EL Barón: Erick Aguilar’s Honda-Powered Datsun 1200

Track photography courtesy of Erick’s Racing

The Datsun 1200 has long been heralded as the go-to car for import drag racers around the world. Puerto Ricans have popularized this classic Datsun chassis by transforming examples of them into some of the fastest import drag machines ever to blast down the quarter mile.

Erick’s Racing owner, Erick Aguilar’s obsession of Datsun cars didn’t begin recently. A visit to his shop revealed his office showroom and shop garage both of which were jam packed with multiple examples of the Datsun 510, 240z, and 280ZX, many of which belonged to his own personal collection. Born and raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Aguilar’s first exposure to competitive racing began when he was only 13 years old.

“From early childhood, I’ve been exposed to Datsuns pretty much all my life. I grew up with those cars, went to high school with those cars and been involved modifying them with my friends inside our families garages for longer than I can even recall,” says Aguilar.

Erick purchased this 1971 Datsun 1200 a few years back and has been continually working on getting to where it is today.

“We imported the vehicle as a rolling chassis from Puerto Rico because it’s really hard to find this type and model car in good condition stateside.”

As you know, drag racing in Puerto Rico is very popular and has a large following. This ’74 Datsun 1200 was previously built around a 13B rotary engine, a popular engine swap among Puerto Ricans.

“I wanted to build a car that gave me all the great memories of my adolescent days and this Datsun 1200 was just one of many vehicles that took me down memory lane, albeit this one makes a lot more horsepower than the original 1.2L engine.”

Aguilar and his team got the car up and running only a year after the initial purchase date but ran into a number of problems along the way.

“Most of the car was already done but we ended up taking it apart to redo the entire car’s electrical system and ECU setup. We ended up installing an AEM EMS Series 2 engine management system and redid the entire wiring system. We also had a major problem with the suspension setup that required major work. We pretty much bought the car for the chassis.”

EL Barón

First things first, if you’re like us, you’re probably wondering what the custom gold leaf words EL Barón emblazed on the Datsun’s doors mean. Erick briefly educated us on its personal meaning which we learned has Latin roots.

“In central America, the term “EL Barón” loosely describes an individual as “you are the man”.

Aguilar mentioned he’s traveled the world and has tuned plenty of engine management systems around Central America ranging from the Dominican Republic to his home country of Guatemala.

“Both my customers and friends in Central America gave me the nickname and it’s stuck with me. That’s mainly why I decided to name this car ‘EL Barón’.”

Honda Power

Erick’s Racing has built their name and reputation on being the Honda and Acura specialists so when it came down to deciding what would be powering this Datsun, it was no surprise that Aguilar decided to power his ride with an F22C engine usually found in the Honda S2000.

We asked Erick why attempt to cause controversy by dropping a Honda S2000 engine inside a Datsun?

“I’ve been working on the Honda engines ever since the beginnings of my drag racing career and over those years, I’ve learned quite a bit in terms of how to build them and what it takes to extract horsepower from them. Hands down the F20C/F22C engines are one of the—if not the—best 4-cylinder engines developed. When we first began strategizing the build formula for the Datsun, there were two simple requirements. The first was to power the car using a 4-cylinder engine and the second was to build it using the best four-banger engine, which was naturally derived from a Honda S2000.”

Pop the hood and it’s hard to overlook the Comp Turbo 72mm turbocharger blatantly staring you down.

A custom tubular exhaust manifold was designed and fabricated by Kike Performance Fabrications.

Boost is regulated through a Turbosmart 60mm PowerGate waste gate and Bubba Sonic blow off valve, as spent exhaust fumes are exited through a custom 4-inch exhaust dump that terminates out the passenger side fender.

The fuel system consists of dual Skunk2 composite fuel rails feeding C85 VP fuel through eight SFI 1,200cc injectors.

The intake manifold is a Skunk 2 prototype unit mated to a Skunk2 billet throttle body. This manifold is similar to the K-series unit that is currently offered by Skunk2, but has a flange design that enables it to be mounted to the S2000 engine.

If you’ve noticed, this F22C engine is setup with some generously large -12AN and -16AN braided lines and AN fittings feeding the catch can and breather ventilation setup. When we asked Erick why he was using such large diameter lines, he explained by saying “We’re obviously running a lot of boost which in exchange pushes a lot of air through the crankcase. In order to keep the engine running well under high-stress conditions you want to have those breather lines as big as possible so the engine can breathe. Running a smaller line through a small orifice will restrict the air flow which can cause the engine to start puking oil. Simply stated, the more boost, the better ventilation your engine needs.”

