COAL: Divertimento (in three parts)

Datsun 2000 fq-horz-vert

An advantage of not depending on a car for most of your transportation is the chance to try different vehicles as they may present themselves, especially when practicality and reliability would be open to question. These three were fairly cheap, costing between $100-400 US in 1971-4, started and ran reasonably, and were worked on and driven by me for a short time each. My father was forbearing enough to allow the use of his garage and tools, and they left my ownership in equivalent or better shape then  when they were bought.

Datsun 2000 rq

The first was called a Datsun 2000, at least by those of us who knew what they were at all —”Datsun Fairlady” is a term I only saw much later. I suspect that like a lot of translations there was a lot of meaning lost. The claim to fame of this roadster was the fairly new and unique 5 speed manual combined with a pretty robust, lusty, and apparently reliable 2 liter SOHC engine. The mileage was (as I recall) was in the 60K range—considered a lot for the time—and the convertible top was barely usable as a cover.

The body was white and pretty scratched up, but it ran quite well so a friend and I decided to try a bit of fix-up and resale. The top (courtesy of JC Whitney) more or less fit (had to work on that a while) and the compounding on the body along with some diligent use of elbow grease and carnauba wax left a passable looking sports car.

Datsun 2000 fq

Both of us got it up over 100mph (briefly) and I considered keeping it as my main transport till my father and I watched my brother do a drift around the corner  in our quiet suburb.My father turned to me and said “I think you’d better sell that car soon”. He was right (my Mustang was a better fit) – so we traded it for a newer VW Beetle and Suzuki Savage 250, both of which made a decent return with no further work.

The new owner had it for a long time afterwards and had a great time with it, though since he was the high school quarterback and a drummer in a rock band its hard to see how he could have a bad one. My short impression on driving it was that there was a lot of power there for such a light car, and the 5th gear was a great idea (gee-wonder if anyone thought the same?). Easily a better car than I was a driver, and our first Japanese car, although my father never did totally overcome that 1941-45 thing.

Austin Healey 1959 Bug_Eye_Sprite_Front_1

The next diversion was a “bug-eyed” Sprite of somewhat indeterminate age. This one was next to a garage near my home with a smashed hood, bad top and broken passenger side leaf spring. As a $100 challenge it would grace my garage about 2 months while I learned the joys of frozen bolts, lever shock absorbers and metallic-type bondo.

It ran surprisingly well after the broken bits were improved, but a simple ride on a “closed”section of I-84 convinced me that this was fun as a go cart, not as a Mustang substitute. Selling was pretty easy, although the buyer’s mother was irritated enough to ask whether I thought this was a good first car. Surprisingly I said “if you want reliable, buy an old Falcon-he is looking for something else”. I never got it past 65 MPH but at 6″ off the ground that feels like more than enough, and the tight gearbox/engine/suspension must have compensated for a lot of (automotive) sins because the new owner still was driving it when I left for grad school.


Last there was a blue 1966 VW Kombi bus. The body work had already been done with a fairly artistic level of pop riveted stainless steel; the interior was bare. Reverse gear had disappeared a while back but they knew someone who knew someone else etc. for parts. Anyway, the cult of the VW microbus was still strong and I was curious about the potential for such a four wheeled living room. As a vehicle it became something of an automotive Rorschach test—my brother and his friends recognized a rolling party and built a complete wood paneled interior (table and all) one afternoon.

My college friends saw a great way to venture off campus en masse just looking for things (you could see a lot of scenery at that speed). My father saw his garage filled up with…something. He came around to VWs later, but not never microbuses. From my perspective I saw a top end barely over 50 up-hill, nearly non existent defrosting and heating and the requirement to either procure a functional transaxle, park in strange locations straight ahead or keep 2 people with me at all times. Bless Jerry Garcia there wasn’t enough pharmacology around to keep that going. I broke even selling to my friend’s sister who never fixed any of it, and apparently enjoyed the whole experience

In retrospect I understand the enjoyment people had with all three vehicles. Any good afternoon at an antique car show is proof positive of that. The microbus cult actually resurfaced with a son-in-law a few years back. I not only held my tongue(regarding the 76 VW bus he acquired) but  even bought a share of Ben and Jerrys ice cream stock for them to attend the Vermont shareholders meeting. Sadly, my daughter and him never set out for it.

(images not of my actual cars)