Jay Leno checks out an SR20-powered Datsun 1600 restomod

The Datsun 1600 laid the foundation for the 240Z and the line of Nissan Z sports cars that followed. Mike Spagnola of Purpose Built Motors respected that heritage while upgrading a 1600’s performance to turn it into a tasteful restomod that recently appeared on “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

In addition to being special to Datsun and Nissan fans, the 1600 also has special significance for Leno because one of these roadsters was his second car purchase (after a 1934 Ford pickup truck). His car was nothing like this red roadster, though.

The car started out as a bare shell, Spagnola said. While aesthetic changes are essentially limited to bigger wheels and tires with fender flares to cover them, a surprise waits under the hood.

Datsun 1600 restomod on Jay Leno's Garage

Datsun 1600 restomod on Jay Leno’s Garage

The Datsun is powered by an SR20DET turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 from an S13-generation Nissan 240SX. While still a Nissan engine, it’s easy to modify and has extensive aftermarket support. With an aftermarket turbocharger, it makes about 300 hp at the wheels, and about 260-lb-ft of torque, Spagnola said. That’s a lot more than the stock engine.

The new engine does fit more snugly in the engine bay, however, and Spagnola had to put some gold-leaf insulation on the hood to deal with the heat thrown off by the turbo. The brakes were sourced from a more modern Nissan sports car as well, in this case, a 300ZX.

While the Datsun 1600’s lineage continues with the 2023 Nissan Z sports car, the Datsun name itself may not be long for this world. After being retired in 1981, the Datsun name was revived in 2013 for emerging markets, selling cars in countries like India, Indonesia, and Russia. But Nissan is mulling killing off Datsun again and reallocating resources to its electric-vehicle business, Nikkei Asia reported in April 2022.

Check out the full video for more information on the car and to hear Jay’s thoughts about how this car drives. Spoiler, he’s impressed.

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