Like most things in life, when it comes to custom car building, a little thought can go a very long way. Some of the coolest creations we come across in our travels aren’t necessarily those with the most modifications, but rather machines with substance and style – even in the most simplistic form.
Before I even laid eyes on one picture of the Players‘ newest build, I knew it was going to be something special. Why? Because the duo behind the highly successful show series – Jay McToldridge and Carl Taylor – never tend to do things by halves.
It might not be all the way there just yet, but Jay and Carl’s latest acquisition – a 1966 Datsun 520 Pickup aptly named ‘Project PlayDat’ – is definitely headed the same way as some of their previous builds. If you’re a Players Show regular, Jay’s crazy-clean G60 Volkswagen Golf and Carl’s unforgettable Audi RS4 Avant should be very familiar.
Like those projects and the ones that have come before them, the beauty of this build is in the details and the way it’s come together as a whole.
Like anyone else that attended Ultimate Dubs 2014, we got our first look at the 520 a few weeks back at The International Centre in Telford outside Birmingham. The pickup had just come off the back of an intensive three-week build, so the timing was perfect for a debut at the first big event of the new show season.
While it still has a long way to go – and you’ll hear more about the future plans later in this story – even in its first, raw incarnation, it was just begging to be wheeled outside in the autumn sun for a proper photoshoot. Paddy was straight on the case, and a week later was able to spend some quality time with the oh-so-cool 520.
Taking the Datsun from stock standard condition to the show floor in less than a month was always going to be a big ask given its age, but long before the first rust-fused bolt was painfully unwound, Jay and Carl knew exactly what they wanted to end up with, and with the help of a few key partners, how to achieve that within a very tight time frame.
That said though, this is not the model – nor make – that the pair first envisaged for their retro pickup build. Sights were originally set on a Chevy C10 of similar vintage, but as Jay explained to me, the exponential increase in popularity of that model in the UK in recent years ultimately ruled it out. The chances of ever seeing another customised 520 on the European show circuit however, were extremely slim.
The fact that the ex-Californian import was already in the UK and registered, but not yet used on the road, was a deciding factor for Jay and Carl, as was its condition that was completely original in every respect, right down its factory-fitted Nissan J13 1.3L engine, and a body that bore the scars of 48 year’s worth of wear. For the project in mind, the Datsun was perfect in every respect.
With Ultimate Dubs’ deadline looming, there was little time to reminisce about the past though. Some major reconstruction was on the agenda, and for the main crux of that work, Balls’d Drop Shop in Suffolk was the first port of call.Enter the drop zone
When it comes to custom chassis work and air ride systems, Balls’d’s reputation precedes it, but with the 520’s entire chassis rearward of the cab headed for scrap metal, its owner, Matt Balls, had a lot of fabrication to get through – but not many days to work with. Time was of the essence, but more so was a top-quality fit-out for what in time is destined to become an extensive build.
There’s only one way he does things though, and despite being up against the pump, I’m pretty sure Matt’s metal-forming talent speaks for itself. To achieve the level of low required (very), he knocked up a pair of custom box section chassis rails with an integrated smooth notch that allows the back axle to sit much higher up into the bodywork than it normally would. And yes, that is a fully functioning beer keg fuel tank in the two images above, complete with the Datsun’s original fuel cap and sender unit to boot.
Chopping the back end off also rid the Datsun of its factory rear suspension system, but that archaic layout was never going to fly anyway. Now, thanks to Balls’d, there’s a custom four-link set-up complete with rose-jointed links.
Having collaborated with the Players duo in the past, Air Lift Performance was instrumental to the project – lending its expertise to the build and supplying one of its four-gallon aluminium air tanks and a pair of high quality Viair 380C compressors, plus all of the solenoids, lines and fittings required to complete the installation with minimal fuss.
You’ll find Air Lift Performance Dominator Series air springs (bags) attached via custom-fabricated Balls’d top mounts at all four corners, in the mix as well.
At the front end Matt removed the original torsion bar set-up and cut away the shock absorber towers and bump stops. The crossmember was strengthened and the chassis rail cut on both sides allowing the bags to be installed. On the underside, the bottom arms were welded up and drilled through, and lower mounts for the bags added.
As it sits now the 520 is low – so low in fact that the frame touches the ground. Visually, there’s still a little way to go though, but a forthcoming body drop – the reason for the transmission tunnel being lifted four inches – promises to take care of that aspect. Given how it looks now, I can only imagine how cool it’s going to be when the sills are finally resting on the road…
Plans are also afoot to completely overhaul the bodywork, but in the meantime the original look – complete with natural patina – suffices. That’s not to say that there’s been no work undertaken on the exterior – in fact, quite the contrary. Simon Emery at Colchester-based custom spray shop, The Paintbox, spent time knocking some of the really bad panels back into shape while the chassis was under the knife at Balls’d. Jay tells me there was even an axe slice through the fold-down rear door to fix!
Aggressive cutting brought some shine out of the original paint, after which the doors were sent over to Prosign where Neil Melliard created some custom Players sign work by hand. The pastel tones and ageing effects give the old-school-style sign writing some extra authenticity, while tying perfectly with the custom-painted 15-inch deep-dish Chevy Smoothie wheels. Against white-wall tyres, highly-polished hubcaps and the muted creamy yellow bodywork, House of Kolor’s Candy Teal is just so damn right here.Old school cool
In keeping with the theme, the original charm of the cab interior has been largely retained for the stage one build. That includes the bench seat and a thin-rimmed steering wheel of almost bus-sized proportions.
I’m not sure what sort of driving experience the 520 affords, but I’m sure it would make you work for it. But regardless of how numb the steering might be or how inadequate the four-wheel drum brakes probably are, it comes with the nostalgic territory.
It’s not all vintage though, but I like the idea of doing away with a remote controller unit. Instead, Balls’d mounted the required four Air Lift Performance paddle switches and twin dual-needle 200psi air pressure gauges on a custom steel panel hidden away in the glove box.
Such is the beauty of the Air Lift system, a functional height and quality ride is just one quick switch flick away from being totally slammed out.
It’s very cool just the way it is, but as you might have guessed, this is just the beginning for PlayDat.
I’m in two minds about the 520’s future. On one hand I think it’s absolutely perfect as is, but on the other I know that Jay and Carl and those that work closely with Players will collectively make something really special of this humble retired workhouse. The ambitious plans include a full custom, body-off restoration with crazy paint, a totally overhauled interior and the heart of a Nissan Bluebird 1800 Turbo SSS. Plus a whole lot more…
However it ends up, it seem like it’s all going to happen very quickly. So quick in fact, that Jay hopes the new engine package will be swapped in by the time Players Classic at Goodwood rolls around on June 7th. Then PlayDat will do the show rounds, dividing its time between hot rod events and those that cater towards Japanese car culture. As it stands though, the 520 to me is a perfect example of an idea extremely well executed by a bunch of people with a true passion for car building. I just can’t wait to see where it goes next…