This 1979 gen2 510 reflects the general decline of Datsun at the end of the Seventies. Datsun had once been king of the Japanese import hill at the end of the Sixties and the beginning of the Seventies. Toyota’s cars were selling well but tended to the dull; Honda was still selling motorcycles and the oddball kei-car 600; and Mazda was never going to be main stream with its rotary engine emphasis. Datsun flourished with its popular mini trucks, the little 1200, the 1600/2000 Roadster, and the Z. But its reputation was really made and burnished by the fabulous sporty original 510.
But by the mid seventies, Datsun pretty much lost their mojo with the flaccid 610 and 710. In a rather desperate attempt to cash in on the 510’s heritage, the 710 was transformed with a boxy body wearing the 510 nameplate. It didn’t fool those that knew better.
Datsun’s original success in North America was no accident. A lot of this was due to Datsun USA boss Yutaka Katayama, who was a bit of a rebel at conservative Nissan. He relentlessly pushed for bigger engines and sporty handling in the American market, and championed Nissan’s racing department. Soon the 510 (above) was being raced by some big names. By 1975 Katayama was shuffled back to Japan and Datsun was losing the plot. The 610 and 710, followed but styling wasn’t nearly as attractive as the earlier cars. Sportiness seemed off the agenda with the Z-car evolving from the sports car 240Z/ 260Z to the GT like 280Z and then almost sedan like 280ZX.
I grew up in the back of Datsun 510. Sadly it wasn’t the cool early Seventies one but a 1978 station wagon complete with fake wood paneling. It started out as a red colour but soon faded to an odd orange colour. I do remember the automatic choke going out early on and it developing an exhaust leak near the end but seems to me it provided our family with solid service over the ten years we had it. I was quite sad when my father traded it in on a two door Ford Tempo L at the end of 1988.
But what I remember most about the 510 was the deep set individual gauges and the leather (or perhaps more likely it was some sort of vinyl) cover around the shifter for the manual gearbox. Perhaps I can trace my fondness for Seventies interiors back to this car. Even as a child I was very aware of the automotive landscape and our generation of 510 was never seemed very common and those that were purchased didn’t seem to live long lives. I did see our old car a few times with its new owner but few others. Sadly I don’t have any photos of it as my father considered taking photos of cars a waste of time but I did find this black and white press photo.
This generation is considered by most Datsun fans as not a real 510 and there is some merit to that argument. Outside North American this car was known as the Nissan Violet, Nissan Stanza, Nissan Auster, Datsun Stanza or Datsun 160J depending on the market. The first generation 510 was of course a sensation in North America particularly as a poor man’s BMW 2002 with its willing L-series SOHC engine and independent, semi-trailing arm rear suspension (except for the wagon which had a solid axle and leaf springs).
The second generation 510 sold from 1978 to 1981 and had 2.0L engine (first L-series then Z-series) but had gone to solid rear axles for all variants. Press reaction condemned it as being a rather dull but competent car trying to cash in on the good image of the 510 name. The fun, sporty character of the previous car seemed to be gone. 1980 brought square headlamps which didn’t improve the styling but added fuel injection. My beloved separate gauges were even lost as well.
After 1981 the 510 name was gone and the equally forgotten front wheel drive T11 Nissan Stanza replaced it. Also in 1981 Nissan really lost their mind and decided to throw away all the brand equity of the Datsun name and swap over to Nissan. Over three or four years they spent five hundred million dollars slowing rebranding themselves leaving customers in confusion. Or sending them into the arms of Toyota and Honda.
This 1979 Datsun 510 coupe was very nice and unexpected find. The body was starting show a little rust but is still in overall decent shape. Those individual gauges were mostly accounted for. This one lacked the tachometer our family wagon had and instead had a set of dummy lights likely due to the automatic gearbox. The steering wheel is a reasonably sporty three spoke design. It had received after market fender flares either in attempt to increase its sporty looks … or perhaps cover rust. The wheels are still Seventies skinny however. I also came across this red one which could be a retired race car or at least gets the race inspired touches more right.
This face lifted station wagon has even more character sucked out of it. If you looked up generic Japanese car in the dictionary I wouldn’t be surprised to find a photo of this still red example. Only an excess of chrome at the rear give it any rear identity.
Needless to say, the 510 revival did little to revive Datsun’s fortunes. Datsun/Nissan had a rough couple of decades ahead of it. But that’s a story for other Curbside Classics.
The switch to the Nissan name may have exacerbated their problems, but Datsun had been getting blasted on the weakness of their offerings for years. Trying to recycle the 510 name on what might as well have been a Japanese Pinto did more to point out that Nissan couldn’t make good cars anymore than it did to recapture the enthusiasm engendered by the 510 and 240Z. The FWD F10s were the butts of jokes. The 310 was little better. The B210 was considered by many to be less than the bare minimum. The second generation 200SX was well received, but the first generation one was another car that attracted derision and failed to provide a convincing 510 replacement for enthusiasts.
