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$2,500 Diesel: 1981 Datsun 810 Maxima Wagon

This Nissan, or Datsun, or Datsun-Nissan is actually a 1981 Datsun 810 Maxima Diesel Wagon, “by Nissan”. This oil-burner is on Craigslist with an asking price of $2,500. Just to get you in a buying mood, here’s an old commercial showing an 810 Maxima sedan on YouTube. NADA lists the high value of a similar car as being $2,400, but that isn’t for the diesel.

There are a lot of badges on this baby. Datsun was in the process of changing over to Nissan for the North American market and this car, which was basically a Datsun 910/Bluebird, became the Datsun 810 Maxima – by Nissan. The 810 Maxima was the top trim level above the 810 Deluxe and they were only available with an automatic transmission with the gas engine. A diesel with a 5-speed in a wagon would have been a fantastic combination. If AWD/4WD would have been available it may have been almost too good to be true. In 1982, the 810 designation disappeared and they were known as the Datsun Maxima – by Nissan, and finally, the Nissan Maxima, a model that is still sold today. I’ve heard rumors that Nissan was considering bringing the Datsun name back, any thoughts on that? In a world that’s in lock-step with anything and everything retro right now, from cars to clothes to hair styles to tv shows and pretty much everything else, it seems like a no-brainer to see new Datsuns running around the streets again here in the US. It’s just a matter of time. A new Datsun 240Z? Yes, please!

This particular Datsun 810 Maxima wagon appears to be in great condition. There aren’t a lot of photos as is usually the case with Craigslist ads, even though a seller can add several times the amount shown here for free. There doesn’t appear to be any rust to speak of and I don’t see even a door ding, that’s pretty amazing for a 36-year old car. For some reason, the wagons received rear drum brakes instead of four-wheel discs like the 810 Maxima sedan had. The seller says that this car is “rust free”, my two favorite words related to vehicles.

I’m not sure what this interior photo is supposed to show, but that’s all there is, unfortunately. From what is visible it looks pretty clean and un-cracked, dash-wise, which is good. Actually, with the diesel option, a 5-speed manual was available but you can see that his car has the automatic. One thing you can’t see is the first voice-warning system in a US vehicle. This one used a shock-resistant phonographic player for a 3″ plastic record which had 6 recordings on it for different warnings, such as, “parking brake is on”, “left door is open”, etc. I had a Chrysler LeBaron convertible in the mid-late-80s with a voice warning system and I assumed at the time that it was the first one. I was wrong; yet again.

Here’s where you’ll sleep during your road trip home after picking up this great car in Portland. It looks as clean as an operating room back there! There are no engine photos but this one has Datsun’s LD28, 2.8L inline-six diesel with around 80 hp. This engine has a seven-bearing main and is about as durable and reliable as they come in passenger car service, at least in this era. The seller says that it “runs perfectly” – again, two words that you always love to hear in relation to any used vehicle. However, they also mention that the “mechanical fuel pump needs to be re-built.” There’s a lot of help online so hopefully that won’t be a big project. Have any of you owned a Datsun 810? How about a Datsun with a diesel engine?


  1. Howard A Member

    HA! I knew it had to be Scotty. He knows I’m looking for a cheap ( ya sure) Volvo 122 wagon for my future cross country “bucket ride” ( sorry Jamie, can’t sleep in a TR6). Since those are quickly being priced out of my price range ( which ain’t much) I may have opened a can of worms, by telling Scotty, I may consider, while totally breaking tradition, a vintage Asian wagon. While I must admit, this is a great find, I’d be a little hesitant on the oil motor. Not because it’s unreliable, quite the opposite, it’s just, while it would make a dandy cruiser, ( I knew a guy with a gas Maxima, and said, he HAD to set the speed control, because, 80 didn’t feel any different than 50) diesels are not too friendly in the cold. Somebody drove the heck out of this, but sure took care of it. Rebuild the motor, if it even needs it, and drive it another 200g’s,,,,just not in the cold.

  2. Fred W.

    Never knew about the 3″ phonagraph record for the voice warning system, guess the voice chips came a few years later. You could swap the record from a Chatty Cathy doll for grins.

  3. irocrob

    I did not know that they made the Maxima in a wagon. Let alone a diesel wagon. I imagine replacement parts could be hard to get.

