Curbside Classic: 1973 Datsun 1800 – An Early 610 Oddity

One morning I was riding my bike to work when I spotted a little blue Japanese car in the distance. As I got closer it became clear that it was a Datsun, which are seriously thin on the ground these days outside the occasional restored or resto-modded Z-car or 510. The coke bottle shape said 610 but then I noticed the 1800 badges which confused me until further research indicated this was quite a rare car indeed.

The 610 essentially replaced the beloved 510 in Datsun’s North American line up but perhaps not enthusiast’s hearts. Datsun had seen the writing on the wall with the market moving away from sporty vehicles with increasingly strangled engines and a refocused emphasis on luxury.  So while the 610 retained the same basic engine design and independent rear suspension from the 510 it gained three inches of length and more than a few pounds of weight to become a luxury compact. At least in Datsun’s own eyes. The 610 also traded the 510’s timeless boxy styling for more of an American influenced coke bottle shape. In my opinion the styling is more successful on the coupe and the station wagon than the slightly oddly proportioned sedan.

Datsun partnered with a few famous artists to promote the new 610 including Salvador Dali. This one looks rather like one of his regular pieces with a Datsun photo pasted on rather than a bespoke creation to my eyes.

Peter Hurd at least put a little more effort into his version but the Datsun still looks like a jarring addition to an otherwise complete painting.

1973 Datsun 610 Sedan from Nissan USA

When released the 1800/610 used a 1.8L version of the 510’s engine before growing to a full 2.0L displacement in an attempt to retain power with increasing emission requirements. The result was a rather average engine which was a letdown from the free revving and willing partner 510 engine. Datsun certainly was not alone in this as this was an overall trend in North American market. Like the 510, the 610 sedan and coupe used an independent rear suspension with the wagon relying on a solid axle and leaf springs.

So what makes this particular example special? In several other markets the 610 was introduced as early as 1971 and known as the 160B or 180B depending on engine displacement. Before the 610 name plate was settled on for North American a few early examples were sold as the 1800 in 1973. Allegedly these early production cars were built from August until December 1972 before swapping to the 610 name. That makes this a genuine rarity but in this case probably does not add massively to its value but is certainly an interesting talking point. The badges themselves are likely irreplaceable given the low survival numbers.

Around the front you can see this one retains at least one of its factory hubcaps but has lost a few other bits over the years including the grill. The smaller pre-impact bumpers are sure nice however. I am assuming the side exit exhaust was an economical fix rather than a performance statement.

The rear window had a period sticker for “CHAT Medicine Hat Radio-Television”. Medicine Hat is a nearby city that seems to be likely that this car called home in its early life. You can also see from this angle the roof is caved in considerably. The crude “In Tow” sign made with tape indicated this might have arrived on a tow dolly or similar. I figured I might see this car getting restored and perhaps run into the owner so I skipped on any further shots including the interior but that was a mistake as it disappeared soon after. It was a short, fleeting opportunity to spot this car not unlike the short, fleeting reign of the 1800 model name.

Related reading:

1974 Datsun 610 – Datsun Takes A Bold New Direction: Down

Cohort Sighting: Datsun 610 – City Slicker