Hooligan Hauler

Story by Bradley Brownell  Photography by Tom Suddard Unless Otherwise Credited

 

You can’t cross the same river twice: It’s a philosophical statement implying that you are no longer the same person after you cross the river and, at the same time, the river continuously changes as it flows. Likewise, you can’t drive the same Datsun 620 pickup twice.

When Chad Copeland was 17 years old, he bought his first Datsun truck. He didn’t have a huge budget, but, like many other teens, he set about modifying it on a shoestring.

Reindexing the torsion bars to drop the front and throwing some quick and dirty 3-inch lowering blocks on the rear springs gave the truck the right stance. He also popped on a set of no-name 15×8-inch “wagon wheels” wrapped with a set of used tires. “It leaked oil a lot,” Chad recalls. “It broke down a lot.”

Even so, those early days with his small pickup were instrumental in Chad’s journey through life.

He sold the truck when he entered the Air Force and shipped off for three tours in the Middle East. While overseas, he was deployed as an executive protection agent, driving around very important people in very heavily armored Ford sedans.

Because of the preciousness of Chad’s cargo, he was treated to several rounds of evasive maneuver driver training. The U.S. military wanted Chad to know exactly what the car was capable of in an emergency situation, should the need arise. As he received this education, he gained an appreciation for the physics of the automobile, learning J-turns, drifting, high-speed reverse maneuvers and more.

When Chad finally completed his time overseas, he returned Stateside with newfound wheelman abilities and immediately set about using them. He jumped into the motorsports world and progressed through a series of cars, including a pair of Toyota Supras, before settling into the drift scene with an S13-chassis Nissan 240SX powered by an SR20DET swap. Chad’s girlfriend at the time introduced him to the sport of drifting, and her group of friends was enamored with the Japanese anime “Initial D.” You know what came next.

Soul Searching

The protagonist of our story, the one who crossed the river, wasn’t much into a cartoon about tōge battles, tofu delivery and sliding cars, but it sparked an interest in testing his driving skills in real life–outside of the evasive maneuvers course. The S13 became Chad’s weapon of choice for traveling all around the American Southeast, attending and participating in as many drift events as he possibly could.

After a few years of playing on the travel team, Chad got sick of all the road miles and decided to start his own drift event right where he lived–let the other people travel to his event for a change. Once the event became successful, he joined forces with Formula Drift and a few other smaller drift events to form the South East Drift Association, a group he was involved in for years.

Part of the joy of drift events is the individual expression on display. You are your car, and your car is you. It’s difficult to stand out from the crowd with an S13 in drift circles, however, and Chad knew he had to build something truly unique. He was at the bank of the river anew, ready to cross.

Completing the Puzzle

Chad went back to his roots, finding a 1974 Datsun 620 for a song. To become a proper drift car, however, it would need a heaping dollop of horsepower. Since he was already familiar with mild SR20s, he went in that direction, finding one with a blown head gasket for just $750. When he arrived to pick up the engine, the seller asked if he wanted to take the S13 240SX it came out of as well. Everything snowballed from there.

Chad figured that if he was already putting a big turbo SR20DET in the truck’s engine compartment, he might as well give it a suspension upgrade to handle the power a bit better. Instead of fiddling with the truck’s stock underpinnings, he pulled the Datsun down to its bones and fitted the whole of the S13 chassis underneath it.

The front subframe went in pretty easily–he simply welded the whole thing in, lock, stock and uprights. Figuring out how to attach the rear required some significant engineering on Chad’s part. His solution involved locating the rear subframe mounts based on measurements he took from a stock 240SX in a local junkyard. He worked diligently to make this part of the project perfect, because he wanted to retain the factory geometry for the S13 chassis’s aftermarket suspension support.

Chad quickly realized that the S13 subframes were much wider than the truck, so a set of fiberglass flares had to be tacked on. Rather than fit the S13’s small wheels, Chad went with a set of big, 17-inch JDM Tom’s Racing wheels. (Chad doesn’t much care for the stretched tire look; he went with a meatier stance.)

Once the engine was installed in the newly fabricated chassis, Chad realized it wasn’t sitting where he wanted it. The fix was to move everything back a good bit, which required cutting apart the firewall. To close it back up, he used the metal from an old wheelbarrow.

Then another problem emerged: Chad had installed the turbo piping to the left of the engine, and it was interfering with the steering rack. This fix involved completely reengineering the truck’s interior and swapping it to right-hand drive. The R32 Skyline steering box was sourced from a half-cut at a local importer.

Now that he’d solved that jigsaw puzzle, Chad needed to make the truck safe. Since South East Drift Association ran under NASA-provided insurance, he needed a cage that met those regs. Chad and his brother stitched one together.

Though the truck is capable of about 400 horsepower on full boost, Chad says he likes to run it at about 300 to keep things a little closer to the sane end of the spectrum–and to keep the engine in one piece. Even on low boost, the intercooler hoses occasionally pop off from the pressure.

This is a hooligan machine that rewards a heavy throttle foot with sideways action. Traction, says Chad, can be managed by adding fuel to the bed-mounted cell or by adding a cornfed friend to the passenger seat. The whole kit and caboodle weighs just 2100 pounds, he says, so a bit of extra weight helps keep the thing planted.

“I built the truck for me,” Chad says. “I didn’t build it for your opinion of it.”

Slowing Down

In a handful of years, this Datsun pickup lived through maybe a couple dozen drift events and track days. Now Chad mostly keeps it parked in his garage, both having retired from their hairier youthful activities. He tells us he’s more or less finished building it and has moved on to myriad other projects. He’s currently working on a mini jetboat.

He does bring it out for a drive a few times a year, a stumpy cigar hanging out of his mouth. The truck is light and nimble, he says, a bit like driving a go-kart with a big, long wheelbase. Still, it cruises the street with surprisingly little effort.

Despite Chad’s tough-guy exterior, he lights up when a rank-and-file commuter throws the Datsun a thumbs-up. In a way, he and his truck are similar: hardcore on the outside, but not to be taken too seriously once opened up.

Chad changed his truck from a mild-mannered Datsun pickup into a rough-and-tumble drift monster. And through it all, the truck was changing Chad. Neither was ever the same.

Photography Credit: photosbyjuha.com

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Datsun, Nissan, 620, 240SX and Truck articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
AWSX1686
AWSX1686 UltraDork
12/10/19 2:55 p.m.

That's hawt! Also one I've never seen before, thanks for sharing it!

03Panther
03Panther New Reader
12/10/19 6:17 p.m.

That is one of my favorite body styles! I had a couple of 620's back in the early 80's, but both were the single cabs. Always wanted to drop a SBF in an extended cab, but never did.

Awesome work!

03Panther
03Panther New Reader
12/10/19 9:09 p.m.

Is Chad a member of the forums? I could use the front suspension he took out for a three wheeler project! I doo a build thread on it ... one day...

classicJackets
classicJackets Dork
12/12/19 9:19 a.m.

Love it. An S13 suspension swap is something I would love to do on mine - I even have the factory S13 rear crossmember studs in my garage..

Kreb
Kreb UberDork
12/12/19 9:37 a.m.

Excellent. I do like mini-pickups. Might have to follow suit one day. 

Our Preferred Partners
KRCcqp2PrvXgGaeK79BIWwmGmfu9236EVYhpSkKKAEqKsm1cHf3UJEj48BqeIq2E