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Nissan 1400 Champ Rebuild; Body Repair

nissan 1400 champ rebuild

Small Scale Engineering has a Nissan 1400 Champ that is in need of some serious repairs. We bought it some time ago as an affordable, nippy and small bakkie; perfect for getting through Cape Town’s narrow roads to jobs. We decided it is time for the Nissan 1400 Champ rebuild project!

Nissan 1400 Champ Rebuild: Why Now?

We have three reasons why we’re busy with the Nissan 1400 rebuild now, while we’re trying to build a house:

  • Kevin and I have one car: A small Kia Picanto. If it breaks down and has to go in for repairs we will have a huge transport problem on our hands. We have to drive in to Cape Town for work every day. Louis has a bakkie too but we can only transport two people with it. If all four of us were to need to go into town, we would need the second vehicle.
  • We have been using Louis’ bakkie for jobs but it is quite heavy on fuel, being bigger and more powerful. It would be nice to have a lighter and smaller vehicle that we can use, depending on the job.
  • It has been sitting for two years due to a carburetor issue. We all hate seeing useful items being wasted and not in use

Nissan 1400 Champ History

Not too long after Kevin opened Small Scale Engineering, he realized he needed a bakkie in order to transport himself and tools to jobs and projects. Louis hadn’t joined the Small Scale Engineering team yet so we did not have access to his bakkie. We have a small car that I use to get to my day job, and at that time, Kevin was doing most of his running around on a motorbike. He was struggling to get all the tools he required to various job sites. Kevin decided that he needed something small and nippy that he could use to get around in. He decided that the perfect vehicle would be a Nissan 1400 Champ. Small and easy to repair. Perfect for Cape Town’s narrow roads.

So, we bought one in Mossel Bay and one weekend we drove it back down to Cape Town. Pepito Designs did an awesome job with the branding soon after we bought it.

It looked pretty good back then…

Obviously, as with every second-hand car, it needed a bit of work but nothing major that couldn’t wait a bit. Kevin used the vehicle on his various jobs for several months and it definitely made a difference.

And then disaster struck! The carburetor stopped working. It wasn’t the original carburetor but a generic one fitted by the previous owners. Kevin got another generic one from an automotive spares dealer and fitted it. It lasted about four months and then that one “blew up” (Kevin’s words). So, now we knew that the generic carburetor isn’t a solution for this vehicle’s engine. Original carburetors for this vehicle are impossible to find, so Kevin had to do quite a bit of research to find what other options would work.

Months passed before Kevin was finally able to purchase something that would work. By this time, the bakkie had been sitting in all sorts of weather conditions for about two years.

Nissan 1400 Champ Rebuild – Major Issues

Kevin had three major issues he had to repair on the bakkie:

Some examples of the rust
  • The carburetor. Kevin settled on a carburetor from a Volkswagen 1600 Jetta and has changed the jets so that they are the right size for his 1400 engine.
  • To be honest, the Nissan 1400 Champs are not particularly well built. It is also an older model. I am sure you imagine what sitting in the rain for two years has done to the body. There was some major rust that needed to be sorted out. (A side effect of this is that the interior carpets and roof liner got a bit moldy over winter.) The front left cross member had also been badly affected. If we left it another year or two we would risk the engine falling out.
  • All the rubber fuel lines are beginning to split, so all these needed to be replaced. While pulling the engine out, he also discovered that the intake manifold is cracked so he needs to replace that too.

The Nissan 1400 Champ rebuild project has (not surprisingly) turned out into one of those scenarios where you start fixing one thing to find several other issues that need sorting out too. Kevin is not one to do things halfheartedly so he and Louis geared up for a major rebuild project.

Of course, I know what Kevin has planned for the bakkie. At this stage, and in this article, I can only tell you that it is going to be amazing when it is done. No spoilers yet!

Nissan 1400 Champ Rebuild – Dealing with the Rust

The rust was bad. You could see the road through holes in the foot well. The body panels are designed in such a way that they allow rain water to accumulate and sit in pockets. This obviously contributes to the rust problem. Kevin also found previous damage on the vehicle that had been repaired badly.

Lots and lots of patching work to be done

This time around, Kevin isn’t taking any chances with rust. After removing all the bad areas, he welded in pieces of stainless steel. He also made some adjustments to the body panels so that there are less areas for rain water to collect.

Fun Fact: Cars are not made from stainless steel because it would increase the cost (material costs and manufacturing processes), as well as the weight. Kevin reckons he has only increased the weight of the vehicle by about 4 kgs by repairing it with stainless steel.

Kevin bought stone chip paint for the underside of the bakkie. This rubbery, black paint gives vehicles good protection against stones flying up under the car. Kevin and Louis have also used it to further to protect the car from water and are painting all the hidden areas with the same paint, including the cabin area. We expect that the paint will also help with sound dampening as it is uneven and rubbery. These properties will help it to deflect the sound of the engine. New carpets and a new roof liner will complete the interior.

Before & After: Before (bottom left) looks terrible in comparison to after

Louis, with the most extraordinary show of patience, has been working on the paintwork. Sanding, painting, sanding, filling, sanding, painting, sanding, etc. It doesn’t stop.

Engine well. Before (left) and after (right) a coat of primer and some more sanding. What a difference!
It’s amazing what a difference just the grey primer paint makes!

There is still a lot of work to do. We’ll soon be sharing some more photos and information for this project as it continues. In the meantime, please leave a comment because we’d love to hear from you. What colour do you think Kevin will be or should be painting the bakkie? Something practical like white? Or something more exciting?

8 thoughts on “Nissan 1400 Champ Rebuild; Body Repair

  1. I am very impressed so far. Keep us up to date.

    1. It’s a lot of hard work but the end result is going to be worth it! We will indeed keep you updated.

  2. I have the privilege of working nearby abd seeing this project moving along. What an amazing amount of work has gone into this re-build. Kevin kindly took the time to show me what he has done, and it is looking quite amazing. Cannot wait to see the finished project. I am guessing that Kevin will want a paint job that makes his re-built bakkie stand out. Will he be putting similar signage back on? That was amazing! All the very best with this project

    1. Thank you so much for your best wishes for the project. We are very much looking forward to seeing the end result too. I can’t wait for our first drive in the bakkie!

  3. How long does it take finish up auto body work
    I like that

    1. Depending on how bad the body is and the time you have available it can take some time. We worked on this vehicle for about 2 months.

  4. Have you ever had any issues with petrol tank?

    1. We haven’t had trouble with the fuel tank itself. The fuel lines perished but the tank has been fine. What issues are you having?

What do you think? Let us know!