Jack Latchford owns one of the rarest cars in the country, it’ll be one of six once it’s officially registered. Here, he tells Charlotte Vowden how he plans to make it a one-of-a-kind.
Manufactured in Japan by Nissan, the Laurel made its debut in the late sixties. Sold and marketed in Europe as a Datsun, Jack Latchford’s second-generation model, the C130, spent its life in Norway until recently…
“There are five other Datsun Laurel 200L’s on the road in the UK and mine, once it’s registered, will be number six. It’s pretty cool when someone sees it and didn’t know they still existed. I actually had my heart set on a C33 Laurel so it wasn’t a bucket list car but as soon as I saw it I was like, no, this is the car for me. It was £9,000.
The car, which is a C130 model, was built in Japan in 1975 but it’s a factory Norwegian car so it’s left-hand drive. It was imported into the UK in January this year and although luckily we don’t get -20°C here it still has a spare wheel with a studded snow tyre in the boot. The heater that warms up the engine so you can start the car when it’s cold is attached and plumbed in too.
It’s quite comical when you look in the engine bay because it’s designed for a 2-litre six-cylinder engine – which is what was sold in the UK – but has got a tiny 2-litre four-cylinder one instead. As soon as that engine goes I’ll put a six-cylinder in, it’ll run better and look nicer, and from what I can work out it looks like a pretty straightforward fit.
Back in the day, Autocar magazine were pretty heavily against the Datsun Laurel and although I’ve only driven it on private land so far, you know what, it’s actually not that bad! It’s got very agricultural suspension but it steers nicely and it’s easy to get in gear. I find it difficult to describe the style of the car, it’s Japanese with American hints, and from the side profile you’d think it’s a Ford Granada.
At night or in low light the front end looks almost menacing because the trims around the headlights have been painted black – they should be chrome. When you put the high beams on, it makes a really satisfying click from under the dashboard. The original steering wheel was massive and got in the way so I’ve changed it to a smaller one, but other than that, at the moment, it’s more or less completely standard.
A mate of mine once said when it comes to modifying cars you should ‘modify a car to what the car wants, not what you want it to have.’ I think he’s right. The Japanese modifying scene is pretty mental, they’ve got so many different subcultures, but the one I like is Kyusha which is when cars are kept very simple and classic with period correct parts and nothing too extreme.
I spoke to a Norwegian guy who has a Datsun Laurel that he’s lowered and I’m going to give it a go; luckily for me he’s done all the trial and error! There’s no coilover kit for it, I’ve got to use BMW E30 60mm lowering springs on the front and a Ford Escort lowering block kit on the back – two different brands, completely unrelated to Datsun! I’m going to take it as far as possible, I’d rather go low to go high, than go high to go low. The lowest point on the car seems to be the front subframe, which is in line with the front axle, so when I go over a speed hump it should be OK. I’ve got a splitter to fit as well.
Parts for the Datsun are an issue. They do exist, for some reason there are loads in Kuwait, but postage can be expensive. I’m a machinist and make components for supercars and F1 cars but I don’t have the tools to recreate parts for myself. The smaller stuff, like rubber trims for windows, are impossible to find which is why I’m leaving the bodywork as it is. I’d rather do the job properly than half ass it, which would mean taking the windows out and doing a fair bit of welding; it’s scabby around the edges but it’s nothing substantial, the worst bit of rust is on the roof. I quite like the weird, mottled, marbled patina, it’ll only look like that once, so it’ll be a long thought on decision if I do decide to repaint it.
My dad, Bob, got me into film photography and when it comes to taking photos of cars I’d rather take my time and take a handful of nice photos than use a digital camera and blast away randomly. I like taking photos of the Datsun at an angle, from one of the four corners, because you can then see where the lines that go down the side of the car meet at the back doors, but, whichever way I photograph it, in my eyes, it looks good. It’s definitely photogenic.
I’m part of the Datsun Club UK Facebook group, it’s one of the friendliest clubs out there. What I really like about them is that it doesn’t matter if your car is bona fide standard or not; compared to some of the British marque car clubs, who sometimes alienate younger people because of what they do to their cars, they are great ambassadors.
Inspiring the next generation is important. When I was a kid we went to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon every year and it was always an occasion. I loved the variety of cars and seeing classics you don’t see every day was really special; I guess that might have something to do with why I like the Datsun so much. You could sit in some of them and that’s probably how my obsession [with cars] started so if somebody wants to sit in my car, I will 100% say yes.
I’ve owned the Laurel since March and I’m still waiting for the UK registration to come through; I just want to take it on the open road while the weather is good! I wouldn’t say it’s a hard process, it can just be a long process if you haven’t got the right paperwork. If you want a car that’s really hard to come by in the UK, then I’d say importing one is a great option, but the key thing is to make sure it arrives with the original logbook. Without that, it can be a minefield.
The first trip I plan to do is into central London with my mates and my camera. The lighting in the city is great at night, I’ve been a couple of times and know some cool spots to take photographs. I’m 24, I’ve been driving for six years and I’ve owned about 14 cars, but the Laurel is the one I love. Every time I open my unit door and look at it, I smile. Every time I get in it, I smile. It’s just one of those cars; it makes me happy.”
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