Gary Savage is definitely not your typical Sport Compact Car reader. To begin with, Savage listed his profession as a "self-employed racecar driver," who's into classic American iron big time. This 31-year-old Oregonian spends much of his free time either behind the wheel of a vintage 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda or working on his Team Nostalgia SSR Dodge Stratus, both cars not fitting the profile of a typical compact car enthusiast. Nope, he's not your typical reader, but Savage is an enthusiast in the truest sense.
Weekends will often find him negotiating the "Corkscrew" at Laguna Seca or the high-banked turns at Daytona International Speedway. And the legendary Castle Hill Climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in merry old England is on the itinerary for this summer. Rough life, huh?
But the time spent piloting racecars around legendary tracks isn't the only reason to envy Savage. His personal means of transportation also tends to be high-power, one-off cars, though with a definite import slant. Take, for example, this fuel-injected 1971 Datsun 510. Savage purchased the car 10 years earlier when he saw it on a bicycle ride through a local neighborhood. The car had been sitting for at least a year unused and it was slowly oxidizing into nothingness. The owner at the time was a student who couldn't afford to insure the car and had simply left it parked it in front of his house to die. One thing led to another and, after a bit of negotiation, Savage found himself the new owner of the two-door Datsun.
"It had a hot little L16 with SU carbs," said Savage. "It also had 13-inch Libres and was lowered a couple of inches." Considering the car sat unused for more than a year, enduring the Oregon rain, it was still in relatively good shape. Savage quickly put together a plan to improve it further.
"People who've met me know that I'm into horsepower," Savage said. "I wanted more power than the high-revving L16, so I built a high-compression L18." While the new engine temporarily sated the horsepower thirst, it wasn't long before Savage sought even more muscle under the hood. A popular engine that is often transplanted into street-driven 510s is the venerable 2-liter L20b, which can be found in just about every four-cylinder-equipped car and truck Datsun made in the '70s and early '80s.
These ubiquitous SOHC engines are renowned for their bulletproof bottom ends and mechanical simplicity. And, in typical Datsun fashion, high specific output mills can easily be assembled with creative part swapping from other Nissan products. Savage started with an L20b block from a late-model 510, boring it 0.080-inch oversize and installing a Z22 crank, rods and pistons from a 1982 truck. The high-performance "peanut" cylinder head from the original L16 was reworked and installed on the newly rebuilt short block. Savage said the cylinder head was the secret to big horsepower in the L-series engines. "I had the peanut head ported and flowed, and I had the combustion chambers reshaped and opened up." The result is a stout 10.5:1 compression ratio that can still run on pump gas without a hint of detonation.