The Perfect Father & Son Project
The 620 Project

Back in September, I put together a few stories from my very first trip down to Okinawa, one of them being a look at the island’s official Cars and Coffee event run by Oki’s Finest. Within that coverage was a couple of shots of a 1973 Datsun 620 pickup, a vehicle that more than a few people contacted me about afterwards asking for more information.

Because I was headed back down to Okinawa for the Koza Motorsport Festival at the beginning of this month, I made a point to contact the Datsun’s owner, Kai, and arrange to catch up for a quick shoot and a chat about the build. With the weather looking less than ideal, we decided to meet on tiny Miyagi Island – which is connected to the main island by reclaimed land and a bridge – and just hope we wouldn’t get too wet.

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When living in the United States, Kai received the 620 as a birthday gift from his father. At the time, he really only thought of it as a compact pickup truck that took him to and from school, but Kai’s father had other ideas. It was the perfect base for a father and son project.

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Given the Datsun’s uncomplicated mechanicals, not only was it a good car for Kai to learn the basics with, but the pickup’s classic styling lent itself to personalization, too. It also helped that Kai’s father, who himself owns and works on Datsuns in his spare time, would be the perfect teacher.

The next step would be deciding on which path to choose: restoration or customization. I think you can tell which route they took.

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Everything you see on the Datsun is completely customized in one way or another. In most instances the alterations are subtle, but it’s these details that have had a profound effect on how the 620 looks and drives.

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One example of this is the front grille. In paying homage to the legendary Hakosuka Skyline, the original vertical slats in the 620 grille were cut out, then a few were joined back together to create one large center slat.

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Modern day air suspension offers the best of both worlds when it comes to drivability and being able to hard park on command, and a lot of work went into adapting an air ride system for the old Datsun including cutting the frame and adding a c-notch.

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There was a domino effect to all this and one of the casualties was the original gas filler. Creatively, it’s now hidden away inside this fake tool box attached to the bed.

The bolt on overfenders came from Kai’s father’s Datsun 240Z; he felt they’d suit the 620 better and add a whole lot more character. When it came to the wheels, though, finding something suitable to fit the pickup’s 6-lug hubs was a little bit more of challenge.

Ultimately though, the pair found what they were looking for in a set of 15-inch Enkei Decem Sports.

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Underneath the hood the original L16 engine remains, but Kai tells me that it’s destined for retirement soon and a built CA18DET from an S13 will take its place. That should make it plenty of fun.

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The customization work continues inside the cab with a retrofitted dashboard filled with AutoMeter gauges. The Sparco L360 steering wheel has been installed on a quick-tilt hub, while Japanese touches can be found in a long bubble shift knob and heart-shaped tsurikawa ring. The little red button doesn’t do anything absurd like destroy the world or activate a secret nitrous oxide system that I forgot to mention – it’s just the horn.

The audio side of the equation hasn’t be forgotten either, but with so little space to work with inside the cabin some more creative thinking was required. To that end, this custom housing in the bed pipes music inside the cabin through cut-outs in the cab.

The Final Boss
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Countless hours were invested into the project, and the way the Datsun currently looks really reflects that. There was one final challenge that needed to be overcome though, one that ended up taking years to figure out. I’m talking about the Japanese government.

Through stories that Dino, Blake and myself have brought you from Japan, I’m sure many of you will know just how tough this country can be when it comes to regulations and random rules. You can always count on an absurd amount of paperwork to do even the smallest of things too; I’m currently in the midst of completing the documentation for my very own project car (spoiler alert), and it’s an absolute nightmare.

When Kai’s father was stationed in Okinawa, it was decided that the Datsun would come along, too. However, before it could be put on the road legally, the government wanted proof of structural rigidity after the modifications.

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It didn’t matter that the car had come from the States (The ‘E’ plate represents this which is different from the usual ‘Y’ and ‘A’ plates which refers to a military service member buying the car in Japan), Kai and his father still had to prove that the chassis modifications had not in any way compromised the car’s strength. The only way they could do this was test the frame and suspension.

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As I mentioned earlier, Kai’s father knows Datsuns inside out, but this was something beyond his realm of knowledge. It seemed all hope was lost until a random encounter changed everything. A Japanese guy saw the 620 parked outside Kai’s home, pulled over, struck up a conversation, learned about the issue, and then offered a solution – he had the necessary equipment to test the car and help pass the inspection test. Under the guidance of their new friend, 18 months later the 620 became fully road legal in Japan.

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On top of the bonding and fond memories created in the process of building the car in the first place, it’s challenges like this that make father and son projects so special.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography

The Cutting Room Floor
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33 comments

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1

I never realized that the 620 had a 6-bolt hub. I just assumed all light pickups ran a 5-bolt or 4-bolt hub. Interesting.

2

Yes this was carried over to the Nissan Hardbody D21 trucks that were the spiritual successor of the 620. No clue why they did it since these weren't heavy duty trucks. It makes it a huge pain in the ass to find wheels since not only is the bolt pattern different from almost anything Japanese, but also the front hub bore is massive. Toyota Tacomas and Ford Rangers in the 90's all had 5 lug hubs. I'm impressed they found wheels that suit the truck so well without going to a 5 lug swap.

3

I feel like this piece was run after the McLaren article to show us how bolt-on overfenders can look at-home on a vehicle. (I know that's not the case, but here we are).

What are the laws regarding window tint on a vehicle?

4

Lol timing is a mother. The difference between the two tho are the McLaren article was a team somewhat specialized (or highly specialized) in their craft where this is a project between father and son.

