Have a peek inside the Datsun Shop - the best collection of classic local Datsun and Nissan racing cars. And meet the pair of brothers behind this special selection of Japanese, but South African-built, racers.
Words and Pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
When you first walk into the workshop of the family that runs this business in Mpumalanga, there can be no doubt about their main interest.
Apart from the collection of locally-built Datsun and Nissan racing cars, there are wheels, signs, trophies, memorabilia and model cars in the workshop and other parts of the building. It is also clear, however, that this collection was not built-up overnight.
The Jacobs brothers’ interests in cars, and especially Datsuns and Nissans, started when their father used to drive a 1986 Nissan Skyline GTX 2-door. It was already in those years that their father was a keen Nissan supporter.
As the brothers take me through the collection, it is evident that they have done their research over the years and that their passion runs deep. They readily share specifications of the cars, mention specific parts, racing drivers’ names, historical dates and information at the drop of a hat.
In some cases, they had to rescue cars and specially search for correct parts, which in some instances took years. In other cases, when they set their minds to finish a project and had the correct parts available, it progressed rather quickly.
- Buy a 1/24 scale model kit of the Nissan Skyline Turbo that raced at the Kyalami 9-Hour Endurance race in the '80s.
New vehicles have rarely interested them though: “When we were old enough to buy our first cars, my brother and I didn’t want new vehicles. We each got ourselves a Datsun 1200 GX Coupé. Mine needed restoration before I could drive it. This was my first project and, during my first two years at university, I walked everywhere and saved money while trying to pay for the restoration. Two years later, it was complete and I could enjoy it.”
Riaan Jacobs enthusiastically tells me which car started the collection. “It was a 1977 Datsun 140Z Coupé. I found it in Witbank in pieces but it was a one-owner car with just 15 000 km on the odo. That was about 15 years ago. Until 2012, it was my only car. From there, I bought a 1980 160Z Coupé. This now belongs to my brother and he has done everything to convert it into a full race car that can also be driven on the road.”
Thinus has completely rebuilt it and it now features a reworked KA24 2.4-litre engine with the best performance parts. Thinus always focuses on one car and the result is quite impressive. What is great about this project is that Thinus doesn’t need to concern himself with originality but rather with what will work best in terms of performance.
That said, there are a lot of original and period-correct parts which pay homage to the original race cars.
It is not often that you find a collection of vehicles where the focus falls mainly on racing cars. I ask the brothers about the car with the most historical significance, and they quickly point me to the 1978 Datsun 140Z which is a recreation of the original car which won the Wynn’s 1000 at Kyalami.
Riaan searched long and hard and then found a selection of the original race car’s parts and bought the whole lot. “This is an original car that has been re-shelled. In that race, the 140Z came first, the 140Y second and the 1200 GX third.”
In the one corner is a pretty 1967 Datsun Roadster racing car, while I also walked along the other walls where there are rare Datsun prints, wall-mounted parts and memorabilia. Riaan mentions he recently sold his large collection of Hot Wheels to a fellow enthusiast. He has kept his doubles, though, and they are neatly stacked against the wall.
Riaan modestly says that this is “not a showroom”, but that they have been working hard the last few years to make it a special place. They have succeeded, and are housing and restoring some of the most significant cars from South Africa’s rich motorsport history.
Their expertise and knowledge are clearly obvious and I have no doubt many more Datsuns and Nissans will pass through their hands in the coming years.
Keep an eye on SentiMETAL’s YouTube channel for a full video on one of these cars in the near future.