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HCOTY Nominee: Chad Copeland’s 1973 Datsun 620 Drift Truck

Image Courtesy of Motormavens, Photographer; Brett May

The sport of drifting…it’s a sport I know absolutely nothing about, and to be quite frank, a sport I would not take up. However, there is no doubt that the participants in these events are talented drivers, gifted wrenches, or both. They take a rear wheel drive vehicle, burn off copious amounts of rubber while flogging their chariots around a course, and make it look graceful. The combatants have captivated a new generation of enthusiasts, while quickly becoming a pop culture phenomena. Those who choose to be a part of this sport seem to gravitate to cars that are at least a decade old or more, with the Nissan 240sx as the predominate make. So it is refreshing that Chad Copeland chose a different path, and this is why his 1973 Datsun 620 is nominated for this year’s Hooniversal Car of the Year.


Chad started this project when he bought the truck in April of 2008 for the sum of $500. The truck was an automatic, and Chad knew this would never do, so he sourced a 1977 620 with a stick, and began the tear-down process on his way to building one of the most unusual drift machines ever. The stock L16 power-plant was also getting the heave-ho, and in its place was the Nissan SR20DET, usually found in the JDM Silvia (our 240SX). But what good would a stonking engine be without drastically changing the suspension? All the 620 stock suspension pieces were jettisoned, and a 240SX front subframe was used, with an R32 Skyline steering rack.

However, it was the rear suspension setup that separates Chad from the rest of the boys. Chad had to angle the frame rails and fabricate mounting points for the rear suspension sub frame. Just check out the mad welding skills. The way the rear suspension fits is nothing short of amazing. To help stiffen the modified rear frame, Chad welded a couple of cross braces. The rolling chassis was complete by April of 2009, and the cab was fitted to see how everything lined up. Just look at the pictures of that gorgeous chassis!

The cab was then started with a rollcage fabrication, with a firewall and transmission tunnel that had to be made. Chad simply made part of the transmission tunnel from a True Temper steel wheelbarrow! How’s that for originality? He placed the steering column of the right side because a LHD setup wouldn’t clear the A/R housing and the down pipe on the left hand side of the motor and then realized that most of the tracks that he wanted to go road racing ran clockwise. So with Chad sitting on the right side, his weight would be shifted to the middle of the truck with most of the turns. With the cage finalized, the gauges were set into place, and everything started coming together. This was October of ’09.

The truck was buttoned up just before Christmas of 2009, and as with any build a few bugs had to be sorted out. Once checked out, the truck was producing at least 300HP at the rear wheels! To keep the beast cool, Chad relocated the radiator behind the cab, with an electric water pump and an electric fan. This also helped the efficiency of the intercooler because there will be less heat soaking issues, creating a little cooler air into the intake. He has been experimenting with running the truck without the rear bed.

The exterior of Chad’s truck is truly one of a kind. The paint is a flat olive green color and “tiger” livery based on Cobra helicopters he worked on while in the military. 240Z over fenders have also been attached to the body to help fit the large wheels. A custom gauge cluster was built that includes an Autometer 10k tachometer, programmable Ultralight speedometer, oil pressure gauge, temperature gauge, EGR gauge, air/fuel gauge, and a VDO boost gauge. Chad also installed custom switches and knobs to control everything from the horn to the headlights and labeled all of these switches with stamped dog tags. A 4-panel mirror was also installed, as was a Circuit Sports hub, quick release, steering bushing, MOMO steering wheel, and Wilwood pedals and custom fluid reservoirs.

The truck has been captured in a number of enthusiast sites, from SpeedHunters, to Hella Flush, to Sumospeed, and even here on Hooniverse. Chad told me that this winter he is going to fab up a top mount setup so there can be a straight feed into the turbo instead of the drastic turn that the intake makes before the turbo. That should make it a bit more efficient, it should be able to pull a little more power out without having to starve the motor of air. He is also looking to redo the cooling system for a third time. Foerst Motorwerks has been trying to get him to get one of their oversized NASCAR radiators, which should make the engine run cooler. The Braking system is about to undergo a renovation as well, and with the truck being a one-off it’s hard to figure out the proper master cylinder needed to get this thing to stop on a dime. The truck is about 2100 lbs and stops like it’s a tank so the braking is an issue. He’s also in the market to get more wheels, probably something cheap for drifting.

