A Good Old Japanese Classic – Datsun 510

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  • A Good Old Japanese Classic – Datsun 510

The Volkswagen Beetle Is An Empty Canvas - Carazee Artworks’ Volkswagen Beetle

Nissan (or Datsun) isn’t known for aggressive car names. This for instance, is a Datsun Bluebird. What other cars does Nissan have? Well, the Fairlady was named after the Broadway Musical “My Fair Lady”, Skyline basically means the outline of a city against the sky, and the Silvia is a derivation of the word “Sylvia” which is a scientific genus term for a class of birds. When Americans name their cars it’s usually something like Viper, Charger, Barracuda, or Demon. Even if it was going to have the word ‘Bird’ in it, it would be something like the Ford THUNDERbird or the Plymouth SUPERbird. But behind those subtle names by Nissan are some really good cars which have created waves in the auto industry.

There’s a long series of the Bluebird and the 510 made its debut in the late 60s and finally started to appeal to the American Market. The late 60s to 70s was a time when Japanese car makers were looking to appeal to the U.S. car buyers. Toyota’s Celica, Mitsubishi’s Colt Galant, and Nissan’s GT-R all had American influence. Ironically in the 90s, American cars were trying to look Japanese instead.

What’s The Appeal Of A 510?

As a kid, it’s hard to like a car like the 510. It’s a classic three-box look. As a kid, you liked supercars and monster trucks, cars with scissor doors, outrageous stereo systems, or even something with big wings. For most us, there was a time when 17 inch wheels were not big enough. As a kid, you would solely compare cars by their top speed and maximum power output, because you’ve never actually driven a car. You were at the age of automotive virginity and Need for Speed Underground 2 and the Fast and Furious franchise were not helping much.

So what’s there to like about the 510?

Well, it’s great to drive. It’s rear-wheel-drive, weighs less than a metric tonne, and has enough space for almost any kind of engine swap. The 510 also has some racing history so it’s something you can boast about.
The younger crowd is also starting to appreciate these pre-fuel injection cars. Restoring a car your father used to have is a nostalgic purchase. But some owners of the 510 we’ve met were never even born yet when the 510 ceased production. So it’s not nostalgia that the younger crowd wants. What they want is style and the joy of driving. And fitting in with the crowd they like.
There are various groups of old school car lovers in Malaysia and I’m sure you already know a few of them. Groups like these are usually just an avenue for hanging out and most likely started out with just a few friends (who happen to like cars) hanging out. And that’s it. Just drive and hangout. That’s it.

The 510 is a beautiful car. And we were lucky to have a closer look at this one, thanks to Ikmal. With a short front overhang and long rear overhang, I think it kind of looks like a BMW 2002 Turbo from some angles.

This 510 Is An On-Going Project

This is the 4-door version and was originally an automatic. The taillights are from the coupe version and give this 510 a stronger presence. A lip spoiler from an E30 was made to fit the car and some other non-Nissan parts can also be seen on the inside. The car looks great on the outside and managed to attract attention from older enthusiasts while we were photographing the car.
Powering the Bluebird is an L20B with an L18 head. Still carburetted but the plan is to go with an ITB conversion later. Single overhead cam, four cylinders, and no variable anything. Want a solution that works? I wouldn’t mind putting an SR20 inside, but after talking to Ikmal and some 510 drivers, they say you lose the feel of the 510 when you put the SR motor in. I don’t know, man, the one Matt Farah is driving in this video looks amazing.
The interior is being worked on and if you look at the pedals you’ll realise the oversized brake pedal, indicating that this was an automatic. Originally, 510s would have a 4-speed manual gearbox, but this one has been swapped with a 5-speed (Don’t be fooled by the shift pattern on the gear knob).

The Modern 510 Counterpart… That Didn’t Happen

In 2013 Nissan unveiled the IDx, the concept car that was an ode to the 510. It was exciting and even made an appearance in an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, but it didn’t happen. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The 510 In Malaysia

There’s not that many of them on the road. The one featured here was handled by Tarmizi from ‘Lebai Game’. Prices start from around RM20k (will need work done). There are some who put SR20s in them, some who put rotaries, and some who keep the original block but with an ITB conversion, and some who keep them completely stock. Car project, as usual, will require money so be financially and mentally prepared before you embark. We’ve seen partially completed projects at workshops (owner doesn’t have enough money halfway through), so here’s a heads up before you make that plunge.

Will I get a 510?

There’s no denying, it is an appealing car (look at those taillights). I’d just like mine to be with an SR, like the one Matt Farah drove in that video
This time we around we went with Kazuto from Kazuto Garage who makes videos about modified cars and the Malaysian car culture.
Here’s his video.
Behind the scenes with Kazuto Garage.
Arif Chan
With a deep interest and relevant experiences in the automotive industry, Arif writes about everything automotive. His employment history includes being an automotive engineer, a highway engineer, an alternative-fuel researcher, and a motoring journalist.