The machine you see in front of you, best known as The Dirty Datsun, started life as an assortment of different cars, with a 1969 Datsun Sport 2000 and a 1998 Corvette being the core donor vehicles.
It all started in 2019 when Anthony Palladino moved to Florida and acquired a late-’90s Corvette. That was when he decided that building and racing a cheap track car was indeed his automotive calling.
With 245,000 miles already on the odometer, the Corvette only set him back a cool $5,000, and thus, Anthony had zero qualms with driving the wheels off the damn thing for the better part of that first year. The Vette was a hoot to hoon. Yet something was missing. The car didn’t match Anthony’s personality or personal preferences and it was entirely too commonplace.
But his racing interest continued unabated, and throughout that year of track abuse, one mod after another made its way onto the venerable Vette. Unbeknownst to Anthony, this would work out in his favor, as most (if not all) of the work and parts he put into the Corvette would ultimately end up on the Datsun.
Chip Off the Old Block
Like many of us, Anthony grew up in a family deeply entrenched in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, no one in his immediate family was very technically inclined in an automotive sense, and vehicles were viewed as little more than modes of transit.
However, growing up in the industry, it did not take long for Anthony to become exposed to racing, with Indy races providing exclusive access to pits, cars, owners, and racers. One of Anthony’s favorite memories from his childhood was the first time he was allowed to have his own “hot pit” pass at the Indy 500. A memory that, in hindsight, influenced his interest in fast cars.
Headfirst Into the Fray
To be the first to do something and to do so in a tasteful manner is an extremely daunting task. Especially if you are an intermediate DIYer with zero formal training.
Anthony admittedly has zero automotive schooling, online degree, tech experience, or any other form of ongoing education. All of the skills he possesses are self-taught. Most of these have stemmed from extensive rounds of trial and error, with a heavy emphasis on the “error” side.
Up until the Dirty Datsun, most of Anthony’s project cars had resulted in incompletion or failure to some degree. His first attempt was a rotted-out ‘74 Z that was a total “failure to launch” project. That Z was accompanied by a scuttled ‘74 Corvette build, and an LS1-swapped Miata with a cracked block being the following forays into other DIY vehicle projects.
It was this last jab at stuffing American motor magnificence into a tiny Japanese chassis that made Anthony Palladino realize that his next build was going to be one of insane animosity. He just didn’t know what sort of chassis it might be…
Doing It In a Datsun
Besides being a bit out of left field, there was no one specific reason why Anthony wanted a Datsun Roadster. Sure, he had always fantasized about being the only one at a car show with this specific chassis, but he also wanted the build to be unlike anything else out there.
That last portion was of particular importance to Anthony. Custom car people are forever the creative types, constantly looking to push limits and outdo one another in the process. Anthony knew his Datsun build had to be polarizing. But, he needed it to match his personal taste and track needs.
Anthony went on to buy five other Datsuns, plus a second wrecked Corvette to serve as a donor chassis. Eventually, the Datsun that would ultimately end up as the performance platform came into the picture, a rolling shell with a hardtop.
Four parts cars, two non-running donor vehicles, a two-story barn full of parts, plus two “was running when parked” cars later, and the Dirty Datsun build was officially underway.
Hacked Up, Fired Up, and Ready to Race
Fully stocked and ready to rock in the DIY shop, Anthony set to shoehorning a 5.7L LS1 from 1998 into the snarky Japanese roadster. Consistently generating 500 horses and about the same sum of torque under boost, the near-stock internals of the lower end of this motor have seen very little adjustment outside of a mild rebuild at 245,000 miles.
On the top side, a set of Siemens Deka EV1 60-pound injectors help enrichen the air flowing through a FAST 102 intake manifold from the Holley STS Universal twin-turbo kit. A modified STS intercooler for a C6 Corvette and a Turbosmart wastegate and blow-off valve rolling on 6psi of boost offer additional push to the pavement. Headers, mufflers, X-pipe, and finishers are all 3-inches in diameter, and 100 percent handcrafted by Anthony.
When it comes to the transmission, the Dirty Datsun benefits from a TREMEC T56 transaxle from a C5 Corvette loaded with a Spec II clutch, a Fidanza lightweight flywheel, and a face-plated 1st—4th gear shifter setup.
Naturally, the driveshaft had to be hacked down to size, with a torque tube and an aluminum driveshaft from a C5 Corvette matching the Datsun’s wheelbase. Standing in stark contrast out back is the C5 rearend, which remains bone stock.
This build was bred with agility in mind, so things like custom race shocks from Penske Racing and Eibach 550 springs were deemed mandatory. Anthony says that part of the big challenge with this build was getting the suspension to sit just right, which is why the upper arm mounts had to be moved back to allow an increase in caster. Hotchkis sway bars flatten out the corners. As one might expect, C5 Corvette control arms and many hub-related components are still in play, as is a power C5 steering box.
