Freek de Kock’s enthusiasm for model cars as a child has driven him to acquire around 100 full-size versions later in life – all of them Datsuns and Nissans
Nissans and Datsuns may not top the must-have list of many classic car enthusiasts but for one collector they’ve become an irresistible passion – one that’s seen him acquire 100 of them. What’s more, he isn’t interested in how much his huge collection is worth – he collects them purely because they’re cars he’s interested in.
Freek de Kock lives in the small town of Bothaville where he runs a wood distribution business. His passion for collecting and restoring Japanese cars is evident as soon as you walk into his workshop, where a Datsun 240Z is currently undergoing a rebuild.
Over in the huge building that houses most of his collection is a sea of shiny Japanese metal. Nissan and Datsun don’t have any heritage divisions that can lend assistance to enthusiasts of classic cars in South Africa, so De Kock and other collectors must source parts using the internet or manufacture spares themselves. A prime example of the latter is windscreens – he has made several for the models in his collection.
Walking into the cavernous chamber housing most of De Kock’s cars, I begin to grasp the uniqueness of his collection. For most of his life he owned only around five vehicles, usually pick-ups that served his business. Then over the past few years the collection started to grow and, as they say, one thing led to another.
“My aim is to host the largest collection of Datsuns and Nissans in South Africa and sustain an element that is unique to our little town,” he explains. Like many enthusiasts, the foundation for De Kock’s passion for his chosen marques was laid by the miniature models he collected as a child. Sticking with the real thing, let’s look at some of the highlights of his collection.
1995 Nissan 300ZX Cabriolet
This is not the first car that pops into your head when you hear someone speak of the iconic 300ZX. “Although this car might be easier to come by in the USA, where a plethora of them were sold, in South Africa it’s an extreme rarity,” he says. “I bought this one in Johannesburg.”
“Also, I do like the performance of these six-cylinder engines. It’s really a quick car. For me, it’s also a pretty car. The 300ZX coupé received several awards in its time and the cabriolet is obviously very similar in its exterior design.” As in the UK, South African motorists drive on the left but the fact that this car is a left-hand-drive example, like the coupé parked next to it, doesn’t bother him. “Out here I rarely encounter traffic, and even on the open road it doesn’t spoil the experience.”
1977 Datsun 140Z coupé
In the row next to the building’s windows stands a lovely silver 140Z coupé. With its six rear lights, perky bootlid spoiler and side script it certainly looks sporty. De Kock elaborates. “Amateurs used to race these cars around local oval tracks – even today they are still being used for that purpose in South Africa.”
There is a 1.4-litre engine under the bonnet developing 85 kW at a lofty 7 200 r/min and 130 N.m at 5 000 r/min. Those don’t sound particularly impressive figures these days, though they’re respectable for a motor of this size and era. But the key figure here is the weight of only 939 kg. Plus, as De Kock remarks, the 140Z has four short gear ratios. “Its top speed is less than 145 km/h but it gets there fairly quickly,” he says.
As the plaque in the engine bay suggests, this particular example was manufactured in South Africa, although that was not the case with all the Datsun models sold in the country. “These cars were really sought after when they were released in South Africa,” he adds. “At the time Datsun was one of the best-selling marques in the country.”
1974 Datsun 1600 GL coupé (Type P510)
This car, which is standard apart from its wheels, was bought several years ago. Being a coupé, it is far more sought-after than its four-door sibling. “These cars were also used for rallies in those days. They were and still are very reliable,” says De Kock. He opens the bonnet and the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine has plenty of space in the roomy engine bay. A plaque confirms that the unit produced 81 kW at 6 000 r/min. At the front, the lower lip spoiler and additional spotlights endow the car with a sportier stance, while the wing-mounted side mirrors are typical of the era.
A friend told De Kock about this model back in the early 2000s and he subsequently bought this example as soon as he could. “This car is admired in Datsun circles,” he says. “Talk to anyone who has driven a coupé like this one and they all walk away impressed. Also, this range helped to put Datsun on the map in South Africa during the Seventies.”
