COAL: 1980 Datsun 310GX – North, Miss Teschmacher, North!

Me, my 310GX coupe, and my friendly old neighbor, Mr. Karp.


My first COAL made passing reference to my 1980 Datsun 310GX, so I might as well close the loop and write that car up, too.

Every generation has its particular challenges: millennials came of age during the 2008-2009 recession and boomers dealt with socio-sexual upheaval during the 1960s and ‘70s. Well, if you were a broke-ass GenX teen in the ‘70s or ‘80s living in the rust belt of the U.S. and trying to buy a used car, god help you. Cars in the rust belt rusted heartbreakingly fast. Porsche was the first to begin galvanizing car bodies with the ’78 911SC but it was years before that innovation trickled down to affordable cars; even today, cars in rust-prone areas are still too susceptible to the tinworm. So in the ‘80s it was a given that whatever a broke-ass teen could afford would be actively deteriorating before his eyes; how far gone it was was simply a matter of purchase price. Pay more, get less rust.

“Go south, young man,” was the common advice. Just head for a southern state with a wad of cash and drive home with whatever you find. Sounds easy enough, unless you don’t have a car to get you south. Sure, there were shady car lots in Cleveland that advertised supposedly rust-free southern cars, but pre-world wide web, pre-Carfax, how could you validate a car’s history?

And besides rust, the broke-ass teen was also at the mercy of the times. Assuming your meager budget would net you a car about 7 to 10 years old, that meant you were shopping for something from the ‘70s, when emissions controls were in their infancy. Even some new cars back then were prone to driveability problems, as contemporary road tests remind us. Now imagine those same cars after 75,000 or more miles and 7-plus years of age, not to mention clueless mechanics (and would-be mechanics) “fixing” smog controls they didn’t understand.

So picture a triangle with the corners labeled in turn as Affordable, Clean, and Reliable. You get to pick two; which two do you pick? You’re broke, so Affordable is a given. That means you must pick from Clean or Reliable. Being somewhat image-conscious, I tended to buy cars that tilted towards the Clean corner of the diagram. That means the Reliable corner was neglected. And so it was that my first three or so cars were unreliable disasters. Oh, they ran well enough during the test drive, only to betray me on the first cold morning. Or even the first cold start. Maybe a more practical me would have sought out cars that were more mechanically sound but crustier-looking. But I’ve always been very vain about having cars that look presentable.

Jeanerette’s Law of Broke-Ass Teen Used Car Purchasing. I tended to buy cars that fell somewhere under the blue shading.


Eventually I decided the only solution was to pay a little more money for a better car. In 1986 I homed in on a 1983 Nissan 310 at a dealership on the west side of Cleveland. The 310 was known elsewhere in the world as the Nissan Pulsar, previously written up as a CC by Paul Niedermeyer. The one I found was only 3 years old, clean and rust-free. It had a neat party trick with rear quarter windows that could be opened by remote control levers between the front seats. But it was (I think) $3500, which was more than I could reasonably save up at that time.

A 310 like the one I tried to buy at $3500. Photo credit: Reader/commenter Ripple Earthdevil.


So I applied for credit and ran into the reality that without credit, getting credit is impossible. After my first application was rejected, I tried again with a more generous down payment of nearly one thousand dollars. Same result.

Frustrated, I went back to the classifieds to see what my $950 cash would buy outright. Coincidentally, I found a 1980 Datsun 310GX “coupe”, an older sibling of the ’83 Nissan I had to pass on, in the upscale suburb of Bay Village. The seller’s wife was moving on from it. It was sharp: blue metallic paint, with a sort of wraparound rear hatch window that was faintly reminiscent of an RX-7 or a 944. That definitely appealed to me and made it more stylish than the ’83 I had to walk away from. The GX coupe also had weird added-on C-pillar panels and a band across the roof that I guess were supposed to mimic a targa bar, I guess? That was a little strange, given that targas were themselves just fake convertibles. So the 310GX coupe was faking the look of a faker. It’s turtles all the way down!

Not my 310GX, but a shot of the sporty hatch and faux targa bar. Photo credit: Murilee Martin


Inside, there was blue velour seating with maroon stripes, a tach, a clock, a temp gauge, interval wipers and remote releases for the fuel door and hatch. The hood release knob was missing, but the seller generously left a small pair of Vise-Grips clamped to the release cable. In back was plush carpeting and a cargo area light. All in all, as a consolation prize for failing to get the 1983, it wasn’t a bad piece. Yes, there was rust underneath, but the rockers had been recently Bondoed and repainted and they actually looked pretty good. Kids, this is how bad it was back then: While today Bondo is an absolute deal breaker, in those days, if done to a halfway decent standard and not misrepresented as actual sheet metal, it was acceptable for a driver-quality car.

Not my 310GX, but an identical-spec interior. Photo credit: Murilee Martin


Most importantly, the 310GX ran great. Always, without excuses. Minus 10° Fahrenheit outside? No problem, it started right up and after a minute or two of fast idling, it was ready to rock, with no stumbling or stalling. In fact, my 310GX earned the highest honor a broke-ass teen’s car could earn: my mother borrowed it once when her car was in the shop. Respectable enough for an adult with a real job? There’s no better endorsement!

I named the 310GX Miss Teschmacher, after Valerie Perrine’s role as Lex Luther’s moll in the first couple of Superman movies. I don’t know why I picked that name; just an immature affectation of quirkiness, I guess. In addition to cruising around town, Miss Teschmacher took me and my friends to concerts as far away as the Pontiac Silverdome, a six-hour roundtrip that would have been a nerve-wracking risk in anything I’d owned previously.

With only 65 hp, she was slow, and she was also quirky. Besides the faux targa bar, there was the anti-vapor lock fan pointed at the carburetor, and the oddball dogleg shift pattern that had first gear down and to the left, like an old Porsche 901 gearbox. Reverse was up and to the left, and Nissan thoughtfully provided a beeping backup alarm that sounded inside the car to make sure you knew you had selected R and not first. (Funny how Porsche never felt that was necessary…). First gear whined as if it had straight-cut gears, a trait I also noticed on the 310’s predecessor, the F10. Speaking of the trans, a sheetmetal plate on the bell-housing allowed access to the clutch, for inspection I suppose, although apparently, one could change the clutch through that access plate without removing the transmission. Fortunately, I never had to find out.

Of course, there were a few hiccups. The most serious occurred one snowy morning, when a semi pulled out in front of me and I slid into its Mansfield bar, wrecking my hood and grille as the truck driver continued blithely on, probably totally unaware. A body shop took care of the cosmetic damage while I had the bent radiator re-cored. A few weeks later, Miss Teschmacher was back on the road, looking as good as the day I got her.

Eventually, another car turned my head, a 1983 Volvo wagon. Miss Teschmacher would have to be sacrificed in order to bring the Volvo home. The 310GX was the first car I moved on from not because it was no longer tenable to keep her running, but because I found something I wanted more. I got $700 in trade for her, although by then she had well over 100,000 miles. Not bad considering what I’d spent for her and the 2.5 years I had her. I felt terribly conflicted while cleaning her out the evening before I was to trade her in. (Needless to say, I kept hood-opening the Vise-Grips. I still have them.) Miss Teschmacher was the first car I was ever sad to see go.