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.
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.
1974 Datsun 610 – Datsun Takes A Bold New Direction: Down
Cohort Sighting: Datsun 610 – City Slicker
We got these will the 1.8 engine there wasnt another choice they were popular briefly at the power station I worked at we had a never ending stream of apprentice electrical fitters and apprentice fitter and turners living in the singles hostel many of them splurged on low KM Datsun 180Bs and every single one of them was towed back for repairs behind either my AL110 international flat bed or my mates 2.6 Vauxhall powered Landrover some more than once those Datsuns were not the reliable Japanese cars people rave about now they were magnets for blown head gaskets and electrical gremlins,
In the mid 90s I drove an automatic version right across Australia, not the greatest thing Ive ever driven but it got there and continued running another 6 weeks before refusing to start so it was left behing the Hotel we were staying in, hitched a ride to Bunbury and bought a rusty Mitsubishi that burned a lot of oil but never missed a beat 180Bs are extremely rare here now rust ate them like mad and they werent particularly durable but the rear unis are an upgrade for Triumph 2000/2500s
The late 510 Bluebird got the 1.8-liter L18 engine in some markets:
These were everywhere in Australia in the mid 70s as the 180B, usually with a vinyl roof.
I remember a bleak winter Saturday in 1974? when my Dad test drove one for his fuel crisis car, I remember it felt claustrophobic in the back, and all vinyly and plasticky.
He ended up buying a Valiant Galant wagon (Dodge Colt) I think it was a better car, but there was no “new car” excitement from me, I saw no need to replace a perfectly good 3 year old Valiant wagon.
I’ve never seen one in the wild, I don’t think. Although I do love the advertising.
That first ad for “The Luxury Datsun” (a term that may have been about 10 years too early in the US market) is shot alongside the Charles River at the “Weeks Footbridge” near Harvard. I’m not sure why the guy in the black coat is trying to push the woman in the red coat into the river…but back in 1972, a dip in the Charles may well have killed her.
And I REALLY would have wanted to be in the conference room when someone approved Salvadore Dali artwork for the new ad. Some good stuff was being smoked that day at the agency….
Ah, the 70s. 🙂
I guess whoever commissioned Salvador Dali for this ad neglected to specify that any people in the ad should be wearing clothes.
And it’s interesting that Dali drew on the melting clock theme from The Persistence of Memory, which by that time was several decades old. I guess it’s always been Dali’s most iconic work. But I can’t help thinking that some other Datsuns, like the F-10, would actually look like they belong in a Dali painting.
Oh, and I like the Peter Hurd ad painting. Drivers asking directions from riders on horseback is one of those obscure 60s/70s vintage ad tropes that’s enjoyable these days.
A good example of the ugly Japanese cars of the 70s and 80s.
Never liked them, strange styling, awful details (grille, wheel covers, rear lamps).
As Bryce said a good source for the driveshafts to put into a nice Triumph 2000.
My parents bought a station wagon version brand new from Harjack Imports in Bloomington, IL in the summer of 1973. It was an off white beige color with a black vinyl interior. I remember they had air conditioning added by the dealer (Datsun offered as a dealer option/upgrade) but unfortunately no cooling system upgrade came with it and unless one were going 60mph on the highway, it would start to overheat. We moved to Minnesota that same year and the salted roads ate that thing alive as by 1979 there were large holes in the front fenders. It also hated the Minnesota winters as it was a bear to start and keep running in the cold and took forever to warm up. I remember my Dad would put a “winter” thermostat in it every fall. A different era!
A wagon version in orange such as in the Dali would be a marvelous car to have today, in my opinion. Most cars sporting “in tow” signs such as this one are heading to the junkyard, around here at least. Or are part of the “road-trains” being pulled to Mexico in two-three car formations but those are more usually small pickups (btw that’s where all the small pickups have been going…)
Weird to see it on the front lawn area of a newer build of a newer subdivision. It looks more like it was dumped by someone late at night than brought home to be worked on. An excellent find and likely one of the last of its breed.
Growing up on Long Island in the 70s and 80s, our neighbor across the street was a Datsun (and later, Toyota) enthusiast. He had a really nice 610 wagon of this vintage. Metallic blue with those fantastic factory wheel covers. Because their driveway faced my bedroom window, I distinctly remember that little bit of brougham-y plastic wood panelling across the bottom of the tailgate. Always thought that was a curious detail.
The ad paintings are good, but the car just doesn’t fit into either one very well.