Regarding window tints I'm honestly not sure. I've seen cars rolling around with some incredibly dark tint. On the other hand, others have straight up curtains so I think they are pretty liberal when it comes to that. It's when you start modifying the vehicle on how it performs (engine, frame, suspension, wheels) etc, that's when it can become strenuous

5

"Lol timing is a mother. The difference between the two tho are the McLaren article was a team somewhat specialized (or highly specialized) in their craft where this is a project between father and son. "

Heh. And I'd say, in this instance, the results are arguably better suited to the vehicle.

Interesting as to the juxtaposition of where his father is from, as to where he is now, in regards to vehicle mods, In Japan, sounds like window tint isn't a big concern, and the equipment modification is. In the US, in many states like NY, you can be pretty free to mod the vehicle as you see fit (and it can pass an inspection, mostly for emissions and safety), but tinting windows is a big no-no.

I guess I prefer to have the mechanical modification openness over the tinting freedom. Heck, in many other states, you can do both, with even less restriction.

6

A few of us here in Japan were just talking about that. I remember in the States (in regards to when I lived in Texas) that you could basically do whatever you want as long as it passes 'the inspection' which was mostly emissions and safety as well. But I agree - having the ability just to make mechanical modifications without having to fill out a form every 2 years is where its at. O well.. When In Japan right lol?

7

That's why i hate my country... here in italy you can't do s**t to your car... "-_-

8

A legislative solution's in order - "The right of the people to own and operate Weapons and Vehicles shall not be infringed."

Clean, simple, elegant.

9

Why weapons though?

10

Been working on a concept for an improved United States Constitution, and that's the new Second Amendment.

11

I know that part of the intent of shaken system is to force people to buy new cars. Fine - if manufacturers kept making certain vehicles in perpetuity.

Say it with me - 2017 AE86 , 2018 BNR32, 2017 JXZ100.

12

Instead of 2017 AE86, 2018 BNR32, or 2017 JZX100, I'd rather have these car being fully rebuilt/refurbish like a Singer 911... they are made wider, faster, lighter, and generally better.

There are tons of reason why cars are getting replace now & then, new technology, new regulation, or even making it better (makeover)... so I personally don't diss new cars for that reason.

13

New technology sure, but only where it's a genuine improvement.

For example, Toyota no longer builds indestructible cars like they did in the mid-90s, so you wouldn't really want a JZX or AE built to "new" standards of durability, or with a DCT.

But a JZX with factory MP3 capability and 500 hp - oh hell yeah.

Also, modern cars are overstyled, while 90s cars have much more timeless lines. So leave the bodywork alone.

14

I have experience with both 80s, 90s, and even 00s Toyota, sure the 80s/90s Toyota are stupidly over-engineered to make them indestructible, but the 00s stuff wasn't bad if you taken care them as they should.

I don't mind a Mark II with aluminium block straight-6 to light up the front end, I don't mind AE86 that's powered by ZZ engine that found in last generation of Celica... although newer engine have more quirks to make them works "reliably", but they give better output, weights less, use less fuel to achieve similar performance... it's not a bad trade afterall.

Make AE86 today like Toyota make Land Cruiser 70 in Australia, or even like Mercedes-Benz & Jeep still making a "next-generation" G-Class & Wrangler that looks like the old deal, but has updated creature comfort, updated safety (so it passed new regulation), as well as updated engine/transmission that both perform better & pass new emission.

Although that said, Wrangler & G-Class isn't entry level price-tag though.

15

I'd take a stock 80s/90s tech AE86,R32 or JZX100 @ 80's/90's prices over a modern rebuilt version of the same at Singer prices....

16

If you want a 80s/90s tech car with 80s/90s price tag, you'd better off teleport yourself back to 80s/90s instead... because money inflation will ensure a 80s/90s tech cars cost way more than 80s/90s price tag.

A modern rebuilt version not necessarily cost like a bomb like Singer-Porsche does, those cost like a bomb because of the craftmenship, as well as the research & development to make them on-par with modern cars that had been slowly evolution until what they are today.

17

Haha IF only ... >.<

18

It´s cool when a father and son spend time in a proyect, whatever it is. If the final result is something like that... I really like the "Hama´s" stiker by the way! Thanks Ron.

19

No problem ^__^

20

The car 'Hardcore Tokyo' wished they had built.

21

Agree. This ditches the TAPOUT tee and wallet chain in favor of a well-worn tracksuit.

22

Ratsun.net sticker representin, nice.

23

I like how they moulded the tray top edge to blend in with the swoopy body line on the door. There are so many of this model in rural Thailand available for under a grand. You can even buy a brand new stainless steel style side tub! There is one behind my mum's house for sale for 20K Thai Baht.

24

good story very interesting truck

25

Glad you enjoyed it ^^

26

real blast from the past, looks awesome.

John

27

hey, awesome ^ w ^

ITS

A

TRUCK :D *boop*

28

Haha I'm assuming that's a good thing yah?

29

I always fall in love with old Datsun and one of my car is 2014 Datsun GO hatchback, distributed in Asia. Some people maybe not realized that car.

Back to that old 620, the title also nice to hear, the challenge always how to build the old one to be personalized and one of the kind, pass it the knowledge to generation.
I have my own imagination when I look your photos Ron.

Nice article Ron

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30

Thank you ! And that's a pretty cool vision you got there. I wonder what Kai thinks about it ;) ?

31

Ammo can rather than toolbox.

32

Now that's my kind of truck build, though I'd go for something different under the hood.
Tip of the cap to the owner/driver.

33

KAI REPPIN OKINAWA!!!!

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