Published 2007 Updated 2018
Ran when parked a few years ago!!!!
BUYING A ROADSTER, WHAT DO I LOOK FOR?
PREFACE - First and foremost buy the best car you can afford. That $500 hulk you picked up can end up costing you ten to twenty times the initial cost to completely restore. Unless you really enjoy restoring cars pay a little more and drive it right away. Prices are creeping up but a roadster is still a very affordable sports car for the money and a ton of fun to drive. Do not buy a driver and then begin to dismantle it. Drive it first to get some enjoyment out of the car. Many a project have never been completed or are sold off as parts.
Many parts are becoming NLA(No Longer Available)as Nissan has no plans for making NOS parts and has actually sold off as lots many of its old parts. There are some after-market parts being made but the future looks bleak for cheap, readily available replacement parts. The U20 motor parts are becoming very costly or simply not available. The timing sets availability is spotty and at one time they were running $1200.00 US. There have recently been some offered for $400 to $500 dollars for a complete set. Shop around when looking for U20 timing components. On the 1600 motor many H20 forklift parts fit and will save you a bundle on rebuild. There are some creative people out there doing some very functional, good looking engine swaps. You can read about some of the swaps by clicking here! So all is not lost. We may have to become a creative group to keep these little cars on the road but where there is a will there has always been a way. Please do not let this stop you from jumping in on the purchase of your first roadster and the fun you can have driving one. Another word of warning--you rarely stop at just one and can end up owning multiple roadsters in no time.
There are two types of roadsters-the low windshield, flat dash were manufactured from '62 through '67.5. 67 being the rarest when it comes to the 2 liters. The high windshield, padded dash cars were manufactured between '68 and '70 and were modified to meet more stringent(for the time) DOT requirements. They were further broken into 1500s('62-'65), 1600 low('66-'67.5), 2000 low('67), 1600 high('68-'70) and 2000 high('68-'70). Some people prefer the low windshield while others prefer the high windshield. The most sought after is the 67 2 liter-many times referred to as 67 half year cars. 67 2 liters were first introduced in March of 1967. There were less than 1000 made and have very unique characteristics. You can view the model guides here! The choice is yours- they all look great if you want my opinion.
(1) Rust... any car kept in the east coast or wet climates should be suspect...a few bubbles here or there are OK, but larger holes are expensive to fix and indicate the car may have widespread cancer. Front fenders can be replaced, the rear body section and rocker panels are more difficult. In extreme cases the frame is rusted to the point where it is structurally unsafe. The best cars tend to come from California or the southwest.
(2) Body... avoid freshly repainted cars which may be hiding underlying body/rust problems... Better to have an old, original paint job so that one can see exactly what is there...a magnet is useful for detecting hidden filler/bondo...as roadsters are getting beyond 30 years old, many have been repainted... Bodywork and paint are among the most expensive portion of restoration, so the better the paint and body the better off you are.
(3) Engine... The 1600s are very durable, although some head gasket problems have been reported as well as rod bearings.. The 2000s timing gear should be checked, as it is costly to replace. Some where in the neighborhood of $1200 plus just for parts alone. Take odometer readings with a grain of salt... many have been spun around or swapped with different gauges. Any high mileage engine should be suspect- tell tale signs are oil on the plugs or gray smoke during d-acceleration or acceleration. A compression test is well worth the time and will give some clue to the general condition of the engine. Engine rebuilds are costly, so one should be cautious here. Oil leaks- most roadsters leak from the rear main engine seal.... if it is a small leak and you can tolerate it, OK, but otherwise you can plan on pulling the motor to replace the rear main seal.
(4) Cooling system...Pull the fill cap off and peer down into the filler neck. Hopefully you will see the greenish color of anti-freeze. If all you see is nothing or rusty colored water plan on having some cooling system issues. At the very least you will have to flush the cooling system. Water pumps cannot stand running with plain water as the bearing uses anti-freeze for lubrication so a new water pump may be required. Still available but not cheap. Make sure the temperature gauge is hooked up and works. Nothing worse than over heating a motor with out knowing about it.