While I was writing this piece, I asked what other cars he either owns or has owned. He let me know that prior to the 620, he had an Infiniti M30. This is what he told me about that car:

The M30 was the predecessor project to the the Datsun. It was my first go around with a project car. I had plans of making it an RB powered drift machine. But I gave up after seeing how flimsy and weak the frame was.

The turning point on the M30 was when I had jacked up the rear of the car by the diff and put jack stands on the uni-frame rails in front of the rear wheels and as I let the car down onto the stands it the sagged a good 1.5″ past the stopping point of sitting on the stands. Plus the car had the infamous 300z (Z31) suspension. “Squat and Go”. Not good for drifting. Maybe the track, but not drifting. How many 300z’s do you see drifting? :)

Chad also owns a beautiful JDM 1988 Toyota GT Twin Turbo Soarer. This car has also been featured on SpeedHunters, and according to Chad:

I’ve had it in country since 2005. I kept it for a few months and had to sell it because rent was due and I didn’t have any money so something had to go. So I sold it to a guy in Nashville, TN. I sold the car to him with a busted rear window and some water damage to some of the upholstery.

Photo Courtesy of Speed Hunters. Photographer; Mike Garrett

3 years later the guy calls me up and says that he’s also having some finacial issues and is wanting to get rid of the car for less than I sold it to him and he had fixed all the previous issues. That was in January of 2009. So I’m looking at having the car back for two years now. I’m glad it’s back too. Some of the guys were saying that it’s meant to be, because I LOVE the Soarer and I let it go and it came back to me.

Photo Courtesy of Motormavens. Photographer: Johnathan McWorter

In conclusion, Chad Copeland’s Datsun 620 is the perfect vehicle to take the title of Hooniversal Car of the Year 2010 because it is so unexpected. This is a truck that has been totally rebuilt with a new suspension and a stonking engine, to compete on the track with other Nissans, Toyotas and the odd BMW. The amount of backyard engineering to create this monster is nothing short of amazing, with Chad having to basically re-learn the art of welding and fabrication. You also have a Hoon that’s a military veteran (doing three tours of duty in the Middle East), who is currently a networking technician during the week, that owns a set of kick ass cars, and beats the living snot out of his project drift truck. If this is not the perfect nominee for the Hooniversal Car of the Year, I’m not sure what is.

Images from Chad Copeland and Sumospeed, unless otherwise noted.

Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. omg_grip says:

    Drift truck or not, thats one sick vintage datsun.

  2. Mad_Science says:

    Kudos to Jim for contacting Copeland and getting the backstory on the truck.

    While entertaining to watch, I have a hard time taking drifting seriously. The crazier the vehicle, the more I love it. It's all about exhibitionism, so why not get something worth exhibiting?

    • Rust-MyEnemy says:

      Ooooh, don't let me get started on drifting.

      Drifters fall into two either of categories. Firstly the skilled artisans who perform automotive ballet, slowly rising through the ranks and achieving their revered status through personal development and an innate technical knowledge and understanding.

      Secondly, everyone else. For every drifter who actually commits to the sport and joins actual organised competitions, there are about three dozen wannabes who say "I like to drift" just because they know how to unstick the rear end on their MX5. They decorate their imported JDM rear drive cars with erroneous logos (HKS, Greddy, Spoon etc. We call the usual stack of these decals "shopping lists"). They allow damage to accumulate because evidence of drift-related incidents is like a badge of honour to show their peers. The easy repair of drift-induced damage excuses the fact that their front bumper is held on with cable-ties. At the end of the day it all feels like just another scene for people to belong to.

      I could watch competition drifting all day long. But, and I know kids have to practice their art somewhere, but i'll bet that 75% of "drifters" spraying their 200SXs around McDonalds parking lots have zero intention of taking it any further. It's for the look. Smoke, but don't inhale.

