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Discovering the Datsun 510
Peter Brock Made Desert Racing History in a Humble Compact Car

In the summer of 1969, America was fascinated with technology that was ignited by NASA landing a man on the Moon. With a country fascinated with space travel, technology, and a bright future ahead, race driver Peter “Pete” Brock, was planning a mission of a different sort that would utilize the latest in compact car technology.

Brock wanted to win the Mexican 1000 in a Japanese-built car, something that had never been done before. Some say, Brock’s run in ’69, using three right-hand- drive spec African Safari 510’s was a stroke of advertising genius for the automaker Datsun, who sponsored the effort.

Whatever the case, Brock was intent on showcasing the performance possibilities of these new compact-cars set against the grueling Mexican desert. It would be a feat that at the time, seemed near impossible, even those who understood Brock’s unbridled passion for racing.

In the Sixties, Mexico’s desert was extremely primitive by today’s standards, and it wasn’t until years later when SCORE took ownership of the competition and renaming it the SCORE Baja 1000 that more advancements in suspension and tire technology really took hold from manufacturers and racers’ experiences there.

Where It All Began

Brock’s idea to race a Datsun in Baja stemmed from his extensive racing expeience, which goes back to when he designed the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe as well as helping in the design of the 1963 Corvette Stringray. But it was this less publicized period of his storied career in an unproven production class car at the Mexican 1000, that made desert racing history. “At our own expense, we ran a Datsun pickup in Mexican 1000 in 1967, to learn how the event was run,” Brock said.  Mary McGee, a motorcycle racer, drove the truck.

Without outside financial support, Brock returned to the event the following year in a specially built Datsun 510, outfitted with a two-liter Datsun Roadster engine. With this new vehicle, Brock and Bob Lyon would try to make another attempt at competing in the Mexican 1000.

Without time or money to pre-run the course in the 510, Brock and Lyon flew over it in a rented single-engine, Ryan Navion aircraft to figure out a strategy for the race. After a few passes over the race course they eventually developed a plan that could possibly allow them to be successful.

By the time they had a vehicle and a plan put together, Brock approached Datsun executives with his idea to race a four-cylinder 510 in the grueling Mexican 1000. He and his BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) team had only limited experience driving the humble 510 to its limits. Back in the states, however, Brock and his BRE team were winning races on road behind the wheel of Datsun 2000 Roadsters, so the automaker took notice.

Toyota actually jumped in and signed an exclusive racing contract with Brock to drive their new 2000GT, but for political reasons, that contract was reassigned to Carrol Shelby at the last minute. While this left Brock heartbroken, his only hope to completing his goal in Baja was in getting Datsun Motor Company to support BRE and their efforts.