A custom 3-gallon fuel cell was fabricated by Kike Fab and installed in the engine bay to improve weight distribution.

“Data we collected from our most recent shakedown runs determined the front tires were lifting through all of first and second gear for a good 100 to 150 ft. Even with the use of wheelie bars the duration of lift was way too long. We’re currently considering adding some weight ballasts to keep the front end from lifting.”

Keep in mind that this car weights a scant 2,150 lbs. with driver.

The intercooler is comprised of a custom water-to-air heat exchanger setup using a CX Racing core that was modified to fit the vehicle. In comparison to the typical air-to-air intercoolers commonly used on street cars, a water-to-air intercooler setup is superior in all aspects. This is due to their incredibly low pressure drop while providing maximum cooling efficiency on drag vehicles, which only require quick power runs on the drag strip. Erick’s Racing designed the intercooler unit to be mounted as close to the manifold as possible, reducing turbo lag and providing maximum performance.

A 4-gallon CX Racing ice box reservoir is mounted on the passenger side floor and plumbed into the water-to-air intercooling system using -16AN braided lines and fittings. When adding ice, it is possible to get intake temperatures below ambient air, resulting in tremendous power gains. Aguilar wrapped the entire tank using a thermal barrier shield to further insulate and keep the ice and water inside the tank cooler for a longer period of time.

In order to make room inside the engine bay, the radiator was moved towards the rear of the car, including the coolant reservoir tank, which now sits inside the trunk.

F22C Engine Modifications

The bottom end block consists of Golden Eagle iron sleeves with Arias 10.5:1 pistons. Golden Eagle also machined an O-ring receiving groove surrounding each cylinder wall to promote improved head gasket seal. The F22C retains the original bore diameter to keep the block as strong as possible while retaining use of the OEM crankshaft, which has been proven time and time again as a robust piece that can maintain reliability even when making high horsepower. A mixture of King Bearings and ACL bearings were used on the mains and inside the Crower billet rods.

Aguilar mentions, “OEM bearings are definitely the best on the market but are also expensive. We tear down and inspect every race engine after 20 to 25 runs on the track to see how everything is holding up and working. At which point, we decide if we need to replace piston rings, bearings, or other components. As you can imagine it’s a costly process but a crucial one because in the long run, it’s better to play it safe than sorry. Sure, we could run it an additional 20 more times but I don’t want to wait until problems arise to a point where it gets really bad and end up grenading the engine.”

Race Prepped Cylinder Head

Joe Alaniz, of Alaniz Racing Heads, massaged the cylinder head. Alaniz Racing is best known for their custom, old school, hand-treated port and polish jobs. Aguilar has been a longtime customer of Alaniz Racing dating back to when he was still drag racing Hondas in the early ‘90s. Alaniz was also responsible in prepping the cylinder head on the Erick’s Racing Civic that reset the import drag records in the all motor class to achieve 10.50s, low 10s, and eventually breaking the 9-second barrier.

“Straight from the factory, the Honda S2000 cylinder head flows very well, so we decided to do basic modifications but our main focus was concentrating on improving its overall strength.”

The F22C cylinder head was upgraded with a set of 1mm oversized exhaust valves to allow the cylinder head to improve flow. A complete Supertech Performance valvetrain assembly consisting of titanium retainers, double valvesprings, and seats were also used. The cylinder head bowl chambers were reworked while Alaniz radius cut all of the sharp edges to a smooth finish to prevent detonation.

“Future plans call for custom CNC headwork, but at this time we’re happy with the results of this modified cylinder head,” states Aguilar.

InlinePRO supplied Erick’s Racing with a number of parts for this engine build including custom head studs. Aguilar mentioned the shop has moved away from using ARP head studs due to their underwhelming design, which causes them to stretch and lift the cylinder heads beyond 30 psi of boost.

“We’ve had great results with the InlinePRO prototype head studs, which consist of a thicker body in comparison to the ARP that use a taper design. The InlinePRO head studs are comprised of a proprietary material, and our testing has shown they are able to withstand over 40 psi of boost pressure without lifting.”

The engine is mated to a Jerico 4-speed transmission and Clutch Masters custom triple plate clutch setup.

“The Jerico is old school and still requires the clutch to shift but it’s reliable and was a unit we had lying around at our shop. In the near future, if we get lucky and land a transmission sponsor then we will definitely be upgrading from this old dinosaur.”

Erick’s Racing fabricated their custom block adapter to mate the F22C to the transmission.

The back half tube chassis is tied to a four link setup, with a Chevy 12-bolt rear end sitting on a set of 28×10.5-inch Mickey Thompson ET Drag slicks.

“We’re currently playing around with final drive gearing to see what works best for the car so nothings written in stone at the moment, but the car is currently running a 3.54 final drive.”

Mickey Thompson 22×3.5-inch skinnies keep the Datsun pointed straight when blasting down the drag strip.

Tuning For Power

During dyno tuning, Erick decided to up the boost to 29 psi and was immediately rewarded with a respectable 850whp.

“The engine setup shows promising potential and has the ability to make a lot more power. We decided to leave the engine at its current horsepower levels in order to dial in the chassis and suspension during track testing before we turn up the wick.”

Chassis Work

Gary Hansen, of Hansen Race Cars located in Montclair, California, stepped up to the plate and helped Erick to prep the chassis. Hansen has been in the drag racing business for over 25 years, and is a name often associated with building some of the fastest cars to trap the quarter mile ranging from Pro Stock to NHRA dragsters.

Hansen Race Cars spent numerous days modifying the original back half tube chassis.

“When we first began building the car, we knew that the setup wasn’t designed for the amount of horsepower the car is pumping out.”

In comparison to the previous 13B engine setup, which lacks torque, the current 800+hp setup delivers torque that shocks the tires hard. During initial testing prior to making any chassis modifications, Aguilar noticed the vehicle exhibiting severe torque steer off the line as it wanted to push and pull in all different directions.

“In second gear, the tires are still up in the air so there’s no steering input, which makes for a scary ride when the car gets squirrelly around the track. Our newly revised chassis allows the back end and car to go as straight as possible to eliminate driving into the walls. We’re pretty sure the car previously ran 8-seconds back in Puerto Rico but damn, how they did it without offering a little praying prior to jumping in it each time was beyond us.”

The roll cage was also updated from its current setup, which was only certified to run no quicker than 8.50-second E.T.’s. Erick’s Racing made the necessary modifications welding in additional bars and a funny car style bar surrounding the driver in order to pass recertification for 7.50-second E.T. runs.

Three days prior to Front Street Media paying Erick a visit at his shop, Aguilar and his Datsun 1200 took a trip down to Irwindale Speedway’s Thursday night 1/8-mile drag event to shake down his newly revised chassis and engine setup. Aguilar recalled his thoughts, mere minutes before making his first pass.

“For the amount of boost and time we put into the car prior to the event, I would have been happy if we hit a high 5-second E.T. that night. We were testing out the car at low boost, as well as the new suspension setup, to make sure everything was working right. Surprisingly on our first pass we hit a 5.9 seconds at 120mph. The second pass of the night we decided to push the car a little harder by increasing the RPM range, but found out the rev limiter was set too low and the engine was bouncing off the limiter all the way down the track which netted a slower 6.1-second run.”

Back in the pits, Aguilar made the necessary adjustments by altering the RPM limiter 1,000 higher prior to the third and final run of the night. The car launched well, ran straight and trapped a quick 5.1-second pass at 131mph, which calculates to a solid low 8-second pass in the quarter mile.

“That 11mph increase over our initial run was huge in the 1/8-mile.”

Future plans

When asked what Aguilar’s plans were for the car, now that it was knocking on the low 8-second window. Aguilar smiled and said, “it’s all about having fun with the car right now. Our goal is to run low 8s, to high 7-second quarter mile E.T.’s. There are a few things we would like to do to the car but it seems to be running really well at the moment.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see us running in the 7 second range very soon. Who knows, maybe you’ll see us lining up at the Imports vs. Domestics shootout in the near future—if we don’t end up selling it first!”

Domestic owners, you’ve been warned. This Datsun 1200 is coming for you!

Believe it or not, this orange Datsun isn’t Aguilar’s go-to-car. Sitting tuecked away in the corner under a car cover sits another Datsun 1200 he is slowly preparing to eclipse low 7s to 6-second E.T.’s

“My ultimate goal is to compete with some of the fastest cars based on the East Coast.”

What’s Aguilar’s engine of choice for his next project you ask? Naturally, a Honda engine, but this one will be twin-turbocharged, and J32 V6-powered. Erick “EL Barón” Aguilar indeed!