The Art of Understatement: A Low-Key, Championship-Winning Datsun Roadster

By Staff Writer
Dec 31, 2019 | Datsun | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

This story comes from all the way back in 1988. Back then our magazine was called Auto-X, not Grassroots Motorsports.

Story by Glenn Marston

Elliott Harvey humbled a host of established C Street Prepared winners in Selina, Kansas, last year when he won that class' Solo II National Championship by 1.463 seconds; he went on to win the Street Prepared 3 Pro Solo Finale by 1.557 seconds.

Until he burst into the winner's circle at the '87 Nationals, most had been unaware of the abilities possessed by this 26 year-old, Lakeland, Florida, Nissan dealer/mechanic. The power and quickness of the winning 1967 Datsun 2000 roadster, owned and also driven by Elliott's older brother Bill, had been just as much a mystery. Only in Florida and the Southeast had the brothers' autocrossing prowess been familiar. There, they were used to having themselves as their only real competition, but the pair didn't travel to Salina for the Sports Car Club of America's National Solo Championships until 1986.

That year, an odd combination of 14-inch Yokohama radial tires on the front and 13-inch Hoosier bias-plies on the rear (suitably sized Hoosiers weren't available for the front then), compounded by a string of mechanical problems, masked their potential. So, until the 1987 runs began, the Harveys were no-names in Salina. One report even characterized Elliott, who has competed for 10 years, as a "rookie." This year, Elliott has built on his 1987 successes. He started with a class win and Handicap Challenge win in February's season-opening Pro Solo in Sebring, Florida. And he's added another Handicap Challenge win, plus three more class wins and one second-in-class, over the summer. Now that he's overcome his recognition deficit, Elliott is preparing to make himself just as forcefully known elsewhere - in other classes.

You see, for drivers in classes like C Stock, E Stock, D Street Prepared and E Prepared, Elliott Harvey has a garage full of horrors. With something like 10 Datsun roadsters varying in preparation level from parts car to stock street car to road-race­-ready, Elliott has a mission - to prove the roadster's worth in competition some 20 years after its heyday. "I just want to take an old car," he says, "and beat a new, high-dollar car." This is more than a matter of ego or idle dreaming; Elliott has studied the possibilities thoroughly. "I was doing some research: I think the stock car can run within a second, second-and-a-half of his [Bill's] car." And then there's Elliott's Datsun pickup truck: the DSP candidate. "This thing's a killer," Elliott says. "It has about a 2200cc engine in it. A pickup truck will work, if anyone wants to take the time to build it.

The roadster suspension is almost identical, except for torsion bars. Slap some Mikunis on it and you're ready to go. It won't make the horsepower the roadster's making; it has to run a wimpy cam profile (it's an emissions-type engine)." Even so, Elliott says, the engine should have plenty of power for the class, and the Harveys have successfully autocrossed a Datsun pickup in Florida before.

The only problem now is finding time to prepare the truck. "It's a project that may· not materialize this year the way the stock roadster's going - problems, problems, problems." Elliott says he didn't expect as much rust on his stock-class roadster as he's found. And, once the rust is repaired and the body work is completed, he still has to decide whether to complete it as a 2000 model (C Stock) or a 1600 (E Stock). Now, for the CSP drivers who sighed with relief at the news that Elliott Harvey is looking for other classes to conquer, understand that these things take time. If the stock-class roadster or the DSP pickup don't get finished this year, well, there's always next year. Or the year after. There's not much pressure to finish a new project when you already win time after time. Just to be sure, though, the Harvey bothers have been working on a list of improvements.

But, before delving into the changes, a little background on the Harveys and their national championship car: In Central Florida, Bill Harvey is the man to see for repair of a Datsun roadster. He runs a small shop in Lakeland that specializes in roadsters, and other Datsuns and Nissans. He has owned and autocrossed his national championship winner for about 15 years; Elliott doesn't know exactly when the car was bought and Bill won't say. Further details are difficult to unearth, because Bill declines to be interviewed. However, we do know that Bill has some two decades of autocrossing experience, and he usually keeps to himself but sometimes becomes extroverted when he feels wronged. In the late '70s through the early '80s, Bill campaigned his roadster as a Datsun 1600 in race-prepared classes. He was usually at the top of the field and was always a top contender for the Florida State Championship, the state's most prestigious event. Eventually the engine went bad, and the car languished until the mid '80s. Then, in response to establishment of a national Street Prepared category, Bill reinstalled the street equipment that had been gutted for race-prepared competition and converted the car to a 2000. Even though the two engines differ in configuration—the 1600 engine is a pushrod design while the 2000 is an overhead-cammer—they share their basic engine block design. So, they interchange easily. If there was ever a crowd of Datsun roadsters, Bill Harvey's would stand out.

A circle of red on the leading edge of the hood 1 contrasts with the two-tone white paint scheme. That's right, two-tone white: The front half of the car is one shade of white, the back half another. The front half is the original white, or at least a long-standing coat of white, while the rear half is fresher and brighter—necessitated by fender flares molded into the rear wheel openings a couple of years ago. The purpose of the red circle on the hood is not so clear. Or so Elliott says. In an interview he explained it this way:

Auto-X: What's that red thing on the hood for?

