Some drivers win rallies by dominating the field. Others produce startling comeback drives, flirt with disaster or hang onto victory by the skin of their teeth. But some drivers win rallies when they’re simply not supposed to.
Brendan Reeves wouldn’t normally fall into that last category.
A former WRC Academy driver and winner of multiple national rallies in Australia and New Zealand, he’s an undeniable talent in his own right.
But Brendan Reeves winning rallies overall up against more powerful four-wheel-drive cars in an old, rear-wheel-drive Datsun P510… well, that’s not supposed to happen, is it?
But you guessed it, it has. And not once, but twice.
“Yeah, the last two in a row!” Reeves smiles.
But it’s important to stress, this is no ordinary Datsun P510.
Allow us to introduce you to Datzilla – the home-built monster responsible for such wildness.
“It was already in my family,” Reeves explains to DirtFish. “My sister and her ex-husband, they owned it as an autocross car and they used it for a few years.
“The car got sold and a few years later my wife and I were looking for a car to use. It’s quite cheap, autocross in Australia, and if you’re not rallying much it’s a good way to stay sharp. So I chased the car up and I bought it for around 2000 dollars and it was very basic: aluminum cage, standard L20 engine in it.
“And then, typical rally driver, we went to the autocrosses and we were getting beaten by an XR4 Fiesta and my wife was like: ‘It’s fine don’t worry about it.’ But I’m like: ‘No, we need to make this car quicker!’ So we put an SR20, just standard engine in it and made the car quicker.
“Anyway, we were about the same pace as the XR4 Fiesta and then I sort of decided the car wasn’t really safe enough with the aluminum cage, we need to put a proper steel cage in the car.
“This was about five years ago now, and we stripped the cage out, stripped the car down, got a cage put in and thought: ‘Right, we better build a proper engine.’
“So a proper engine was built… ‘Aw a hole puncher would be nice’, so we got a sequential and it just blew out as everything does.”
As anybody who’s ever had a project-build can attest, there’s never an end goal. But surely Datzilla must buck the trend.
In its current guise with a sequential gearbox and 200bhp all harnessed in a body that weighs just 1050kg in rally trim, that’s perfectly potent! Surely there’s not more to be done?
“It’s actually a really good question because people are always shocked when I say ‘no, no there’s more in the car’, Reeves laughs. “Because I think some people think, like your question, ‘aw you’ve found the limit, you’re winning rallies; that must be it’.”
“But I’ve always got something more I want to do to the car! I don’t know, whether I’m treating it more like a time attack car or to me it’s just a lot of fun.
“Like, I would love to have a manufacturer drive in a Rally2 car, but I don’t have that so this is my toy and something I need to push the boundaries with to tick the boxes of what I want to get out of rallying.
“Most people around the world just build a Mk2 Escort or an M3 BMW, but in Australia the Datsun P510 or 1600 was a super-popular car, was cheap and affordable and a lot of people [were] out in the forests [with one] 50 years ago.
“I’ve done the extreme – my car’s not cheap and affordable now! But it’s just awesome and sounds amazing. Yeah, I’m always trying to find an extra tenth out of it or more gains all the time.”
Startling really, when you consider ‘Brendo’ and Datzilla haven’t been beaten since March.
But what is it actually like to drive; how fun is it?
“The car feels like it’s on edge all the time – I’m trying to fix that,” Reeves laughs. “But yeah, it’s dancing on the road, it feels like it’s always alive, it’s always doing something, it’s never settled down.
“And if you’re not taking control of the car and really throwing it into the corner, it’s not going to work out for you. We’ve probably done 11 rallies in the car now and we improve it all the time, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable in the car – it always feels like it’s really trying to fight against me,” he grins.
“And that’s what I like about it; you’re always wrestling with the car to get it down that stage as fast as you can. But the main aim is to have fun at the time, and on the latest round getting a win with Alex [Gelsomino], we had a hell of a lot of fun!
“And it was like: ‘OK, cool, the car’s finally getting to where we want it to be.’”
But ultimately, Datzilla is about spreading joy. Reeves has a real fondness for his creation, but he wants to share it with others around the world too,
“My first ever rally was in my brother’s Datsun 1600 or P510, and then my dad rallied them a lot as well so I really have a soft spot for Datsuns,” he explains.
“The first rally car I owned was the 240Z, and I still have the car now. So those cars are really special to me and I wanted the car to be unique and almost try to build a following for the car.
“And not just in Victoria or local rallying, so people knew the car around the world, like Baby Blue, Frank Kelly’s Escort, Ken Block’s car with the Cossie World Tour and things like this. So I thought it was unique to give the car a name.
“Godzilla was always an amazing Skyline and this is the Datsun, so yeah we just sort of mixed the two together and made that happen. I think there’s a few other Datzillas when you look on Instagram but there’s none like mine!
“A bit like how Ken does the world tour, my dream has always been to take this car outside of Australia,” Reeves adds.
“If you were going to ask me what’s the ultimate goal with this car it is to take it to Otago and things like that. So I would like to one day, once I’m happy with the car and the performance and reliability, I would like to take it internationally and just have a bit more fun with it.”
Talk about drivers achieving success when they’re not supposed to… winning Victoria state rallies is one thing, but Reeves going global in Datzilla would be something else!