My best friend Paul got his first Datsun roadster in 1976; a white 1969 1600, as I recall. I hold Paul solely accountable for hipping me to the joy of little convertibles, starting with his pale-yellow Spridget that he drove when we first met in high school. I longed to join the al fresco club, but it wasn’t until 1983 that I finally scored my first roadster, a 1968 2000, painted in an assortment of grey-to-black primer colors, and briefly called, “The Palomino.” (Acquiring that one involved a lengthy adventure of ignorance and optimism, which the passage of time has rendered less painful and more amusing. The story of that adventure becomes more elaborate and apocryphal with every telling.) Later, the 2000 received a full repaint (in Barbecue Black, with a rattle can, in my driveway. Bumpers and all.) It was, as they say, good from far, but far from good.
By 1983, the roadster was a distant memory for Datsun. It was replaced in late 1970 by the 240Z, and its ever-more-bloated successors, (including the laughable 280ZX, which we delighted in calling “Firebirds,” to the dismay of their owners.) Roadster spares had started to become scarce. A few of the Datsun dealerships still had a few common roadster tune-up parts on the shelf, but anything beyond the most basic maintenance involved an order to Rallye Roadster in Washington state.
Rallye produced and sold (sold!) an illustrated parts catalog and a companion pricelist, along with a supplemental document filled with accumulated roadster wisdom. It was the Rosetta Stone for us. I used to pore over the catalog, lusting after various new replacement bits, but I was especially intrigued by all of the performance upgrade parts that had been developed when the Roadster was still a viable competition car. Since the pricelist was a separate document, I’d go back and forth between the picture-filled ‘wishbook’ itself and the tedious lookup table of the cost sheet, searching for the right part number, and puzzling out what I could afford, what I’d have to save for, and what I couldn’t justify spending. But beyond those three cost strata, there was another category that was the cruelest of all: NLA. No Longer Available. The cool stuff was in the catalog, with tantalizing photographs, but it couldn’t be bought. The catalog giveth, and the price list taketh away.
8-quart cast-aluminum baffled competition oil pan? NLA.
Factory competition rear sway bar? NLA.
4.11:1 Limited slip differential? NLA.
Factory Solex intake manifold? Enn Ell Fkg A.
The transitions from, “Oh, cool!” to, “Oh crap!” became more unpleasant with every re-read. And there were too many alluring pieces for me to keep track of them all in my head, so the heartache was on replay, time and time again. These weren’t existential crises, but ultimately it was a bit like being nibbled to death by ducks.
A brief sidebar about Datsun’s model nomenclature. Datsun used both names and numbers to designate their various models. Sometimes there was overlap; sometimes not. The Datsun Sunny (in Japan,) or 1200 (stateside) was called a B-110 at the factory. B for subcompact, model 110. The 510 (as we knew it) was a PL-510 internally; P for passenger, L for left-hand drive, model 510. So the roadsters, called Fairlady in Japan, were the SPL-310 (early 1600,) SPL-311 (later 1600,) and SRL-311 (2000.) S for sports, P for passenger (or R for racing/sports) and L for left-hand drive.
Roadster owners know this, and generally use the SPL/SRL moniker to distinguish them, because other than the grill, they look identical from the outside.
Hence, my tag: