Jay Leno Thinks This Datsun 1200 Pickup Is Damn Near Flawless
… and then he drove it.
Datsun never sold the tiny morsel that was the 1974 Sunny 1200 in ‘Merica because it wasn’t ‘Merica enough. It was a unibody, thus unable to behave like the truck it resembled, but it was compact, a point of engineering pride for Nissan and a selling point for the Japanese market. Though the 1,200cc motor’s paltry output of 70 to 80 horsepower wasn’t a win in anyone’s column.
After Dominic Le got his hands on this particular Sunny, the only original bits left were the tailgate latch and the gas pedal. Everything else that makes this white stallion so eye-catching was a custom build or modification. Le had “made a few calls” to get on the floor of SEMA in Las Vegas, where his truck initially caught Jay Leno’s eye. The Chin wanted to take a deeper dive.
Let’s start with the power plant. Le bid adieu to the putt-putt motor and crammed in a 2-liter SR20DET four-cylinder from a Nissan Silvia, though he stroked it out to 2.2 liters. Why not a flat six, you ask? Space. The four-cyl barely fit, leaving a gap of about a finger. There’s a top-mounted turbo (“To show off the turbo more,” Le says), and with the tweaks, the engine now produces about 350 ponies. The tranny is the stock five-speed that came with the SR20. Given that the truck only weighs 1,800 lbs, that’s a nice power-to-weight ratio.
As for the body styling, yes, that looks like the front end of a 1971-72 Skyline GT-R, but before you scream “Sacrilege!” in the comments, Le would like it noted that he did not cut apart a GT-R to make his Frankenmod. A real Skyline front fender wouldn’t fit the Datsun, so he custom fabricated a piece that looks like a perfect replica. The whole truck was dropped by eight inches, and sits on a custom suspension, which is slowed by custom Wilwood brakes. Next, the chrome was all blacked out, the fender flares and mirrors added and the bed height shaved a smidgen, to give it a more stylish line from front to back.
Le and a friend did all the work themselves, wrenching away after putting in a full day at the office. (Yes, Le has a wife. Yes, she was cool with this project. No, she won’t ride in it.) After a heap of praise, Leno climbs into the driver’s seat, on the right, and takes off.
Here the foibles of a custom build begin to rear their ugly heads. There’s a noticeable clank every time Leno mats it. Le ascribes it to the drive shaft pulling hard and hitting the mounting brackets. Then Leno asks if the unpleasant odor permeating the cabin is him slipping the clutch a bit, but it’s tire rubbage. You can tell these trivial issues irk Leno because he closes the segment with a checklist of what to fix, though he commends Le on a spectacular job. We’d have to agree.