From Volvo P1800 gassers to Skyline-swapped Patrols, there’s no shortage of inspired car builds outside of the US. Some of these modifications, though, go past ‘intriguing’ and straight into ‘outrageous’ territory. That’s where Mad Dog Racing’s track-ready Nissan 1400 pickup truck build has ended up. True, other builders have turned classic Japanese trucks, Datsuns included, into proper corner carvers. But how many of them had a Honda CBR1000RR soundtrack?
Whether Datsun or Nissan, the 1400 pickup truck is a classic African workhorse
Although Nissan was the first OEM to bring a compact truck to the US, it didn’t bring all its pickups here. Here in the States, we got the Datsun 1000, which eventually evolved into the Nissan Hardbody, the Frontier’s precursor. But while South Africa has the Frontier—sold as the Navarra and commercial NP300 Hardbody—it also got a car-based pickup. That truck was the 1971 Datsun 1200, which was based on the Sunny, the Sentra’s ancestor.
In 1976, the Datsun 1200 got both a new name and a nickname: the 120Y ‘Bakkie.’ But it wouldn’t become truly iconic until 1980 when it got a bigger engine and another name change. Now Nissan called it ‘Datsun 1400.’ 10 years later, Nissan dropped the Datsun badging, and the truck was just ‘Nissan 1400.’ However, even before it became an official title, everyone called it ‘1400 Bakkie.’
‘Bakkie’ is essentially the South African equivalent of Australia’s ‘ute’ designation. Derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘bowl/container,’ it refers to the pickup truck’s ability to carry loads. And the Nissan 1400 quickly became one of the most popular ways for South African citizens to carry, well, everything.
The Nissan 1400 is one of the most successful pickup trucks in South Africa, Motor1 says. Like a smaller Toyota Hilux, the 1400 Bakkie is well-regarded for its sheer durability, reliability, and affordability. Case in point, one of its nicknames is kanniedood—‘cannot die.’ The other nickname? ‘The Champion of Africa,’ with over 275,000 sales over its 37-year run.
And with Mad Dog Racing’s help, one 1400 might well become a champion at the racetrack.
A Honda CBR1000RR engine swap helps turn the Nissan 1400 from a work truck to track weapon
Although the Nissan 1400 wasn’t a particularly heavy truck, it wasn’t exactly powerful, either. Even in 2008, its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine made less than 100 hp. Mad Dog Racing’s truck, though, makes considerably more than that. And that’s thanks to what’s under its hood.
The shop yanked out the original engine and swapped in the 998cc liquid-cooled inline-four from a crashed Honda CBR1000RR. So, now this Nissan 1400 truck makes 189 bhp and 84 lb-ft of torque, MCN reports. And all that power goes to the rear wheels via a sequential transmission. Oh, and the engine redlines at 12,000 RPM.
But Mad Dog Racing didn’t spend about 700 hours working on this vintage Nissan truck just to put in a motorcycle engine, Motor1 notes. Shop owner Stephan Fouche installed custom in-board suspension (Ohlins units, likely) and Porsche wheels, too. He also stripped down the interior, added racing seats, a racing steering wheel, and a carbon-fiber dash, and removed the truck bed’s floor. As a result, this CBR-powered Nissan truck only weighs 1455 pounds.
In addition, Fouche added some chassis reinforcements, including one of the most extreme front strut-tower braces I’ve ever seen. It looks more like a mini roll cage than a simple bar. So, this Nissan 1400 isn’t just lighter and more powerful than stock, but it’s also stiffer.
The sum of these modifications is “the maddest little car” Cars.co.za “has ever driven.” Its new wheels and tires, combined with the trick inboard suspension, make for “dynamically excellent” handling, Cars.co.za says. Plus, because it’s so light, this little Nissan truck feels quick, nimble, and rewardingly fun to drive on the track. And you can’t escape that Honda CBR1000RR engine’s shriek, which fills the tiny cab with a roar like a demonic blender gargling cyborg bees.
Mad Dog Racing has made a mad Nissan 1400 indeed.
Could you swap a motorcycle engine into a classic US-market Nissan pickup?
As noted earlier, Nissan never sold the 1400 truck in the US. But you could import some older examples thanks to the 25-year rule. Alternatively, you could pick up a vintage Datsun pickup. While well-restored examples are understandably more expensive, good-condition 620s and 720s often sell for about $5000 at Mecum auctions. And you can pick up a Hardbody for $10,000-$15,000.
Getting your hands on a Honda CBR1000RR is going to be trickier, not to mention pricier. A brand-new CBR1000RR starts at $16,499. Though admittedly, a crashed CBR is significantly cheaper. However, this is all before engine swap costs come into play.
Still, having a 12,000-RPM track truck like that Nissan 1400 might make embracing the madness worth it.
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