      • seaninc says:

        I'm a bit insulted by your dismissive attitude. According to you I am a "wannabe" who is just learning to slide my MIata. The point is that I'm actually going out and finding the limits of my car. I don't have any sponsor decals on my car because it's essentially stock. We're enthusiasts too, and we're supposed to be on the same team.

        • Mad_Science says:

          It's my understanding that it's nearly impossible to be a "mid-level" hoon in the UK.

          Basically, you have people with track training and the cash/hookups to drive and fuel proper machinery, and the rest are stuck with what'd be considered total bottom-feeder cars in the US, with nowhere good to drive them.

          I believe the rant is directed more at the PepBoyz crowd than someone likely to be reading this site.

          That, and occasionally Rusty's just a cranky drunk.

        • Rust-MyEnemy says:

          Sorry Seaninc. It's like all sports and hobbies; Please don't be insulted, Tim's right about what I was trying to say in my usual garbled way. That beer was good, though.

          Every sport or hobby has its good guys and bad guys. For everyone like you (and me, to a limited extent) who want to test their skills and the capabilities of their car, there is at least another person who has simply latched onto the "Drift Scene" because it's an easy image to adopt. You probably have some skills, the guy in the standard-except-stickers MX5 who damn near spun in front of me a week ago, didn't. Worse still he didn't know better than to practice on a busy road mid-afternoon.

          Drifting is a driving skill I like to see, on tracks I'd call it "holding a slide" and it's an important talent to posess so you can stay on the track when your AE86 breaks traction. I suppose the tragically jaded philistine in me struggles to cope with the idea of a motorsport judged mainly on style, but that problems mine to deal with.

          I'd gladly buy you a drink (up to the value of £2) to continue the debate in the pub.

          • seaninc says:

            Sounds good, Rusty I'll be in the UK on the 26th haha. And yeah, there are quite a few poseurs in the drift scene right now. Mostly though, it's just young people who are interested in improving their driving and machines. I have to say that I enjoy grassroots-style events more than pro competitions because they're more about having fun. You should try it sometime!

  3. Paul_y says:

    I approve. This guy is not messing around.

  4. CptSevere says:

    The last time this truck was seen here, I wrote a semi snarky comment about the steering wheel being on the wrong side. It turns out that it was because of clearance issues. What the hell, this is a cleverly executed example of a new-age hotrod, with ingenious fabrication and a pretty cool overall theme. It's a vehicle which has been transformed, and serves its purpose apparently very well. It's not built to be a trailer queen, or to look cool in a parking lot. The guy has put some impressive work into this beastie, and while I'm not into drifting, I do like trucks, even little ones, and this one is definitely an original.

  5. dculberson says:

    I love this truck, but this quote bugged me:

    "I had jacked up the rear of the car by the diff and put jack stands on the uni-frame rails in front of the rear wheels"

    and from that he induced that the chassis was "weak?" News flash: putting a jack stand in the wrong place will result in bent metalwork. The "frame" on a unibody car is not a frame – hence the car being called unibody. Jacking on the reinforcement rails would be like jacking your truck by the door sills. It's gonna bend, and it's not any sign of weakness on the car's part, it's a mistake on the operator's part. I've bent a few rails in my day, but I recognize that is my fault and not the car's.

    • Mad_Science says:

      That sentence is a little hard to parse, as I don't know what "it the sagged a good 1.5″ past the stopping point of sitting on the stands" means.

      But I know plenty of cars are fine to rest on the unibody bits, provided you put a 2×4 or the like on your jack stand.

  6. A lot of thought was put into this and that I can appreciate. Certainly more thought than the wullet.

    But this was built for a purpose and the wullet was created without much more than an idea. As such, I still like the wagon more.

  7. name_too_long says:

    Okay, the truck's great and all but I want to know more about that Soarer.

    Is it road legal here?
    How did he get it into the country?
    Who did he have to kill / bribe / f**k to get the DOT / EPA sign-offs?

    It's an '88 so it couldn't have come in under the 25 year exemption.

  8. joshuman says:

    I'm just so excited he used a wheelbarrow in the build.

  9. satan says:

    how's this a '73 when the kingcab came out in '77??? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datsun_620#Datsun_62

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