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Marcus Fry of Redwood City, California inherited the hot-rodding bug from his dad, whose involvement in motorsports dates back to the 1960s. “They were into going fast long before I was around,” he says. “If you didn’t have a fast car back then, you didn’t have a girlfriend!”
Now the owner and operator of MFR Enterprises, Fry spends most of his time fabricating and prepping race cars for various motorsport disciplines. Over the years his builds have racked up top honors at competitions like SEMA’s Battle of the Builders, and although notoriety has made free time harder to come by these days, he still manages to put together projects like this Hilborn-injected Datsun 510 in order to satisfy his motorsport ambitions.
“Back in the day I worked in an oil refinery as a welder, and then later I did construction and carpentry for a while,” he explains. “But all of those jobs were never fulfilling enough – I was always bored within a year. Before I started the business, I was competing in regional drift events and, after I won a championship and earned my Formula Drift license, I was kind of at a crossroads. Should I try to compete, or open my business? The third option was joining the Air Force – I wanted to be a pilot. But then I found out that I was too tall for that anyway!”
Fry decided to leverage the reputation he’d earned in the drifting scene to open the shop, but meant that he had to sell his first, and beloved, LS-swapped Datsun 510 drift car to come up with the funds. “The car sold for pretty good money, and it went to Zurich, Switzerland to compete in hill climb events for the next few years after that… until the new owner crashed it,” he wistfully recalls. “But selling it got me the necessities I needed in order to get the business off the ground.”
Beyond the blood, sweat, and tears he poured into the build, Fry cites that first 510 project car as a significant turning point in his automotive interests. “I used to be into rock crawling, but I was getting bored because the pace was too slow,” he says. “I also couldn’t afford to run a car in Baja events or rally racing, or anything like that. “But one day I happened to find this four-door 510 on Craigslist. I’d seen one in high school, and I fell in love with it right away. For some reason I really like little boxy cars, and independent rear suspension was really appealing to me from a tuning standpoint.”
After getting it running with the factory 108ci L18 engine, it wasn’t long before he was ready for more grunt, and that led to SR swap from an S14 240Z donor car. “It was faster, but I still needed more,” he says. “I’d grown up around my dad building Chevy V8s, so I decided I was going to put an LS motor in it. But nobody had really done that in 510 with a stock front end at that point.” Built in his backyard, the LS1-powered 510 soon became a touge terror in the mountains around Santa Cruz before he took his sideways exploits into closed course competition.
Although he parted ways with the car when the business became his primary focus, an opportunity popped up not long after he opened up the shop back in 2013. “I knew another fabricator who’d just closed his business, and he offered me this 510 shell that he had. His business was close to mine, so we put it on a dolly and rolled it four blocks over to my shop.” The car sat for a time as Fry constructed a plan of attack for the build, but he soon started chipping away at the project after hours, first media blasting the shell, stitch-welding the chassis, and building a cage for it.
“The first big decision I had to make was what I was going to do with the front end – how I could lighten it up and what kind of structure I wanted to be there,” he tells us. “At the time the idea was to build it around the Formula Drift Pro rule book, and I was emailing back and forth with tech officials about what I could and couldn’t do as the project progressed.” But as the build started to take shape, Fry discovered the 510 was not going to be eligible to run in Formula Drift due to rule changes, so he decided to take a more freestyle approach to the build in order to maximize the car’s potential in exhibition and road course-style events.
He leveraged what he’d learned from the previous 510 to build the new car with a more cohesive vision, increasing the track width by three inches on each side to accommodate wider rubber, and reworking the front end to ensure that the car would be more competitive right out of the gate. “I basically exaggerated the parameters of the previous car – I went farther with steering angle, I went farther to get more caster. And I already knew what kind of motor I wanted to use.”
He dropped in an LS3 with a hotter cam, a dry sump system, and some valvetrain upgrades, and topped it off with a Hilborn ITB injector setup. Controlled by a Holley HP EFI system, the stack injection system definitely turned a few heads when he showcased it during the Grand Champion Competition at this year’s LS Fest West event.
“I’d initially planned to run a Holley Hi Ram, but the throttle body was basically going to stick out through the hood,” he says. “But one day a big job came through and I decided to pull the trigger on a Hilborn. I’d done my research beforehand, and I knew the Holley engine management system would work with it. I know that an intake like this is probably not the ideal choice for autocross, time attack, and things like that – they’re made for high RPMs and high speeds, not low RPMs and high torque. A standard style intake would also probably be easier to control because of the throttle response, but these are just so damn cool.”
Although 500 horsepower is plenty for a car that weighs about 2200 pounds, Fry has already switched over to another power plant since LS Fest, swapping out the LS3 in favor of a stroker LS2 with 13:1 compression, AFR heads, and a custom ground cam that delivers about 700 horsepower at the crank. Fry wrangles the naturally aspirated power plant through a NASCAR-style Jerico four-speed gearbox, which in turn sends the power to the rear wheels through a Winters Performance quick-change rear end.
QA1 double-adjustable coilovers work with a custom fabricated rear suspension that was inspired by the semi-trailing arm setup on Fry’s Polaris side-by-side. The front end still uses a factory-style MacPherson strut design, but it’s been modified to work with 280ZX struts that have been shortened using strut assemblies Techno Toy Tuning.
“After I found out the car wouldn’t be eligible to compete in Formula Drift, I initially didn’t know what to do with it, so it basically stayed a drift car that I just messed around with for a few years,” he says. “I’d take it to events and have fun with it, and continue to refine the setup through testing. But at the beginning of last year, I decided it was time to actually start using this thing. A couple of my customers do autocross and time attack events, and so I decided to start outfitting it for that. I mean, it’s not going to be a drag car, ya know?”
The 510 is currently being prepped in Fry’s shop with the intent of campaigning the car in the Optima Street Car Challenge at as many of the national events as he can manage, along with regional time attack series. Oh, and he’s planning to take it to Pikes Peak, too. “Because of the engine, the engine’s size, and the car itself, I’ll probably be put in the semi-unlimited class for the hill climb,” he notes. “So I might not win, but I bet it’s going to be fun.”
And that tracks with Fry’s overall build philosophy with the 510. “I like to do things that not a lot of other people are doing,” he notes. “I guess I like to be the one out in front in that way. Even though it can make things more difficult sometimes, I think it’s all been worth it so far.”