“Autos For Sale” was the section of the classifieds I was perusing in the newspaper. It was 1990 and I was a college kid who just needed some transportation. Flush with a little cash from the sale of my Honda Nighthawk, I was looking for something with four wheels instead of two. I wanted something that would keep me dry when it rained. An added benefit would be the ability to take a girl on a date, which was something I definitely wanted to do more of.
My budget was $750 so my options were limited. In those days before the prevalence of cell phones you didn’t always get an answer when you dialed a number, and not everyone had an answering machine. After a couple of these calls, and then another on an already sold Ford Courier, I saw the ad. It read: “1972 Datsun, runs and drives $900 obo.”
When the ad says “runs and drives” it usually means basic transportation. Dents, rust, and other damage is to be expected, don’t even respond if high miles or dirt bothers you. My curiosity was piqued, the price was right (with a little haggling). I needed more info. So I called, maybe it was a pristine 240Z?
The guy that answered spoke in broken English. From what I could gather, it was still for sale, less than ten minutes away, and the model was a 510. Being a “car guy” through and through, I was disappointed in myself for not being instantly able to conjure up a mental picture of a Datsun 510.
A college buddy with a car offered to drive me over. When we pulled up, I saw the small, box-shaped little car on the side of the house. The tan paint was faded on the hood, roof, and trunklid. The car had not had a bath in a while, but there seemed to be no rust. If I remember correctly it had two or three hubcaps. The interior was black vinyl. The car came with a four speed, and miscellaneous items like old children’s toys and fast food wrappers. The owner handed me the keys and the little four banger fired right up with no smoke. The owner would take $750.
The car had a completely worn-out shifter bushing and an exhaust leak, but otherwise was a great runner. The days and weeks that followed were pure bliss. I could be “that guy” who offered the other college kids a ride somewhere. When it rained I stayed dry and the wipers even worked! The car was solid and the doors clicked shut. Although going on 18 years old, this car seemed manufactured like a fine Swiss watch.
One weekend I decided to take the three hour trip home to see family and friends (and do laundry). The trip back to school that Sunday night in the Datsun was uneventful until a blowout of the passenger front tire made me pull over in a very desolate, empty spot out in the country. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I slid the key into the trunk’s latch. Contingencies, like spares, jacks, and tire irons are simply not important to invincible, free-spirited young college students.
I had not opened the trunk before. In it were some dusty boxes full of children’s clothes, but underneath was a tire! The tire was very bald, but was full of air! God was smiling on me. There was no jack to be found, but I did find a tire iron down in one of the side cavities behind the wheel wells. This tire tool even fit the lug nuts on the car! I was back on the road after stuffing a log under the A arm and digging a hole in the dirt with the other end of the lug wrench so the spare could be bolted on.
The Datsun served me well for the rest of the school year, but I had to abandon it when a chronic cooling system leak eventually led to a blown head gasket. The last time I saw it was when my parents and I were pulling out of the dorm parking lot that summer.
I will always remember my Datsun 510. Years later I learned that enthusiasts love these cars because of their simplicity, and great handling due to their independent rear suspension. Even after 40 years, there are still many around today. Mine would easily be worth ten or even twenty times what I had paid for it then. If I kept it, could it be considered a financial investment?
About the same time you scooped up your 510 I saw a Triumph Italia advertised in the classifieds of my local paper. Reading the ad it was obvious the seller didn’t know what he had. (The ad described the car as having been built in Canada.) For about the same kind of money that bought your 510, I could have had an extremely rare Triumph variant….if I didn’t mind re-assembling it.
A restored Italia sells for more than $80,000….just a bit better return on that 1990 investment than your 510 would have been.
Great story, James… the kind you like to hear in an old pub with a warming pint of Guinness in hand. The log and the scoop are classic roadside improvisations.
I know there are jury rigging stories in my past that are fogged by time, but the most recent one was a couple of summers ago. The battery on my Honda PC800 died in a parking lot of a rural library. After trying unsuccessfully to restart using the push and mount technique on the 600+ lb. machine in 90 degrees F, I called a friend, who came by with cables. This model Honda is clad entirely in plastic, and the battery is notoriously difficult to access for a jump, but we managed by hooking a box wrench over a terminal and wedging a stick between in and the frame so we could get a complete circuit without sparking or blowing something out. I replaced the dead battery with one strong enough to start a Peterbilt, but I also carry a 10 mm box wrench insulated with a wrapping of electrical tape in the bike’s trunk.
Hard to fathom, in this day of “Storage Wars”, how long it took you to get around to opening your Datsun’s trunk. One of the thought provoking (and sometimes sobering) sideshows inherent in junk yard surfing is the feeling of peering into someone’s life as seen through the stuff left in a car when it’s junked. There are histories imagined, even if one hasn’t set out to do so.
