Curbside Classic: 1974 Datsun 710 Wagon – Third Time’s The Charm; Or Not

How many Datsun 710 wagons still roll on the streets of your town? I shot the first of three almost three years ago but never wrote it up. I met the second one, and its owner, about two years ago–and still no CC. But these are determined little cars, despite my ambivalence about them: Paul; don’t ignore us any longer! And just to drive home their point, they made sure I met the third one the other day. OK, I get the hint. You guys deserve a CC; just stop stalking me. I don’t need to meet Datsun 710 wagon number four.

Here’s number one, which I momentarily thought might be our featured car. Nope; different in several respects.

Number two is red and a bit ratttier, although still not bad for being a year or so shy of 40. This rather unlikely pairing is actually the cars of a father and his daughter. He’s a CPA, and she does his books, or something like that. I guess you can tell whose car is whose.

And how can we account for this proliferation of 710 wagons? Can’t really say, except that they’re obviously reasonably rugged and have become unreasonably hip. In most towns, your 710 would likely be the only one of its kind, and thus ultra-hip. But not in Eugene; you’d have to wave to all the other 710s you meet on the streets.

How about a little context? The 710 replaced Datsun’s delightful and brilliant original 510, which was a tough act to follow. The 510 was one of those boons that no one expected or should have taken for granted. It was essentially a cheaper BMW 2002, with its fully independent rear suspension (IRS) and gutsy 1.6-liter SOHC four. I other words, not your Ubiquitous Japanese Car. That would be the 710.

Not only did the 710 have a totally new (and rather questionable) look, it also lost the IRS for a simple, leaf-sprung solid rear axle. What’s more, smog regs took the bite out of the engine. Boo, hiss!  Datsun’s rationale was that the slightly bigger and more expensive 610 (CC here) still kept the IRS but that was little consolation to the 510 die-hards.  Most of them have never gotten over the fact that the 710 destroyed the 510 legacy.

Thanks to the energy crisis, sales were quite brisk for the first couple of years. Nevertheless, Datsun knew they’d blown it big-time with the 710, and replaced it with the (neo) 510, essentially a 710 under the skin: Highly conventional (and dull) in every way. This was Datsun’s new strategy, one that eventually would almost kill it.

Yes, the 710 was a spoil-sport in the most literal sense. It was bland and boring, but easy enough to keep running, thanks to Datsun’s tough, L-series SOHC four, which was offered in a 1.8-liter version in the U.S. I think I once might have heard someone say that Japanese cars from the ’70s had a wee bit of a tendency to rust in some parts of the world, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. Nor do these 710s.

Their overwrought Seventies-Japanese styling has become amusing after the passing of a few decades. Nobody did grilles and headlights like Datsun, thanks to their management handing out a big stack of Chrysler Corp. brochures from 1970 or so to their designers.  Fuji-lage, as I call it.

The same applies to the interiors, if not even more so. I really like that dash. An even more complex but very similar one can be found in the same-vintage 200SX/Silvia (CC here). No wonder these are in the hands of true believers.

The other blue wagon also is an automatic, and I’m pretty sure the red one is too. These must be rugged transmissions, since it’s not like anyone’s going to fix one if it crapped out. Aisin Warner, perhaps? Or just plain Warner 35? (Update: JATCO, undoubtedly, since that was Nissan’s automatic transmission subsidiary.)

Since it’s so wonderful, here’s a shot of the other blue wagon’s interior. Not bad, eh? Almost as nice as the BMW 318i from yesterday? Too bad none of the Brougham versions are still around.

Or a coupe. This nice specimen is a non-U.S. bumper version, which I found at Since it’s not right-hand drive, I’m assuming it’s from…somewhere else.

The sedan’s upswept rear beltline was reviled by many a passenger, but predicted the dark caves that many modern cars are today. In fact, Japanese taxi drivers complained so much (on behalf of their passengers), that ostensibly a revised version with bigger rear windows was made, at least for Japan.

Not only did this 710 obviously lie in wait for me, but it did so in front of one of my favorite small buildings, Larry&Lorne’s Barber Shop, a Googie miniature and a Eugene institution. It was making really sure that I absolutely wouldn’t sit on its pics as I did with those of the other two.

I was (somewhat grudgingly) willing to turn the camera the other direction. At least L&L’s very tall barber pole is in the shot.

Here’s another favorite building, the Streamline Moderne Kennell Ellis Building. This isn’t exactly its best side, but it will do. Ok, Datsun 710, I’m staying up late to make sure you have your day on the front page of CC tomorrow. You’ve earned it.