In contrast, the Stanza was a strong performing car. What it wasn’t was a Toyota or Honda which would provide trouble free service until the rust got it. Toyota and Honda are the best things to ever happen to Nissan, because without them Nissan would have never been anything other than a low priced European car competitor, providing smaller, lower quality alternatives to American cars for people who didn’t like being American. Because of Toyota and Honda, Nissan had big coat tails to ride, enjoying Japanese cars’ reputation for indesctructibility without having to cultivate it.
I have always liked those bare minimum cars like the B210, perhaps due to my family’s aircooled VW habit. That addiction rode my father’s back like like an angry alcoholic service money until he bought a crappy ’80 Westmoreland sourced Rabbit L with the blue velour…everything inside and the less than inspired build quality. I saw a lot of them in high school and someone here drives a B210 fastback that’s been restored and it cheers me every time I see it.
You nailed it. Datsun/Nissan has been a second rate automaker riding Honda/Toyota’s coattails for as long as I can remember. Nissan’s current lineup is by no means “bad,” but it’s nothing special, either. And Nissans were simply garbage in the ’90s.
My parents had an ’80 Corona that was every bit as uninspired and rust-prone as this 510. But Toyota had already surpassed Datsun in terms of reputation and name-recognition, and the whole “The Name is Nissan” changeover further cemented that.
Nissans were garbage in the 90’s? Really? They had the Maxima, the original 4-door sports car, which I had back then and gave 11 years of trouble-free service. They had the 240SX. The 90’s B13 Sentra was one of the better econocars of the time, and was very reliable too. The original SE-R version was a legend. And the 300ZX twin turbo was pretty well-regarded. I’d say the 90’s were one of their better years. Later on they do have their “malaise era” though, with boring, unremarkable cars, but not in the early 90’s.
I disagree about “garbage in the nineties.” I owned a 92 pickup, a 93 Maxima, and a 94 Sentra, all of which provided stellar service. We kept the 93 Maxima for 10 years and 250,000 miles. The engine ran like new when traded as did the transmission which had preventive maintenance every 30,000 miles. The Maxima still had the original exhaust system after 8 years in Ohio winters and 2 years in Florida. The original battery lasted 8 years! The Maxima was the quickest car from standing start that I have ever owned. Only traded it because of an interior moldy smell acquired after our move to Florida. There was also no rust on the Maxima after 8 hard winters in Ohio. The 94 Sentra was a 5 speed LTD model. The fit and finish on it were far superior to any competitive model on the market. It replaced an Audi 80 that I loved but I was never disappointed in the Sentra. I never did care for automatic Sentras, my daughter had a 99. Her 99 however was a totally reliable transport that lasted her 11 years.
An excellent summary of the situation CJinSD
Datsun called this a 200B in this neck of the woods and it wasnt a great car at least compared to its earlier models, all 200b had a log rear axle so the handling so loved in thr 1600 model was gone it was heavier slower and rusted like mad good only for parts.
Datsun/Nissan did indeed lose it in the 1970s. I never drove any of their legendary cars, the 240Z or the 510; but I lusted for and later got, a PL620, the Lil Hustler.
Mine was a 1979, the King Cab…thank God for that. As a cab with room for kids, it was useless. But with the bucket seats it was fitted with, and the longer seat tracks, it was PERFECT for big American frames.
Handling? By truck standards, top-notch. Light, tight manual steering. Precise throws on the five-speed gearbox. And that engine was a joy…when the carburetor float wasn’t sticking. Mine was a ten-year-old Texas truck when I got it for a song.
Alas, it was used hard and showing wear; and I jumped at the chance to sell it for more than I paid for it. Fast-forward six years, and I bought a new Nissan truck, a 1995.
The two were about the same size, but other than quality construction, they couldn’t have been more unalike. Steering was heavy. Gauges were minimal. The gearbox was precise but trucklike, and the engine, even with fuel injection, felt strangled…absolutely unwilling to rev.
I hated that truck. I’m amazed now that I even drove it off the lot…a good price was the selling feature. But it was a chore where the older Datsun was a joy…and for me it summed up the whole decline and near-collapse of Nissan in the American market.
My father bought a brand new 79 Datsun 510. His first non-Ford car. It was two-tone – silver over gray and had velour seats – a first for our family – after vinyl for so many years.
Automatic with manual steering and brakes – the manual steering made the parallel parking during my drivers license test a bit hard – but it was manageable.
My father put about 150,000 miles on it in about 9 years – it seemed to be reliable. The biggest problem was the rust – and rust it did.
My babysitter used to own a ’80 Datsun 510 wagon and I remember it was a really good car for her and I got to ride in it a couple times, I find the 1978-81 510’s to be underrated vehicles.
