FJ fury: FJ20ET-powered Datsun 1600

Posted in Cars, People

A lot of the old-school cars we feature in NZ Performance Car magazine are of the rotary-powered variety, and it seems piston-powered classics like Gerrit Vryer’s Datsun 1600 hide away in the shadows, only to be released when their owners feel they need a good beating, something they seem to thrive on. That’s why Gerrit decided upon this particular example — not for the extreme amount of custom work needed to strengthen every driveline component imaginable, but for the lump of iron, which sat between those strut towers.

Japanese automotive manufacturers built their engines tough back in the early ’80s, and to this day they are often favoured over their modern counterparts. If it weren’t that these units are slowly getting destroyed, and aftermarket support for them is diminishing, we would still see motors such as the FJ20ET dominating our import scene.

That being said, Gerrit was extremely happy his newly purchased Datsun was already fitted with the bulletproof iron-block FJ20ET engine. After owning several turbo vehicles in the past and causing mayhem in his local town of Whangaparaoa, Gerrit had a string of bad luck when a particular Evo of his grenaded itself.

He said, “I lost interest in cars for a while when the Evo blew up. I sold it on and purchased a VR-4, which I then sold, and things really slowed down. I knew I wanted another turbo car, but I didn’t know what until the Datsun showed up on Trade Me.”

After a few months of ownership with the Datsun, the honeymoon period completely wore off and Gerrit realized what he had got himself into. Some of the workmanship from the previous owner was found to be fairly average in quality, and it seemed that the more he looked at the car, the more he found things wrong with it. To top things off, the FJ decided to drop a piston and completely destroy itself, filling the engine with iron shrapnel.

“It was now a perfect time to build my own motor how I wanted to. The FJs are well known for being ridiculously strong engines, especially the bottom end, as they’re an iron block and the internals are much beefier than a modern-day engine,” Gerrit told us.

Although that’s true, he still wanted some insurance, and fully forged the bottom end with the best components available, so that once the hybrid Garrett T04E turbo built by Damian Morris at A1 Turbos was wound into its efficiency range, it could take the punishment with ease. A MicroTech LT10-S with hand-held controller was decided upon to keep things within their limits, and on 17psi of boost, with what is said to be a conservative tune, it makes 240kW (322hp) at the wheels. It doesn’t take a wizard to understand that 900kg with this sort of power makes for little rocketship.

After modifying and replacing almost every component of the Datsun in his garage — which, we might add, is an immaculate workspace — Gerrit set to completing the final touches on the build. A set of 17x7-inch Advanti SA15 wheels were fitted so he could get some much stickier rubber under the guards, his choice being Achilles 123S semi-slicks. The lightweight Datsun sticks to the road not only thanks to those tyres, but a well-thought-out and well-executed Koni shock set-up with Racepro camber plates. The Datsun now has a lot more adjustability than it did stock, and sway has all but been eliminated thanks to the Mad Dat sway bar and the entire urethane bush catalogue installed underneath.

Given the car’s ability to outperform costly exotics, the next task was to upgrade the anchors. R32 GT-R four-pot calipers and rotors occupy the empty space inside the front wheels, and R31 Skyline discs are used down the back.

All was set, Gerrit was extremely happy with the Datsun, and the NZPC photo shoot was booked into his calendar. But a week from the shoot, he was out in the car when the absolute worst thing that could happen seven days beforehand did happen.

“So there I was, making my way to my tuner to get a few issues addressed. I was making my way down a long straight road and decided to give the old girl some jandal. Instead of boost kicking in, the Datsun hit a huge pothole and the bonnet release catch failed. The bonnet came flying up doing well over 100kph and smashed into the windscreen. After we pulled over, we managed to cable tie it back down and still made it to the tuner, but there was significant damage.”

With a week left, time was running out. Gerrit found a supplier down the line who made him a bonnet with a day’s notice. He had another mate prep and paint the damage, and a new bonnet catch was sourced. So thanks to a few key people, the Datsun was ready and fresh as a daisy for the shoot, something Gerrit is extremely thankful for.

