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.
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.
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.