Curbside Classics: 1979 – 1982 Datsun 310 (Nissan Pulsar/N10/Datsun Cherry) Coupe and Hatchback – Datsun Town, USA

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(first posted 9/18/2015)     The other day here at CC we had a lively response to the question “Which Once-Common Cars Don’t You See Anymore?” Dozens, if not hundreds of cars were listed as having absented themselves from the streetscape. In perusing the list, I don’t think there was one that I wouldn’t be able to find in Eugene. In short order, at that. Maybe I should give myself the CC Challenge and see how many I could shoot in one hour?

One car that was noticeably absent from the lists was the Datsun 310, perhaps because it was never that common in the first place. But before we’ve totally wiped it clean from our mental servers, let’s refresh the memory banks about a car that can still be seen here in Curbsidelandia as a daily driver, with a bit of luck. In both coupe and five-door versions, at that. And its predecessors and successors. I know; I’m bragging again. But that’s why CC exists in the first place; how could I let these old Datsuns and others go by without their moment of fame? 

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The Nissan Pulsar N10 (Datsun 310 in the US; Datsun Cherry in Europe) had a tough act to follow: the infamous Datsun F-10 (Nissan Cherry), often considered one of the ugliest cars ever (yes, I found one of those in Eugene too). It was the product of Nissan Design’s Long Dark Night of the Soul. Or maybe just a bad batch of sashimi.

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The F-10 only came in coupe and wagon versions to the US, but with its successor, the 310, Nissan decided to chase the class-leader VW Rabbit/Golf. Like so many other small cars of the time, the Golf Mk1 left its unmistakable imprint on the 310 hatchback, right from the very Golf-esque grille.

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Given that the 310 arrived in MY 1979, four years after the Golf, any resemblance to it should not be surprising. This particular brown five-door 310GX is exactly like one that Stephanie’s dad owned back in the day. I can just see him behind the driver’s wheel, driving up the hill from his job teaching English at Humboldt State University. No, not all English Lit profs drove Saabs.

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These 310s were a modern design all-round and should have been competitive, but American buyers seemed happy enough to keep buying the cheaper old-school RWD Datsun 210. And under the hood, US-bound 310s still got the old pushrod A-series engine as also used in the 210 as well as millions of other Datsuns. Outside of the US, starting in 1981, the Pulsar/Cherry got the new SOHC E15 engine.

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I saw this 310 Coupe chuff up at a bank parking lot while I was at the plumbing supply shop across the parking lot, and I was quite thrilled; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen one, and had long given up hope. It doesn’t have quite  the cult following of the F-10, so this might well be the last of its kind in these parts.

Its styling clearly pays homage to the F-10 coupe, which gives the coupe a decidedly different vibe than the clean and Euro-looking five door. Nissan had a thing about oddball coupes, one it wouldn’t give up on for quite some time.

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The Pulsar Coupe had established a reputation for going its own way, ever since the F-10. The successor to the 310 Coupe was this very wedgy Pulsar NX, sporting very eighties tape trim.

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It in turn was followed by this Pulsar, which was actually quite a nice design, if also a bit out of the ordinary, naturally.

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Especially with its variable rear end that allowed it to be converted to a shooting brake (“Sportbak”).  Now that’s one I’ve not seen in decades (the Sportbak).

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Back to our beloved 310 Coupe: Like most Nissans/Datsuns of the times, these were generally rugged and serviceable cars. The old A-series engine had proven itself millions of times over, and the transition to FWD did not seem to diminish these Datsun’s durability to any significant extent, although the old RWD 210 was rather legendary in that regard. There was no X-Body syndrome with the Japanese transition to FWD.

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Regarding the multiple naming of these cars: in the US, the transition from Datsun to Nissan was a long and painfully drawn-out affair, and these cars were from the early phase, still officially Datsuns, but “by Nissan”.

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This survivor is saddled with an automatic. Let’s just say that that when I heard it drive off a few minutes later, it was a bit wheezy and didn’t exactly exude much dynamism. Well, the carburated little four made all of 65hp, and a few of those got lost in the torque conversion. Not a particularly happy combo, as compared to the five-speed stick, which still was no power house, but at least could be caned for a bit of fun.

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If you’re not yet suitably impressed with the old Nissans of Eugene yet, I also stumbled into this Nissan Pulsar (N12)  five door hatchback six blocks from my house, a car so rare I had forgotten that it existed. A Pulsar five door in the US? Yes, for one year only (1983) it was offered here. It took a bit of doing to confirm that, as very little info on it being sold in the US is available. How many were sold? And how many are left?

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So now we’ve filled in another hole in the history of Datsun thanks to these old veterans, and showed you the kind of cars that actually are getting a bit scarce on the ground here. And thanks to this 310 coupe, I think that I’ve shot pretty much every significant generation/model of Datsuns sold in the US.

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Oh right; No Datsun 1000 (PL). Better keep my eyes peeled. One’s bound to show up one of these days.


Related reading:

1977 Datsun F-10: It Flunked Beauty School

1983-1986 Nissan Pulsar NX: Staying Sharp In The Eighties (Mike Butts)

1983 Nissan Pulsar Five Door: So Rare I Forgot It Existed