Just like any addiction, drag racing can take over your life rather swiftly. And once that quarter mile bug has bitten, it’s very hard to shake – just ask Leon Du Plooy.
Leon has been a drag racer here in South Africa for many years, but what’s really impressive is how long he’s been hitting the strip in the same car – a decade and a half. Over that time, his Nissan Champ has seen a huge amount of development, so much so that it’s now turning in 7-second quarters.
When Leon first bought his Nissan Champ – the sporty version of the 1400 Bakkie – in 2006, it looked just like your average small-sized work truck – nothing special. What it did have in Leon’s eyes, however, was potential. A year later, with a built turbo Toyota ‘7A-GE’ (7A-FE block and crank plus 4A-GE cylinder head and pistons with custom connecting rods to tie it all together) taking up residence in the engine bay, the little Champ went 9.9-seconds at 225km/h (139mph). This setup was further refined over the next few years, eventually rewarding Leon with a 8.5-second pass at 252km/h (156mph).
After this, Leon took time off racing, which I’m sure led to some people thinking he had hung up his helmet and gloves for good. But that certainly wasn’t the case; Leon used his time away from the drag strip to take his Champ to a whole new level. There’s a good reason why it returned in 2019 with ‘The Ultimate’ plastered across the top of the windscreen and on its flanks.
I just love how the truck went from being all stickered-up and looking very busy, to clean and simple. I’ve always said that if you build a car well enough you don’t need branding, because people will know whose car it is, and if they don’t they will surely find out.
Throughout its evolution, there’s been one aspect that Leon has insisted on keeping, and that’s the stock body. A completely stripped-out, tube-chassis creation was never on the cards.
Yes, the rear end was tubbed and the exterior arches flared in order to accommodate a pair of meaty drag slicks, but it’s otherwise a true stock-body vehicle. All this custom fabrication work, including the 4-link rear suspension conversion, was completed by Leon in his shop, Spectrum Welders. And that’s not all.
To give the front end a unique look, Leon built a custom grill that extends across the entirety of the truck. Being a dedicated drag machine, headlights are, of course, not required.
Around the back, Leon designed and built a drag wing that extends out over the tailgate and added a Simpson parachute.
Under the rear lid you can see the massive wheel wells housing the 31-inch Mickey Thompson drag slicks, and the chromoly 4-link. The back end also features a Moser 9-inch differential, Strange coilovers, fuel cell and a Magnafuel EFI Prostar fuel pump to supply the strict diet of methanol.
Like every other aspect of this build, the engine bay is a work of art. The 1.8L 7A-GE still powers the truck, but its specification is only more impressive now. The 7A block features Arias forged pistons, Carrillo rods, ACL race bearings and ARP studs. The cylinder head has been gas-flowed and CNC’d, and now also benefits from custom billet cams and a Supertech valvetrain among many other upgrades.
It’s hard to miss the turbocharger – a Precision Turbo PT6770 Gen 2 unit – which sits high on custom equal-length manifold that Leon fabricated then had ceramic-coated. The turbo is rated for up to 1,100hp, and this one’s run at 40psi. Exhaust and wastegate pipes exit straight through the carbon fibre hood.
As for the rest of the fuel system, in the bay you’ll find a dual rail setup with two rows of Siemens Deka 2,200cc injectors. There’s also a large front-mount intercooler, 70mm throttle body, MSD coils, a Moroso dry sump system and a custom Spectrum Welders radiator. Management comes via a FuelTech FT450 ECU.
Getting all the power to the ground is a G-Force GF2000 5-speed transmission with V-Gate shifter, Tilton 7.25-inch OT-II cerametallic racing clutch, and a chromoly prop-shaft with billet ends.
The Nissan Champ definitely isn’t known for a spacious interior, so when you start factoring in an extensive roll cage that space diminishes even further. Lucky then that Leon isn’t overly tall. On top the cage he built himself, the cabin features a Kirkey aluminium seat, Sparco steering wheel and a FuelTech digital display. The best part of the interior has to be the Nissan’s original door cards, complete with retrofitted Pioneer 6×9-inch speakers.
Leon’s mascot is a sentimental item that belonged to his grandchild who sadly passed away. It always rides with him now, and Leon says it’s his greatest good luck charm.
Since bringing the truck back to the track, Leon’s best quarter mile pass to date is a 7.861, with potential still for an even quicker ET. More boost and optimal track conditions are the key.
Fifteen years racing the same vehicle is a long time, but it shows the dedication Leon has for his beloved Champ. And the fact that it’s just gotten quicker and quicker over the years is such a great feat, especially when the majority of the work has been undertaken by Leon himself.