Tuning menu

1970 Datsun 1600 Deluxe

  • Engine: Nissan FJ20-ET, 2000cc, four-cylinder
  • Block: Wiseco forged pistons, Spool forged H-beam rods, ARP rod fasteners, ACL race bearings, reground crank, decked and rebored block, balanced bottom end, custom reinforced sump
  • Head: Triple-cut valve grind, modified valve seats, mild head grind, Cometic triple-layer steel head gasket
  • Intake: Four-inch intake pipe, K&N filter, Falcon XF throttle body, modified S12 Silvia intake manifold
  • Turbo: Garrett T04E hybrid (0.63 turbine housing), oversized braided return line
  • Wastegate: HKS 44mm External
  • Fuel: 550cc RX-7 injectors, Malpassi rising-rate fuel-pressure regulator, Bosch in-tank fuel pump, custom swirl pot, custom fuel lines
  • Ignition: Four Bosch ignition coils, Top Gun leads, NGK spark plugs
  • Exhaust: Custom steam-pipe manifold, 3.5-inch downpipe, three-inch custom exhaust system turbo-back, five-inch Dynatech stainless muffler
  • Cooling: Custom front-mounted intercooler, custom intercooler piping
  • ECU: MicroTech LT10-S with hand controller, external display screen
  • Other: Full rewire throughout, turbo timer, stainless oil catch can, custom engine-bay loom, polished rocker covers, polished intake manifold, polished radiator top tank


  • Gearbox: Nissan Skyline DR30 five-speed
  • Clutch: Exedy heavy-duty
  • Flywheel: Nissan RB20 flywheel
  • Diff: Nissan R200 LSD (4.44)
  • Other: Shortened driveshaft, custom driveshaft hoop, custom CV conversion, custom high-tensile heat-treated half shafts, custom moustache bar


  • Struts: Koni adjustable shocks
  • Springs: 90kg (200lb) Eibach
  • Other: Racepro adjustable camber plates, Mad Dat sway bar, 50mm bump steer spacers, reversed front crossmember, new bushes throughout, rebuilt steering box, Datsport steering box brace, custom rose-jointed front castor arms, custom front strut brace
  • Brakes: (F) R32 Skyline GT-R calipers, Wilwood adjustable brake bias, (R) R31 Skyline discs, Mitsubishi Starion calipers with custom mounts, custom handbrake cables and lines


  • Wheels: 17x7-inch Advanti SA15
  • Tyres: 205/40R17 Achilles 123S semi-slicks


  • Paint: Gloss black respray
  • Enhancements: Custom fibreglass front guards, custom fibreglass bonnet, SSS side vents, SSS badges
  • Other: Aircraft headlight beams


  • Seats: Mitsubishi Evo I Recaro front seats
  • Steering wheel: Deep dish
  • Instrumentation: SSS dash, Datcon 52mm boost gauge
  • Other: Custom fishbowl rear-view mirror, aluminium gear knob, custom headliner, custom one-piece carpet


  • Power: 240kW at the wheels on 17psi of boost

Driver profile

Driver/owner: Gerrit Rex Vryer

  • Age: 27
  • Location: Auckland, North Shore
  • Occupation: National sales manager, CDK Stone
  • Thanks: Damian Morris at A1 Turbos & Motorsport, Lincoln Griffiths at North Shore Engine Reconditioners, my friends Mathew Rourke, Goran Panouvic, Zane Smith, Scot Mach, Chris Queree, Bing Crosby and Glen James. Tony at Porana Panel, Shannon Thickpenny, Craig Phillips, Mahoney and Chris for keeping the Datsun inspiration alive, Shane Berger at Eye for Detail for keeping the 44-year-old car looking mint, Digby Walshe at Browns Bay Auto Electrical, my dad for all his inspiration over the years, my brother Kelsey, my mum because if I don’t she’ll feel left out, and last but not least all my coastie buddies — Dean, Marcas, Gareth, Wattie, Jaron, Joe and all the boys for keeping me into cars

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.