She asked me where the “oh shit handle” was. I handed her the door handle that we would use to open up both driver and passenger doors from the inside...
”Best I’ve got for now.”
Other than the quick 10 minute drive from my friend’s shop this would be the third and longest drive I had taken my 8 year project car out on. It would also be the first time I would have a passenger in it with me.
The motor begged to be run hard, the chassis whimpered at the thought, and the brakes seemed indifferent to any task put upon them. Inside the cabin it was hot, loud, and smelly. The various leaks from the pieced together exhaust would fill the cabin at stops with carbon monoxide and even quite a bit while driving. A roll of duck tape would assist with the various holes that would seep fumes in through the floor but it would not prevent all which would cause my eyes to burn. In addition the exhaust piping would send vibrations throughout the entire car while it rattled on the rear cross member.
It had been quite awhile since I had driven a “quick” vehicle, and even longer since I had driven one that did not have modern creature comforts. At first, 70mph in this tiny box felt like it was 100mph...until a Honda Odyssey blew by me (respect to that family van). 70-80mph required a lot of concentration for the freeways of Southern California. Bumps, grooves, pot holes OH MY! One could feel every piece of the road through this 72 510 Sedan with a moderately powered SR20DET. There was no play in the steering and it took the better part of 30 minutes to relieve my white knuckle grip in favor of a light handed approach to navigating Interstate 5 (I-5) North.
My new wife was in for it, she had only heard of this project. It had already been six years into the slow build when we started dating. Unlike other partner prospects, she never told me to abandon it. She did raise a fuss when I picked up a 69 coupe shell on a whim. Who could blame her? At first she seemed excited to see the car mobile as she had only seen it in photos. This was soon replaced by uneasiness and shortly after, legitimate fear. She had a vice grip on the dash and door for our 60 mile round trip testing to Carlsbad from San Diego. Nobody would blame her. Even my confidence was waning underneath the joy of being able to drive something I had waited so long for.
One day later...
After I sent my wife safely on a flight back home my friends and I made some adjustments to the setup and then made a quick stop at Harbor Freight. If I were to successfully make the 370 mile trip home in this tin can I was going to need some emergency tools.
- 1.5 ton lightning jack
- metric socket set
- screw driver set
- work gloves
- fire extinguisher
- AAA Premier membership
In addition, one of my friends would follow behind me for the first 100 miles.
We initially thought that the aftermarket fuel gauge was working properly, however after about 70 miles the needle had stayed in the same spot as when we had left (2/3 full). We stopped for fuel in the middle of nowhere which meant $4.50 a gallon for 91 octane. My custom tank is 15 gallons and it took 14 gallons...Good thing we stopped.
Typical of all things, the moment my friend turned around to head back home the brakes began to seize up on my 280zx brake swap while cruising back to the freeway. We had experienced this before so I pulled off and parked for a little bit to see if the situation would subside. Thankfully it did and did not return. The local temperature was 99 degrees so I am sure that didn’t help matters.
60 Miles later I stopped for a few more gallons of fuel so as not to take any chances. Upon making a left hand U-turn back to the freeway my driver side stub axle decided to pop out. We had machined the grooves in the stock 510 stub axles so they would clip into the WRX R160 differential however the driver side didn’t ever click in like the passenger side did. This was a gamble I decided I would make when I set out. It took me a few minutes to figure out why I had zero gears all of a sudden but after a quick deduction I put my new lightning jack to use and pushed the axle back into the diff. I was surprised to see that even though the stub axle had only come out maybe a centimeter, not completely, that I had lost all power to the rear wheels. I’m no mechanic, rather an enthusiast, but I thought even if I had one axle in I would be able to get power to one of the wheels. Lesson learned.
The axle would come out 3 more times before I made it home. Once while on a long right hand turn at 65mph, twice more at 75mph on long straightaways. The lightning jack was well worth it as I could jump out and get it back in the diff within 2 minutes. However a few other things would falter along the way. The driver side headlight burnt out, rather the points of contact melted. The turn signals would only work intermittently. My GPS speedometer stopped working for half of the journey. I suspected this might happen in the middle of the desert so close to Mexico, similar to my cell phone service.
Perserverance - steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
I made it home and smelled like a catalytic converter. I had put over 400 miles on a questionably road worthy car in 48 hours and got to experience the rush of what it is like to drive/ride an unrelenting missle. My smile is as big as I thought it would be and I am greatful that I made the trip unscathed. My project is far from finished, and even further from fully experienced. This is ONE of my Datsun Stories.
Eight years I waited
I’m not the first, not the last
Picture me rolling