A neighbor down the street from where we lived during my elementary school years replaced a 510 with an orange 610 four-door in the summer of 1973. He groused about the 610 not being nearly as good a car as his beloved 510, which had been totaled in an accident. I rode in it a few times and my impressions from the backseat were as stated above: black, vinyl, plasticky and generally an uncomfortable place to be on a warm sticky summer day.
We moved away a short time later, but when we came back for a visit two years later, the 610 had been traded for a BMW 2002. Our neighbor noted that the only thing the Bimmer had in common with the unfortunate 610 is that they were both painted orange.
I did not know about these being sold initially as the 1800. I learn something new here every day!
A stellar find there.
I’d forgotten all about the Dali ads. But seeing it this morning immediately brought back memories, including my formerly bohemian but later more puritan mother disapproving Datum’s use of that “perverted artist” in their advertisement. The Peter Hurd ad? No memories of that. But it would seem that the cars should have been swapped: the western scene should have the more practical wagon, and the melting clock should have featured the curvier 2 door. Or as Eric703 noted, an F10 or a 200SX.
I never knew these retained the irs from the 510. I wonder why they went with solid rear axles for all their other cars other than the Zs and luxury 810?
As the 180B, this was one of the cars that brought the Japanese car tot he UK driver’s attention. This or a Marina? You can see the attraction…..
180B or Marina? interesting choices Ive driven both, neither are exciting but the Datsun was better built and just as easy to fix when it went wrong, as above I drove a 180B across the Nullabor Im not sure I’d try that in a Marina the headwind almost killed the Datsun it struggled 3 guys a dog and loaded roof rack was a big load for it we ended up slipstreaming semis, that kept engine temperatures down and fuel consumption at enough to get between fuel stops,
Friends of mine crossed in a 1300cc repowered split screen VW van mostly in 3rd gear you cant keep up with big trucks to slipstream in one of those.
One of these with gaping rust holes recently left it’s front yard for the first time in over twenty years, I see it rattling across Imperial Highway in South Central Los Angles from time to time .
IIRC these engines weren’t so bad once you stripped off all the emissions equipments .
My first car was a ’73 120Y. Went like the clappers, cruising was at 140km (before the 100km speed limit came into effect). I now have a 1980 200B Aspen 2-toned green. Owned since new, all interiors original, has some rust bottom of doors, mag wheels original, some dings in doors from other people opening their doors into me. Came with aircon (still works) and a Clarion cassette player (not working-but may be an easy fix). Want to sell now (preferably to an enthusiastist). I love the car but time to move on. Anyone out there have any idea of it’s value.
I had a ’74 710 during my undergraduate days, it was much like this down to the 4 doors and blue color, plus the hubcaps.
I know it is semantics, but not sure that the 610 replaced the early 70’s 510…seems that when they got rid of the early 510, the 610 did come out first like in ’73, but the 710 the next year. Seems to me they expanded their line at this time, with the 610 being the ‘luxury’ version eventually to have 6 cylinder, and the 710 the ‘mid’ version. After the 710 went away about ’77, they brought back the 510 and sometime around then they eventually came up with the Maxima. Because car sizes don’t line up with names it is hard to compare generations when sizes can change quite a lot. Didn’t seem to be a good move for Datsun as the 710 seemed pretty rare to me…they sold a lot more B210’s and maybe even 610’s than 710’s it seemed to me based on what I saw where I lived.
Of course the 710 also had the 1.8 litre carburated engine. I think of these as ‘old school’ Datsun / Nissans, they were almost like a clone of a domestic car at that time as the styling to me often looks cribbed from a Chrysler Corp car but in maybe 5/8 scale. They were old tech, but that worked out well for me, not only did I get to learn how to do some of the necessary tasks to keep it running, but they were simple and easy to work on..since funds were short as normal when still attending school. Mine had the automatic, and it was pretty anemic but it kept me out of trouble…it was my last automatic car since I bought a ’78 Scirocco in ’81. Though I’d graduated and moved about 4 hours from my Parents, I still lived up North back then, and the Datsun being light and RWD was never good in snow…it would have been fine where I moved to shortly thereafter and have lived the last 40 years, away from snow country, but didn’t anticipate that at the time, sliding out on black ice on a trip back made me look for FWD in my next vehicle, though no guaranty it would at least be better traction than light RWD.
Much like Chrysler cars at the time, if you could live with the styling, these were pretty good cars. Mine was always parked outside and only failed to start 1 week during the blizzard of ’78. Only had bad alternator and busted heater hose as malfunctions the whole time I had it..of course threw many batteries at it, that was expected though based on where it was used. It always had a high idle when cold, I had to shift into neutral at stoplights when road was slippery till the car warmed up, otherwise the rear end would start to crab and the car was no longer pointed forward in the road.