(5) Transmission... critical! Any problems with transmission or clutch require removal of the entire engine/transmission as a unit. Test drive thoroughly and be aware of worn 1st and 2nd gear synchros. Check clutch free play and any judder on take up of drive. Some of the 5 speed models have a design flaw which causes 5th gear to "freewheel." It has been commonly referred to as 5th gear neutral. Ask the seller if 5th has been welded- if he has no clue, then you may end up with an expensive repair on your hands. Expect to pay dollars for a rebuild.
(6) Rear ends... usually last a long time, but can develop oil leaks with age and worn axle bearings. A whine at higher speeds is OK, but anything louder or squealing noises should send up a red flag.
(7) Brakes... straightforward to repair, but can be costly if calipers and or rotors need to be replaced. Roadsters have strong brakes and if the car's braking performance is weak or it pulls to one side, the brakes could be suspect. Plan on spending $1000 plus in parts for a complete brake system. That would be brake master, rotors, calipers(x4), brake lines, rear wheel cylinders, front pads and rear shoes. Another area of concern is to check the structural integrity of the firewall around the master cylinder. This area has been known to crack and weaken. There is a brace available from one of the list members which repairs this weak spot. This brace only works on the dual master cylinder cars. There are also some brake swaps you can do--Volvo front brake upgrade or 300ZX front brake upgrade as well as a 200SX rear disc brake upgrade. You can read about some of the brake upgrades by going here to the TechSection.Brakes
(8) Electrical... well maintained roadsters should not have too many electrical problems. Unlike 1990s vehicles, they have relatively simple electrical systems. Check the charging system with a voltmeter gauge... of course, test all instruments, lights etc. If you see various spliced wires and tape up jobs under the dash and hood- be prepared to do a lot of trouble shooting. Replacement wiring harnesses are available, and a botched electrical system can be a real nightmare. Fuse blocks are no longer available for the short windshield pre-1968 models. Most electrical problems can be blamed on poor, corroded connections. Thirty plus year previous owner alterations can take their toll as well. You can view the different wiring diagrams here!
(9) Interior... most have been well worn and sun baked.... dash covers are available for 68-70, but earlier models will require a full dash pad, which is more costly. Most major interior pieces are available as reproduction items and even some new old stock items can be had.
(10) Suspension... shocks are relatively straightforward to replace. Most of the original front end pieces are available. New ball joints are expensive-close to $125.00 a piece. Replacing everything with urethane bushings should be put on the "things to do" list. If the entire front end is shot (ball joints, tie rods, control arms, bushings) you will be looking at a big expense, so a detailed front end check is well worth it. Click here to read about that!
(11) Generally speaking... Develop a good rapport with the seller... if you point out a problem and he/she tries to downplay it, deny it or cover it up, leave! If he/she is hiding one thing, there are others as well. I would rather deal with someone who is honest and points out the fact that the car NEEDS a new clutch!! Don't trust their word, ask to see receipts for repairs- the most diligent owners keep ALL service records and receipts, so that they can document that the car has been maintained. For example, I will have little or no trouble selling either of my 2 Datsuns when the time comes- I have service records on my 240-Z dating back 14 years. If the seller has only had the car for a few months and is dumping it, I would be suspicious. Original owners are best, but 2nd or even 3rd owners are usually OK.
Probably the best advice is take the car to AAA or better yet, an experienced DATSUN mechanic who can go over the entire car and tell you all mechanical and body problems. Another good source of information would be the local Roadster Club. There usually is a few years of Datsun experience to tap into. Most roadster owners are glad to share their experiences and knowledge with new comers. And of course you can always use 311s.org to ask any questions you might have. Joining is easy and you will find us a pretty friendly group. Good luck and may you find the roadster of your dreams.
Buyers Guide provided by Doug Antelman ŠJune 1996 With minor editing by S. Allen