CC Capsule: 1982 Datsun Maxima (Nissan 810) – If You Can’t Afford a BMW

Whereas the Japanese had overwhelming success in the US with their compact and subcompact four cylinder cars, mini-pickups, and did quite well with their sport coupes, when it came to more expensive six-cylinder cars, it was not nearly as easy. Americans were happy to buy a Japanese alternative to a Vega or a VW, but when it came to an Olds Cutlass or a BMW, it was a different matter.

Toyota tried with several generations of Crown, before abandoning it in favor of the somewhat lower-priced Cressida, and with which it found moderate success. Nissan had held back with bigger sedans, but decided to jump in a year after the Cressida arrived, with its rather similarly-conceived 810, in 1977.

short nose 810 Maxima (Bluebird)

Like its predecessor, the first generation 810, these cars were Nissan Blubirds, designed and sold in most part of the world as four cylinder cars. The Bluebird line included the legendary (original) 510, and its successor, the 610. But it was time to kick it up a notch for the US, and lengthen its nose in order to install the L24E SOHC 2.4 six, as used to such great success in the Datsun 240Z.  Of course, the six was detuned to 125 hp for its new role, but nevertheless, these offered a bit more punch than what folks had been used to in Japanese sedans. The Pinocchio nose didn’t exactly do much its looks, but the Americans were of course suckers for long hoods.

The 810 wasn’t only for US consumption; the Japanese market version used a smaller 2.0 L version of the six.

The second generation 810 arrived for the 1981 model year, and there were two versions: the 810 DeLuxe, and the 810 Maxima, the first use of a name that is of course still with us today. The Maxima version of the 810 was the high-trim version. By 1982, it was only “Maxima”, and the 810 designation fell by the wayside, as would the Datsun name in another couple of years. The final 1984 MY Maximas had both “Datsun” and “Nissan” on its trunk lid.

These cars were considered quite handsome at the time, given their clean, chiseled lines. it was better looking than the fussier Cressida, and these cars sold reasonably well; much better than their predecessors, which evoked a few too many memories of Datsun’s styling Dark Ages of the 70s.

The model split for 1981 was a bit annoying for enthusiast driver, as the 5 speed manual was only available on the 810 DeLuxe, but that didn’t offer a tachometer. The Maxima did, but it wasn’t exactly very useful with its standard three-speed automatic. 0-60 came in 12 seconds; the 5-speed knocked about a second off that. Not exactly blistering, but then this was during Peak Malaise. The five-speed especially made a reasonably satisfactory driver’s car, its semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension contributing to a BMW-esque handling envelope.

These cars were the first to talk back at you, with its infamous “Bitchin’ Betty” voice alert system, that was actually a miniaturized phonograph. I hear they’re long-lived.

Yes, the Maxima’s upholstery was plush, a bit too much so for the BMW crowd. The Japanese were trying hard to figure out just which side of the Brougham – BMW fence to straddle. Obviously, they were just plain straddling it with this generation Maxima; with the exterior on one side, and the interior on the other.

The 810/Maxima also came in a wagon version, and I shot this diesel version way back in the CC early days, and it’s CC is here. And just the other day, I saw it in traffic in front of me, emitting a little puff of black soot on take-off.

But I’d never shot the sedan version, and assumed they were all long gone, until I decided to walk down this alley I normally never take. I must have heard Bitchin’ Betty to call out to me: the car you’ve been looking for is down this way…