Curbside Musings: 1979 Datsun 210 Hatchback – The Color Of Summer

1979 Datsun 210. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

We’re now solidly in the middle of summer in Chicago, though it had felt like it had already arrived earlier this year.  When I open my blinds in the morning, I look out over my residential neighborhood and see the thickness and density of tree leaves as a measure of the progress of the season.  The stark beauty of winter’s bare branches gave way to spring’s chartreuse buds as they gradually appeared.  By the middle of May, some buildings that used to be visible from my midrise unit had become obscured by full, green leaves in this forest-like area.  I love being surrounded by other living, growing, towering things that are not like me.  It’s all so awe-inspiring.  To me, green is synonymous with life.

The western end of Paseo Boricua. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

I’ve also been taking advantage of the warm weather to explore still more areas and neighborhoods of Chicago in which I’ve never spent any significant amount of time.  I’m not completely a lone wolf and I do enjoy the shared experience of exploring with friends, but I’m often just as happy in my own company.  Going places by myself means I have no appointments or schedules to keep, and it allows for flexibility in deciding where I will let the day lead me.

Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

I can decide in a split second if I want to pull the cord on the public bus to request the next stop if I see an interesting bakery or store along the way, and I have no one else to convince that this would be a good idea.  A couple of months ago, I decided to visit the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.  It’s a beautiful area with a large park and lagoon, many beautiful, historic structures, and a significant population of Puerto Rican descent.

1979 Datsun 210. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

It was on the culture-rich Paseo Boricua stretch of West Division Avenue that I saw our featured car.  I was so floored to see a clean example of a Datsun 210 in traffic that I completely missed that there was a big, black Lincoln Continental Mark III parked on the street behind it until I had later examined these frames at home.  The driver confirmed out of the window that his Datsun is a ’79, which is the first year for this design in the United States, sold through ’82.  It would be Nissan’s last, new rear-drive compact, replaced by the FWD Sentra.  Power came from a 1.4 liter four-cylinder with just 65 horsepower to motivate almost exactly one ton of curb weight.  With its five-speed manual transmission, Nissan boldly advertised it as having the “HIGHEST GAS MILEAGE OF ANY CAR YOU CAN BUY!” (all-caps) in the U.S. in 1979, with EPA fuel mileage ratings of 35 mpg city and 47 highway.

1979 Datsun 210 print ad, as sourced from the internet.

Whenever I see superlatives like this, I’m immediately drawn to look up such information on the internet, as there seem to have been smaller, and perhaps lighter, vehicles for sale here at that time.  I didn’t write the ad copy, but someone let it fly, so I’ll just let it ride for now.  At a minimum, the ’79 210 represented green from an ecological standpoint, being very efficient with fuel.  Also, during the 1979 oil crisis, this peppy-looking Datsun also meant that more green stayed in the wallets of its owners and drivers.

1979 Datsun 210. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

I also think this is good, sporty design for an economy hatchback from that time period, and I have long admired the fastback roofline and the general detailing of the 210’s clean bodysides.  The profile view also demonstrates the effective trick of breaking up the rear-quarter window area and giving a more coupe-like appearance with two separate panes of glass.  It’s the difference between the Renault 15 and 17, to give just one other example of what I’m talking about.

The former’s long, large, unbroken pane of rear-quarter glass, though it undoubtedly provides excellent visibility, makes the tail of the 15 look disproportionately long.  Imagine if the ’79 Dodge Omni O24 and Plymouth Horizon TC3 had just one long rear-quarter window versus the different window treatments Chrysler Corporation had tried over the years.  Some L-body coupe window configurations worked better than others, but all of them look better to my eyes than if there had been just one big rear side window.

1979 Datsun 210. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

Green was also the color of the money you’d save at the point of purchase.  With a base price of $3,899 (which was the same for the two-door sedan or hatchback), the ’79 210 undercut the price of a new, non-Scooter Chevette by almost fifty bucks ($3,948), and the non-Pony Pinto by $40 ($3,939).  Meanwhile, a same-year Toyota Corolla two-door sedan started at $4,133, and a base VW Rabbit would set one back at least $4,799.  One weakness of Datsuns of this era were their propensity to rust, where in a handful of years, a pretty green finish like on our featured car would feature spots of crunchy brown like so many scattered, autumn leaves.

1979 Datsun 210. Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 11, 2024.

The absence of rust and the like-new condition of this vintage Japanese hatchback were what made it more interesting to me than any number of other cars I could have seen that day.  I don’t recall having seen any of these Datsuns in this color on the street when I was a kid, so I’m guessing this is as much an aftermarket choice as were the same-period Toyota wheels (which I think look great, by the way).  Green is the color of the fruit from which is extracted a cold limeade that I hope to purchase soon from a local, street-corner vendor in my own neighborhood, or of the bright, sweet pickle relish on a Chicago dog.  Summer is here, and let the parade of vintage vehicles continue.

Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, May 11, 2024.

Rich Baron presented this excellent and comprehensive overview of these cars in September of 2023.