Great thing about those 510s is their honesty. They are straightforward appliances, but with flair.
Enjoyed your story very much. Many of the things you described are thoughts and experiences I had. I might have had it better, though. Mine was a 1960 Ford Falcon with bad u-joints and a dead battery. Drove the hell out of it and then was able to sell it for $100. Thanks for sharing.
If it was a 2 door with 4 speed, and no rust, than yes. I would give you $1500 for it today. Double your investment. 🙂
I would outbid you at 7000.
Of all the cars I owned, it was the one car me and my brothers all agreed was a winner.
My oldest bother had a two door sedan, the middle brother and I both had wagons….none of us paid much for them. I paid $200.
I used mine on a ranch….it was fantastic on unpaved roads! I hated that it was a automatic, but it would start in gear! That was fun.
I really regret getting rid of it, but I needed a truck.
Just before i was drafted in 1968, i had sold my 1954 Porsche, and needed cheap transportation. I was looking for something to drive for 6 weeks and then junk. I bought a 1959 German Ford Taunus 17M for $50, that had been stored under an apple tree. The fuel pump was shot, but a rebuild kit was $4.50
I did check the trunk and there was a spare with a big bubble in the whitewall. I had a flat. The jacking point was rusty. I finally got the car up and the spare installed. I drove maybe ten feet, the spare blew out and actually came off the rim !
I walked two or three blocks to a gas station with the bare rim. They left me pick through the junk tires. I found one and foot stomped it on to the rim and used their air to inflate it.
I friend of mine was restoring his father’s beetle and was behind schedule. He bought the Taunus for $50, installed new cheap tires, and his dad drove it for months.
So what you are saying is that you still own a Datsun 510 and it is . . . somewhere.
I own a car in a similar way. I was given a 63 Sedan DeVille in exchange for getting it out of the owners’s driveway. I temporarily got tires that would hold air onto it and towed it about 20 miles to a little stash of junkers behind an old garage. (Old timers in northwest Ohio might remember the Zulu Garage on old U.S. 30). The deal: I could leave it there if they were allowed to scavenge any parts they needed.
I abandoned it when I sold my running and driving 63 Fleetwood in early 1979. So I have a 63 Cadillac . . . somewhere. The better news is that you probably even have a title for yours. 🙂
THE DATSUN B510 IN SSS FORM WAS THE KING OF CENTRAL AND EAST AFRICA –EFFECTIVELY YOU COULD BUY IT TODAY AND RALLYRACE IT TOMORROW ON AFRICA’S WORST RALLY ROADS–EVEN THE 240Z MADE A GREAT RALLY CAR//
My buddy had a 510 wagon of similar vintage which he paid the princely sum of $400. It was in great shape and had some side draft carbs that sounded really good when he put his foot down. I think he could get some good money for it now days but I am sure it got turned into a fridge a couple of decades ago.
Three of us went all over Far North Queensland in a 1600 Datsun sedan the B pillar shake on corrugated gravel roads was a sight to behold but for rally work a cage sorted the bodyshell integrity issues, tough little car last seen in Mareeba running on three cylinders.
my Datsun was a 79 210 don’t recall having any trouble with it but
boy did it rust!
My ’72 Datsun was a 1200 2-Dr. Sedan.
The 2-spd. automatic chugged up the hills of W. NC, alternating between racing in 1st or lugging in 2nd, averaging 25 mph.
But it never let me down.
Now I’m jonesing for a sedan. I really want a 4dr right now and a bigger garage.
I drove a friends 510 all night one evening in HS (early Eighties) shuttling people to a fro a party. I read about it earlier from my one of my older brother’s Car&Driver mag. It had manual steering and 4 speed manual, and it had very precise handling for an early Jap car. So much better than later 1970’s Datsun sedans with leaf rear springs, it had an IRS, and was really a poor mans BMW 2002.
The 510 was a such a charming and unpretentious car. Like many of my favorite cars, it took it’s simplicity and turned it into an asset, being inexpensive, reliable, and nimble; cheap and cheerful, as it goes.
Great story…I was the second owner of 1971 2 dr 510 hard top . I traded it and a nearly not running early 70’s Ford Maverick in on a shiny new 1980 Mazda GLC. The Datsun had been my faithful companion until excessive oil consumption lead my to a shop in Ashland Oregon that professed an expertise in engine overhauls…I will never know as they failed to attach the oil sending unit and the engine seized. They replaced it, but something about the original SSS engine was never duplicated. In hindsight I should have put it in storage……