COAL: 1981 Datsun 210 (Sunny) – Screwed By A Gearbox

1981 Datsun 210 1

I was sad to part with my Lada Nivas, and was left with an empty spot in the garage but with almost no play money. What I needed was something interesting at scrap metal value. I managed to find a suitable candidate, but it did not quite work out the way I planned.

1981 Datsun 210

I came across this rather solid but neglected looking Datsun 210 in my travels around the city. I took a few photos of it, and despite the For Sale sign promptly forgot about it, as I figured they would want some real money for it. A few months later it showed up in the local classified ads for a mere $250 and the ad claimed it was only in need of a starter and clutch. Both those items could be obtained rather cheaply and would be easy enough to do on such a simple car.

Datsun 210 rear

The Datsun 210 has been covered quite well already at CC here and here. This car had the smaller A12 1.2L engine and a four speed manual gearbox. It was probably about as base as a 210 one could get: smallest engine, two door form, white paint, floor mats and no options. Although the Japanese had largely killed the market for American “strippers,” they then went and made their own.

1981 Datsun 210 towing

I went to take a look at the little Datsun and closer inspection revealed the body to be in very nice shape. The interior was presentable. My aunt had a 210 over in the UK years ago which I had admired for a its simple, honest lines. I put in an offer of $150 which was promptly accepted. Perhaps too promptly.

1981 Datsun 210 engine

While waiting for the tow truck to haul my score home, I poked around the engine bay a bit and noticed that the starter solenoid was merely disconnected. Surely it could not be that simple could it? I plugged it back in and the little Datsun immediately fired to life. Unfortunately as soon as I let the clutch out even in neutral, it bucked and stalled. Very strange. Could it be the faulty clutch? I’d never heard of a clutch failing in this manner but I do not claim to a master mechanic.

1981 Datsun 210 interior

The interior cleaned up very nicely with nothing more than soap, water and some hard work. As a base-level car, it just had rubber floor mats. Even the seats didn’t have arm rests. The door buzzer would not quit when the battery was installed; tracing the wires let me to a mechanical bell device deep in the dashboard. A quick snip of its wiring lead to peace and quiet.

Datsun 210 clutch

I was able to snag a replacement clutch kit off of eBay for dirt cheap; something like $20 plus shipping. An advantage to having a mass produced car that everyone has long ago scrapped is that mechanical bits can sometimes be found very cheaply: No one else needs them. I then started to remove the old clutch. With the gearbox out, I came face to face with a brand new clutch. Oh dear. Hoping that somehow this one was defective or improperly installed, I proceeded to replace anything clutch related with the new parts I ordered. Buttoning it all back up I was faced with the same bucking and stalling as soon as the clutch was let out.

four speed gearbox

The transmission came out again for closer examination. I found that turning the input shaft by hand turned the output shaft even in neutral. It was obviously locked into a gear. Bugger. I suspect my seller knew this and had disconnected the starter for an easier sale. The instructions to separate the transmission housing first specify that it must be in neutral. With nothing left to lose I tried to, despite this warning. I can confirm it does not come apart when locked into gear. I spent six months searching for a gearbox to swap into my Datsun. I could not find anything locally, and any that were available further away were massively expensive due to the cost of shipping. I pondered an engine swap, but it would have been a bigger project than I wanted at the time and it seemed a shame as the little 1.2L A-series ran so smoothly and sweetly.

Good bye 210

Eventually I put the little 210 up for sale and clearly stated it need a transmission replacement. Interest was quite low, as might be expected. I did finally get an offer from a guy who had a Nissan 300ZX V6 and transmission that he wanted to swap in. That left me with the engine and broken gearbox which I later sold to a guy who used the engine in his 1973 Datsun 1200. It was not the ending I was hoping for, but hopefully both the car and engine have been well used.