Elliott: That's a good question. It isn't my car, so I can't tell you.

Auto-X: Come on.

Elliott: I'm serious—I think it's sup­posed to be a rising sun that never got finished.

Auto-X: We always wondered about that.

Elliott: That's what I think it's sup­posed to be. Another car he had, he had the sun and the stripes going back on the hood. That dot's been on there 12, 13 years. I think that's what it's supposed to be -a rising sun, Japan-type deal. But I wouldn't want to say for sure. I didn't build the car. I don't know what he had in mind when he made that.

In some ways, the reasons for the car's speed are just as obscure, for Bill Harvey's Datsun 2000 is surprisingly stock. The engine is the top-of-the-line 150-horse­power version as delivered with two twin­-throat Mikuni-Solex 44mm carburetors (a 135-horsepower engine was standard in the 2000). A 5-speed transmission connects it to 3. 90: 1 final-drive gears. The engine is stock, Elliott says, except for two add-ons. "It has an aluminum flywheel and a header. That's it." In fact, Elliott says the engine is not as good as stock, in some ways. "His good motor was wasted. Right before the Nationals, we pulled it apart to see why it was smoking so bad. The pistons and rings were wasted, and the bore was wasted. So he had one lying on the floor he just stuck together to go in somebody's car, or sell or whatever. That became it. It's not even as fast as the first one we had in there, in my opinion. He thinks it's about the same. I think it's slower. It doesn't have the snap on the top end. I've been trying to talk him into building a good one. We checked it for leakdown -it wasn't anything to write home about. You watch it drive around; you get off the throttle and a big cloud comes out. Everybody thinks it's a balanced and blueprinted motor." With the car's sudden appearance as a national winner, rumors about its legality quickly surfaced. Elliott explains: I'll be standing around—a lot of people don't know me at the Nationals—they're all talking. I was hoping someone was going to tear it down so we could go ahead and get a motor for it. This year, somebody will probably tear it down. But, whatever, I know what's in it. They're going to be in for a big surprise."

The chassis modifications are like those to the engine: simple and few. The car has Koni shock absorbers, a Datsun Competition 23mm front anti-roll bar, and stock springs that have been shortened by cutting about one coil off in the front and by de- arching the leaves in the back. There's no rear anti-roll bar, though. "It has enough oversteer with my foot to make it work," . Elliott says.

The rest of the chassis attention has been focused on the rear axle. A Datsun limited- slip differential is used, although it has been fragile-breaking on Day One of the 1987 Nationals, leaving the Harveys with the performance liability of an open differential on Day Two. The rear axle is controlled side-to-side by a Panhard rod and front-to-back by a pair of trailing arms. All three pieces were added by Bill.

Besides the differential, traction from the high-grip 205/60-15 Hoosier tires on 15x7 Panasport wheels has led to other reliability problems. "Most of the time," says Elliott, "the Panhard rod pulls out of the frame. It was broken again after Sebring." Elliott is a cheerleader for the Datsun 2000. "All things being equal, on a fast course, nobody else has a chance. On a slow course, they can get closer. But if we can put the power down, they don't have a chance there either."

Elliott says the car belongs in CSP but is unfazed by competitors who grumble that the car should be moved to ASP. "It wouldn't matter to me what class they put it in." Now, about the improvements Elliott and Bill have been working on: Foremost, they have fitted wider wheels and tires under the rear fenders and plan to flare the front fenders before the Nationals. This would allow the use of 225/50-15 Hoosiers on 15-by-8-inch Revolution wheels all around. The reason? "Get the power to the ground and the party's all over," Elliott says. With the larger tires on the rear only, "I could come out at 6000 rpm and dump it," rather than 2000 rpm. "It's amazing, the difference." To handle this further increase in traction, the Harveys have considered replacing the troublesome Datsun clutch-type differential with a Detroit Locker which uses a ratcheting limited-slip mechanism. Attempts to buy a Tor sen differential, a third type of limited-slip unit which Elliott has used very successfully in an ASP Datsun 2402 he owns, have been unsuccessful so far. The brothers have been unable to find one to fit a roadster axle. As we've noted, a new engine is also on the Harveys' wish list. And installing stiffer springs is another idea the Harveys have talked about. Elliott says photographs show the car "leaning over with the Hoosiers … it's notorious for body roll. We have some super-stiff Datsun Competition springs. You'd never be able to drive it on the street."

There ,are other bits of fine tuning the Harveys may look into. They might quicken the roadster a tenth of a second here or a tenth there but, as Elliott puts it, "Until somebody can beat it, I'm not going to worry about it."

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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View comments on the GRM forums
KyAllroad UberDork
3/23/17 12:47 p.m.

It's impressive how much has changed in the last 29 years.

****Pretty sure that we had color photography back in 1988 though.

Marjorie Suddard
Marjorie Suddard General Manager
4/3/17 9:11 a.m.

*Pretty sure printers charged by the color to back in 1988, and it was more than we could afford.

aw614 Reader
1/1/20 10:54 a.m.

30+ years later you'll still the Datsun and the Harvey's at many local autocrosses in central Florida. They've been coming to the local Lakeland events hosted by FAST. First time I saw it was at a CFR Brooksville autocross back in mid 2013.

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