Junk? Apparently you didn’t do basic maintenance. The maxima inline 6, quick,efficient,reliable,nearly Fool” proof. The pickups, other than the square frontend, rivaled Toyota in every way….The Z…..The roadster,fairlady, Nissan, made and still makes a Quality Car….Q anyone
My parents had one even the exact same color of the wagon pictured here my mom still wishes she hasn’t traded it for the black 4 door tempo she did in 1990 especially as her dad built engines for the original datsun race teams back in the day and even had his own racing 1968 wagon. I’m still trying to get hold of one of those to recreate his car.
Please feel free if anyone has ANY contacts to a 1978-81 datsun 510 2 door hatchback anywhere. i have a (was) silver 1979 2 door hatchback and have been trying for over a decade to find more information, such as production numbers, etc. this car is EXTREMELY HARD to find parts for. i probably have the LAST NOS windshield in existence! I have customized it and tore it down to the point NOTHING else could be removed. It is about 30% done, but currently in dry storage in Montana as we have relocated. I cant wait to work on it, and neither can the students (I teach advanced auto tech) Has a built L20B currently, but never know what the future holds. we love this little car. I removed ALL signs of what it was excpet for the D on the grill, it is a head turner for sure and always was. It was from Montan and rust was still an issue! Could really use a drivers door, anyone??? Thanks, email@example.com
Hi I was read your post and I have a 79′ datsun 2 door hatchback for sale if your still looking for one. It’s in good condition
Do you still have the 510? If so, how much are you wanting for it?
I am an ,antique car collector and mechanic by trade, my three “newest” automobiles are 1979 datsuns (200sx,510 sw,620) all capable of 1000 mile + round trips with check of the fluids. reliable for daily use after more than 35 years. Not exactly tire fryers yet economical, dependable with care and a style all their own. Sure they can rust but my 1969 fairlady with the side draught dual carbs fires every cold Kansas morning taking me to work, daughter to school .Stock 46 year engine still in service, they cant be that bad.
New 510? Pretty nice. Nissan’s IDK concept.
My dad bought a 1978 Datsun 810 4dr sedan, new, after trading in his derelict 1969 Olds Cutlass Supreme. I6 engine and 4 sp manual, independent rear axle suspension. Gauges galore–I liked how the line of individual gauges in the middle of the dash were angled towards the driver. When I was suffering a bout of unemployment in 1999, and had to give up my Toyota SR5 truck to rust, he was about to donate the car, but my stepmom intervened, so I borrowed it for two years. Pop wasn’t religious about regular maintenance and it showed. It had a weird habit of the ignition cutting out while driving locally and I’d let it roll to the side of the road, wait about one minute, start it up and wouldn’t bother me again for the day. It had decent acceleration but didn’t handle all that well (blown shocks didn’t help). Gas tank only got me 240 miles per fillup. But I still think of it as the best highway car I ever had–damn it was fast, and could accelerate noticably even at 60. People at work ridiculed me for driving this 20+ year old pile of junk, but I liked it because it was so unique, like Columbo’s convertible. Even on badly worn tires, it was really good in the snow, too. I don’t recall ever seeing another 810 (I can see it as the predecessor of the Maxima sedan), and maybe one other since giving it back to dad in April, 2001. (I bought a 2001 Nissan Frontier XE regular cab, I4 + 5 sp manual in Sept 2000; I still have it to this day). It was in better condition when I handed it back to him, but he donated the car, and later was called about it because it was found abandoned after being used in a robbery.
If I see one again, I want to do a CC as one of those ‘cars of my father’. When I was trying to get it to pass its yearly emissions test in GA (it was exempt, but then they pushed back the exemption MY), I still remember a mechanic marvelling that for its time, this car was cutting edge technology.
I am chasing a right hand front stainless front windscreen pillar trim for a works car that I am restoring.
I am from Australia and all our cars (Datsun Stanza over here) have the holes for the radio aerial in them. The works cars did not have these holes which means I need one from a left hand drive car as the aerial is on the opposite side to the right hand drive car. Can anyone help me out, will pay good $$$$$$$.
I have eight Datsun A10s 510 160J Stanza Auster or Violet depending on what part of the world you come from. Am currently putting together a website and register and can help with parts.
Mail me dialup2001 at yahoo.co.uk
I had a 1978 Datsun 510 station wagon that was reliable summer and winter, had an anemic air conditioner and good heater, handled decently, and had good visibility. Had very little resemblance to my Dad’s 1971 Datsun 510 (a legendary car). I put on a set of Michelin radials, which considerably improved handling and the steering feel. All in all, a solid car, though nothing special. Engine was long-lived, but rust killed the car.
no fuel injection on the NAPZ 510. they had a 2-bbl downdraft carb just like the PL510s.