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L-Series Installation in Your Datsun Roadster

Jimmy Claypool

First of all let me preface this by saying that all cars and owners are different. Results may vary. I first decided to do the L-series swap when I started shopping around for a timing set for my U-20. The prices shocked me, and being a 510’er at heart, I began to do some research for a suitable engine to swap in. My choices were, KA24, VG30, rotary, or….”Old Faithful” the L-series. They all have been done, so I wasn’t breaking any new ground with any of these. I had any of the engines at my disposal so that was no issue either. I began to narrow my choices by asking myself “What do I want out of my car?” I wanted parts availability. All engines met this requirement. I needed to be able to do the swap in my small garage at home. The VG and KA require extensive modifications to complete, so I eliminate those. The rotary might have been a fairly easy swap as it is carburetor but there are a whole load of exhaust and cooling issues that helped eliminate it.

Now I was down to the L-series. Parts are everywhere. And cheap. Go fast parts are readily available. And they are just bulletproof. Plus there was a ton of parts occupying my garage left over from my 510. I made a deal with a friend to obtain a newly rebuilt L-16 and started making my shopping list. The list that I used is following:

 Ordered list
  1. Engine .040 L-16 with flattop pistons
  2. Stan Chernoff’s Kit 1-310-DATSUNS
  3. Gather the items in Stan’s instructions
  4. 1979 280ZX 5-Speed
  5. 1600 drive shaft with ZX 5-speed it requires NO MODS
  6. L-series flywheel but use a 2000 roadster clutch assembly. On L20 motors use a Z-car Clutch, as it is 225mm. Match the T/O bearing and clutch fork from the type of car that you use the clutch from. (I learned this the hard way)
  7. All the bolt on items for the L-series (starter, carbs, exhaust manifold, dist., etc
  8. Use the roadster alternator with the bracket provided in the kit

I am sure I am forgetting something. Anyway, I started on a Saturday morning. I made the notch in the cross member exactly like the drawing that comes with the kit. Mate the engine and trans out of the car and install them as one unit. Make sure that your clutch pieces are correct. Like I said, I found this out the hard way. Another thing I found out the hard way, you can’t install the oil pump with the engine in. So it took all of 2 hours to install the engine. Another 2 hours to make a trans mount and install the drive shaft. I then took the car home to do all the little stuff.

My advice would be to do the exhaust first. You can take it to a muffler shop and have it done. Or if you are like me you’ll do it yourself. I just connected the down pipe to the exhaust already in the car. This did not work very well as the stock exhaust was very rusty and the metal was very thin that the welder just kept burning holes in it. I decided to just redo the entire system. I bought a length of 1 7/8 pipe and 1 mandrel 180 degree bend. I ran the straight piece under the car and tied it into the original bend over the diff. I tied the other end into a 1 7/8 X 2 ¼ adapter to a 4 inch Supertrapp.

Then install all your ancillary items. Carbs, alt., starter, etc. I decided to use an elect. distributor. You will need to relocate your coil as the L-series distributor is on the driver’s side front of the engine. You will need to extend your starter wires as it is on the passenger side of the engine. Stan’s kit will tell you the radiator hoses to get. I am using an electric fan as well as a stock L series fan.

For now I am using SU carbs for the L-series. I had to fabricate linkage to work with the roadster cable. I used a cable and bell crank out of a Subaru wagon at Pick-N-Pull. I welded the bell crank onto the SU linkage and made a bracket out of ¼ plate steel to hold the cable. In the future I will switch to 40mm Weber DCOE’s.

During all this I also did the Volvo brake swap and changed to a 280zx master cylinder. It REALLY needs Comp suspension. The front tire gap is HUGE!!! You can see all this in the pictures.


I drove the car around the neighborhood and I have to say, I am very pleased. A quick glance under the hood and you don’t even realize that its not supposed to be there. It is very smooth. It has impressive performance even for a mild L-16. Opened up and the SU’s still roar a little bit. The tall 5th gear in the ZX trans is perfect and 1st 2nd and 3rd are perfect for auto crossing. Give this car a built LZ22 and it’ll fly. But that’s for next year.

Any questions please feel free to call me and ask or email me at jimmy@differentials.com