Past Perfect

The sport of autocross pushes a lot of boundaries. At its top level, the competition is so close that competitors dig and scratch to find even a .001-second advantage. Championships have been won and lost by that small a margin, so it’s no surprise to see the lengths to which competitors go for the slightest advantage.

It’s also no surprise that top-level autocrossing turns into a bit of a car-of-the-month club. When something works, it’s copied and improved upon, the knowledge base grows, and the bleeding edge is expanded ever wider.

All this makes the Datsun 2000 Roadster of Bill and Elliott Harvey that much more of an anachronism. When we first met the Harveys back in the mid-’80s, their 1967 Datsun already seemed like a throwback on the grid. It was facing off against the Honda Civics and new CRXs, which were the rising force in the SCCA C-Street Prepared autocross class. Despite Hondas having the advantage of youth and technology, the Harveys’ Datsun still took home win after win in major and national events.

When the Mazda RX-7 and BMW M3 briefly flirted with the apex predator role in CSP, the Datsun still showed them the way to the door. Finally, it appeared that the Mazda Miata would overtake and forever banish most other cars in CSP to permanent obscurity—and it accomplished that feat on sheer numbers and force of will. But even the fastest Miatas in the country still get nervous when this now-46-year-old Roadster rolls off the trailer into the paddock. When last we crossed paths with the Harvey brothers—at the kickoff event of the 2013 National Solo season, the Dixie Match Tour in Cecil, Georgia—Elliott took a .7-second win in CSP over some serious MX-5 competition. He piloted the Roadster around the course so quickly that it bested some Corvette Z06s and Porsche GT3s in the Super Stock field.

So what’s their secret? We’ll be the first to say we really don’t know. The second to say the same would be the Harvey brothers. After all these years, even they admit that technology should’ve passed the Roadster by years ago. Perhaps the simple answer is they’ve managed to find the right combination of people and machinery to produce a result greater than the sum of its parts. It’s simply a combination that’s no good at losing.

In a sport where the flavor of the month changes biweekly and heroes are separated from the great, anonymous rabble by mere thousandths of a second, Bill and Elliott have managed to add six Solo 2 autocross championships, two ProSolo crowns and a Solo 1 time trial title to the impressive resumé of this retirement-age Roadster.

So while no one may ever know the secrets of this car—certainly no one has ever come close to duplicating the success of the Harvey Datsun Roadster—here’s a closer look at a machine that’s dominated the cones for nearly half a century.

Blast from the Past

Longtime readers will certainly recognize the Datsun from the early days of the magazine—even back to the Auto-X days—as it’s changed very little.

Hailing from the greater Tampa Bay area in Florida means they were regular fixtures at local autocrosses we attended back in the day. In fact, the Roadster was even present at this author’s first autocross in 1986 in Tampa.

Its appearance hasn’t changed much over the years. As available tires got wider, the fenders were arched and flared to accommodate the additional rubber, but aside from that, it’s largely original. The red dot on the nose—which spent nearly two decades there—was the beginning of an abandoned project to add a Rising Sun motif. It got a temporary new look in 2010—red primer—when it appeared at a few events during some bodywork.

Antique Performance

One of the trademarks of the Harvey Roadster—despite its antiquated suspension—has always been its exceptional handling. Hoosier tires have been the brothers’ weapon of choice for as long as they’ve been competing with the car. Back in the day, Hoosier Autocrosser bias-ply tires provided the stick, but these were phased out by Hoosier in the mid-’90s as they brought their radials into the market. The Harveys then faced a dilemma.

“The Autocrossers were a big part of the reason this car worked so well. When we had to go to radials at first, you just couldn’t do anything with them. This car only works when you drive the living hell out of it, and when we first went to radials, we couldn’t do that.”

Still, the car found some success in the early radial days, but it’s seen an even bigger resurgence with the latest crop of gummy radials. “The modern Hoosiers remind me of the old ones in the way you can drive them,” explains Bill. “You can take them way out there and not get punished for it. When we first switched to radials, it seemed the harder we tried to drive the car, the slower we went. These new ones really work.”

The Roadster still battles some basic physics, though. “There’s only so much you’re going to be able to do to control 180 pounds of iron flopping up and down,” Bill says—a reference to the car’s live-axle-on-leaf-springs rear end. “We just try to keep it flat and get as much power to the ground as we can.”

No Need for New Tricks

Even though it’s old enough to have kids who’ve graduated college, the U20 2-liter in the Roadster was surprisingly ahead of its time. From the factory, the SOHC engine had a 7000 rpm redline and produced 150 horsepower with the aid of the Mikuni/Solex carbs and hotter camshaft that was available as a factory optional Competition Kit. A well-tuned version of the factory setup has powered the Harvey Datsun for many years, but technology is finally catching up with this old-school powerplant. “It’s hard to keep the carbs working properly under the kinds of cornering loads we’re dealing with these days,” claims Bill. “But we’ve yet to find a fuel-injection system that makes the kind of peak power the Mikunis do on this car. It’s a tough situation.”

What Bill fails to realize is that his “tough situation”—squeezing the last few horsepower out of an engine that’s won eight national titles so it can continue stealing trophies from younger cars—pales in comparison to what most of us would’ve assumed to be an impossible situation. Namely, take a car that was originally designed to compete favorably with the British roadsters of the ’60s and stay on pace with the most technologically advanced sports cars on the planet.

We won’t be surprised when they find a way.

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View comments on the GRM forums
alfadriver UltimaDork
11/6/15 12:35 p.m.

I remember that article. Reminds me that I really wanted to help George and Dee Schweilke make the best legal Alfa motor possible for his Spider.

And maybe a few tweaks to his set up.

But it was a long time ago I last saw them, and a little less long ago that I last autocrossed.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
11/6/15 12:42 p.m.

Just goes to show you the importance of having a well-sorted car. After all this time, I think these guys have pretty well got all the bugs out.

11/10/15 6:26 p.m.

Great article about the DATSUN 2000 and its owners/drivers. Certainly amazing reliability and performance from a then 46 year old sports car. Success in an Auto-X is more a matter of having both a car and driver melded together as one at the peak of their performance.

A really good driver in a less well developed car - can usually beat a poor driver in a really well developed car. At the National Level - most of the drivers are running well developed cars - and a few thousandths of second come down to the Driver that is best integrated with his machine. It is really hard to beat decades of consistent winning experience.

kb58 SuperDork
3/5/18 9:08 p.m.

I had one... Loved to drive it, looked great in red, unique, fairly reliable...

And then there was working on it - apparently Datsun had yet to make their cars easy to work on and learned on this one. This was the first car where I found myself throwing parts across the yard with a lot of cursing, only to have to go get it after I cooled off. Oh, and by the mid-1980s, parts were already getting expensive.

Flyman615 New Reader
3/6/18 11:47 a.m.

I've owned and enjoyed Datsun Roadsters since 1972. My first was a rare Fairlady 1500 twin-carb. My current car is a (white) SRL-311 1970 2000. Perhaps the last one imported. Great and fun cars even 48 years later. Thanks for the article!!

Scott Z.

bigben Reader
3/6/18 1:33 p.m.

I too liked this article when it came out. I'm building a 69 Datsun Roadster now and just wish the article had more information on the suspension setup, particularly how they "keep (the rear axle) flat and get as much power to the ground"

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