1975 Datsun 160U SSS coupé
One of the most brightly-coloured cars in the collection sits next to the building’s front window. Its SSS (pronounced ‘Triple S’) badge and the “5 Speed” designation on the rear of this orange car reveal its sporty intentions. “It was part of a bulk purchase I made from a guy in Vereeniging, 160 km from here,” says de Kock. “It’s more comfortable to drive than the 510, but this one does need some attention. I’ve received all the rubbers it needs as well as all of the instruments that must be replaced, so it’s currently one of the cars on my to-do list.” I peek inside and notice that, like most cars in the collection, this is also a high-revving unit with a 7 000 r/min redline. “Being right-hand drive, there’s always a good market for these cars in the United Kingdom, but I would never export any of my cars,” says de Kock. “I’ve had people offer me good prices, but in the end I just can’t bring myself to sell them.”
1968 to 1978 Datsun Roadsters
A handful of little roadsters are undoubtedly the choicest soft tops in the De Kock collection. They span a decade of production and are powered by engines ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 litres.
“Make no mistake, these little cars can run all the way to a maximum speed of 160kph,” enthuses De Kock, who acquired them from sources throughout South Africa and across the border from neighbouring countries. “They weren’t originally imported to South Africa. I think Datsun South Africa’s directors originally imported only around four of them, but I’m not sure if any of mine are from that rare batch.”
1981 to 1984 Nissan 280ZXs
De Kock believes the Nissan 280ZX is a very undervalued model and that it represents an astute purchase at the moment – so he has several in his collection.
They cover the years 1981 to 1984 and include both long- and short-wheelbase derivatives, with hardtop coupés as well as the so-called T-tops. De Kock sourced these cars in South Africa, plus one from neighbouring Botswana.
One of his purchases was a much-loved car from an owner who was about to retire from Johannesburg to the South Coast. When De Kock turned up at the man’s home to buy the car he noticed it was parked on a carpet in the garage and was covered with a blanket.
“He started crying when I drove the car away. It’s important for these types of owners to know that the car is going to a respectable home, and I’ll always take good care of it.”
1971 Nissan Skyline GT-R KPGC10 (Hakosuka)
The pinnacle of his collection is the Hakosuka, one of the more recent additions. If you've been following the SentiMETAL video series, this exact car was featured in Episode 3, which you can view by clicking here.
After a contact sourced the car for him in Japan he bought it and imported it to South Africa. Today it’s the only example of the model in the country and De Kock clearly feels privileged to finally have one on his fleet. “As a Nissan and Datsun enthusiast, it’s one of the pillars that you must have in your collection,” says de Kock. This was a rare car, with only around 1 115 coupés produced.
Beneath the bonnet nestles a 2.0-litre double-overhead camshaft straight-six engine.
“The car is stiffly sprung with really short gear ratios, the latter owing to Japan’s tracks and mountainous roads, but that obviously helps with acceleration,” explains de Kock. “I’m not sure if it’s true, but I was informed that the car was parked inside the house of a shady underground character in Japan.” On the underside of the bonnet is some mysterious Japanese writing that apparently relates to the former owner and gives some credibility to the rumour.
“I’m only the second owner, which makes it rather special for me. Also, in my experience one-owner cars have always been meticulously looked after.” Certainly this car is absolutely immaculate and unspoiled – it even has its original exhaust pipe.
I open the driver’s door and get in. I caress the thin-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, appreciate the sunken analogue instruments, shift the gearlever through its gate and marvel at how solid it feels between the short throws. The car even has its original emergency flare, fitted for use if you got into difficulties on Japan’s mountain roads. “When I bought the car, fellow enthusiasts were keen to ask about its condition and asked me if the original flashlight was still there. Fortunately, like the flare, it was.” Nissan developed the Hakosuka to have larger tyres at the rear than the front, so the back-end sports 205/60 R15s while the front has 195/50 R15s.
Future plans – A Le Mans legend in the crosshairs
After a pleasant few hours talking about our shared appreciation for Japanese cars, I ask De Kock what’s still on his wish list. “There are a number of cars that I would like to add, including several modern variations of Nissan’s sports cars – it would be great to add an R32 and R34 GT-R, because my GT-R line up would then be complete.
“Finally, there’s a car that’s slightly different and also probably the most challenging to come by – a Nissan R390 GT1 endurance racer. After all, these cars came third, fifth, sixth and tenth in the 1998 Le Mans 24-hour race.” He gazes with pride and affection at his collection and sums up his enduring fascination for these cars. “People tend to admire and collect European and American cars, and rightly so. But if you analyse, drive and experience these Japanese cars you soon realise they are manufactured to a high quality and are deeply interesting too.”