Behind the 18-inch TSW Nurburgring rollers and Yokohama Advan A052 rubber on this little rapscallion, sit a set of C6 ZO6 six-piston calipers atop Corvette rotors. A matching four-pot set from the same generation sits out back. A ChaseBays hydraulic hand brake that’s paired with a separate Wilwood twin-piston caliper makes for swifter stops and smoother sliding in the twisties.
Looking just as filthy as the day he bought it, the shell of the Dirty Datsun features a custom widebody, a ducted hood, and a spoiler, the last of which was formed by Nine Lives Racing. Full flat underbody panels meet up with a sharply lined front splitter that tapers backward to an equally one-off rear diffuser.
Although the interior may have black carpet, it pretty much remains bare bones for now, with a fully custom tube chassis and integrated roll cage being the shell of the cabin. There, you will find a set of Kirkey racing seats, and a Holley 12-inch Pro Dash that’s been fitted into a custom replica of the original 1964 Datsun roadster dash.
Misfires and Second Thoughts
Every time Anthony takes his Datsun out of the trailer, a story is born. Bred into a mutt pedigree, this primarily one-off DIY project car is forever breaking, needing adjustment, or misbehaving in some way. Ever see the pod race scene in Star wars Episode I? Racing this thing is strangely akin to those bonkers-fast machines.
Daunted but not defeated, the Dirty Datsun has exceeded its master’s expectations, as well as those around him. This fact was solidified when Anthony took home the title of “Outlaw Class National Champion” during Optima’s search for the Ultimate Street Car during his first year of racing. Granted, the entire year was rifled with strife, as the car fought Anthony every step of the way, proving that both he and his derelict-looking Datsun were still very much an underdeveloped duo.
In fact, Anthony’s first event of that season ended after no more than 15 minutes, when his Datsun decided it would be fun to hit a parking barrier and a garage door at NOLA Motorsports Park. Never keen to admit defeat, Anthony took this incident to reassess what had gone wrong, before devoting the majority of the eleven-hour drive home to strategize salvaging the rest of the season.
Devotion quickly overcame downfall, and both Anthony and his Dirty Datsun rallied to win the next event at AMP. This was the same season where both driver and vehicle were kicked out early on in a race for breaking sound at the track. The same race where Anthony and a buddy had to rebuild the Dirty Datsun’s exhaust three times before it met the decibel limit.
All that said, the Datsun was able to hold it together just enough to allow Anthony to salvage the remainder of the season. The result: A win in the first year. Halfway through the next season, the Dirty Datsun has remained the Outlaw Class leader, with Anthony humorously noting that the biggest challenge facing him this year is making it to the rest of the events.
Downshifts and New Directions in the Dirty Datsun
When asked what he likes most about the vehicle, Anthony grins and references the vehicle’s namesake. He adores the fact that on the outside, his Datsun actually looks like a hunk of junk. A scrapyard build that was haphazardly slapped together until a mismatched, grimy, and tetanus-riddled track machine emerged.
But peek underneath, and you will find a full custom tube chassis that has been painstakingly blueprinted and properly finished to the best of Anthony’s abilities. High-performance is the name of the game here, and this runt of the litter has cards up its sleeves in spades.
All told, Anthony guesstimates that this build took a smidge over a year to complete, and is still very much a work in progress. From fine details like trim work and interior fixes to major changes like power adders, the vehicle is constantly evolving.
Currently, Anthony’s goal for the car is to continue to develop both its capabilities and his own on track. Following the buzz surrounding the Dirty Datsun’s appearance at LS Fest, TX, Anthony has decided to show the vehicle off a bit more as well. The guy had no idea how many people actually appreciate this sort of build and want to chat with him about the car… if he can survive another few races in the damn thing.
Danger is Thy Middle Name
In closing, we will leave you with a few direct quotes from Anthony Palladino himself, as he attempts to describe what it’s like to pilot the Dirty Datsun. Needless to say, he is both an inspiration, and a madman for hopping on track in a little roadster that is just as feisty and unforgiving as it is perfectly imperfect.
“The Datsun is outright scary to drive. The driver seat is tight… cramped… your body is literally touching everything… the door to the left, the trans tunnel to the right… your helmet is inches away from the roll bar, left arm rubbing the door when turning… the shifter mere inches from the steering wheel.”
“The Datsun is hot… no AC or vents… the only thing between you and the engine and exhaust is thin sheet metal and aluminum. It is also very loud inside the Datsun, even with a twin-turbo setup to quiet the exhaust… as the side pipes fill the cabin with engine noises.”
“So you might be thinking, who would want to drive that?! The answer is… everyone. It drives like a fighter jet and you feel like you are part of the car.
“There are no nannies… so when you hit the gas the wheels spin, and when you hit the brakes, the wheels stop. Finding the limits on both ends is the key to taming its ability. Oftentimes, my last time of the day is my fastest.”