do in the Elite Hall at Summernats — reveals that the finished underside is as perfect as the top. No clutter, no blemishes. Beyond the almost obvious tricks such as the hidden retaining bolts for the gearbox crossmember, the metalwork is crisp and the paint luscious. You could eat off it.
And speaking of food, a couple of years ago I joked with Aaron and Peter that if a Datsun 1600 ever won Grand Champion I’d eat my hat. Anyone know a good sauce to go with that?
1969 DATSUN 1600 SEDAN
Colour: HoK custom Rockmelon Kandy
Engine: Nissan SR20DE two-litre
Head: Ported by Mark Benyard
Valves: JUN stainless
Pistons: Venolia forged
Conrods: Eagle H-beam
Crank: Balanced, knife-edged counterweights
Cam: JUN X2
Valve springs: JUN double
Induction: ProCharger centrifugal supercharger
Intake: Fabricated plenum and runners, Edelbrock 75mm throttlebody
Intercooler: PWR front-mount
Exhaust: Powatone three-inch stainless with 28-inch primaries
Radiator: PWR alloy
Sump: Extended pan
Power: 220hp at 2.8psi
Gearbox: Nissan SR20-spec five-speed
Tailshaft: Custom thick-wall with Commodore universals
Diff: Narrowed VS Commodore
Seats: Mitsubishi FTO, modified
Trim: Wimera vanilla leather
Gauges: VDO Dayton
Wheel: MOMO Race
Sound: VDO Dayton
Wheels: Intro 17x7 (f), 17x11 (r)
Tyres: 205/40 (f), 315/35 (r)
Suspension: Lovells adjustable coil-over struts (f), coil-over four-link conversion (r)
Brakes: Commodore four-wheel discs with Nissan master cylinder and DBA slotted rotors, Leyland-spec (f)