    • Jerry

      Yeah, DATSUN at one time was a very innovative company, it was at this exact point in time that they lost their way. After making inroads to the American market and achieving dominance in racing, and name recognition by winning with Paul Newman, the management brain trust at
      DATSUN spent untold million$ convincing the World that they were now Nissan! A poor decision later made worse by teaming up with
      RANULT. Yet still they go on!

      Like 1
      • Car Nut Tacoma

        I agree. Why Nissan ever joined forces with Renault is beyond me. They seemed to be doing fine when they were just Nissan. Of all the companies to work with, why Renault?

        Like 1
  4. Tracy

    If it was on the other side (this side) of the Mississippi I would be a contender.

  5. Royal Ricci

    I would love to buy this and drive it home. Problem is my friends throughout California would be pissed off big time with me.

  6. geomechs geomechs Member

    Contrary to what Howard just said, diesel motors aren’t all that bad in cold weather. Good batteries, starter, injection system and glow plugs, and they aren’t that bad to deal with. A block heater is highly recommended. Back in ’79 when I was working for the GM dealership we got five vehicles (2 diesel pickups, 2 gas pickups and a new Pontiac Catalina which was also gas) in on the carrier. The day before it was chinooking and the temp was around 40, however, during the night a Siberian Express dropped in plummeting the temperature to 25 below. They had loaded the vehicles the afternoon before but they were thoroughly cold-soaked when they showed up at the shop. BOTH diesels (the Olds 350 back then) started; one of the gas pickups started but the car and the other truck had to be towed off the carrier.

    When the vendor says the mechanical fuel pump needs to be rebuilt all I can see is dollar signs. That would likely be a Diesel Kiki (Now ZEXEL–lic. Bosch) VE distributor pump. You’re going to part with $1200.00 (minimum) to fix that one providing the hydraulic head is OK. A new head alone is $1200.00. I think you’ll come across a winning Powerball ticket before you find a used injection pump in the junkyard….

    Like 1
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      I have to agree. I can’t understand why Datsun ever discontinued the Diesel engine in the USA. What they lack in 0-60 acceleration, I think they more than make up for in longevity, ruggedness, fuel economy. I’d buy a Datsun/Nissan Diesel if there were any still on the road.

      • Duaney Member

        The diesel option went away when the price of diesel fuel increased dramatically, and the EPA was proposing much stricter standards.

  7. Duaney Member

    I’d buy this in a flash if it weren’t so far away, and I already have several of them. It’s really a bargain. When the owner says runs perfect, but injection pump needs rebuilt, I’m guessing that it just leaks fuel.. Diesel shops can rebuild it, $700 -900 if you shop around. Also, Nissan didn’t offer the 5 speed in the wagons, only the automatic.

    Like 1
    • Jorge

      Actually they did offer 5 speed in these in sedans and wagons gas and diesel.

      Like 1
      • Duaney Member

        Have several of these, all wagons came with the automatic

    • Car Nut Tacoma

      I’d buy one if there was one nearby where I live. Cost, be damned. I believe that diesel engines are way better than gas.

      • Duaney Member

        There were a large number of Maxima’s, both diesel and gas, sold in your area when new, you should be able to find one.

  8. Kevin

    There happens to be a video on youtube for a 1981 Datsun/Nissan 810 diesel wagon, in Oregon, and I believe the date on the video is September 1, 2015.

    Like 2
  9. Fred C

    I had a ’78 810 sedan, gasoline engine with 4 speed manual, was essentially a four door 240Z. Ran and handled beautifully. Had to replace it when the third son arrived.

  10. Vasileios

    I wish i could buy this car.
    I started working as a car mechanic 1980 at the main dealer of Datsun in Athens Greece. Those days 82-83 we had Datsun /Nisan 910 Bluebird with the 4 Cylinders 2,0 diesel engines. That car was amazing reliable regarding engines long life some of them went over 600.000km .
    Over the 30% of taxis use to be Bluebirds in Athens , the car was legend compare to reliability with the competitors.
    I assuming the 6 in line must be more relaible as 2.8 liter can move the car easier with the same reliability .
    The one here is in amazing condition.
    Bravo. …

  11. Rustytech Member

    These early Maxima’s were among the first Asian cars that convinced me the Japanese could build a good car. They had decent build quality, handled well, were quite, and smooth. They also proved very dependable. I never cared for the diesels though. I still am not a fan of diesels today, They are noisy, they stink, they are not overly reliable, and they are expensive to maintain and repair.

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi Rusty. I have to disagree with you on the diesel part. I’ve specialized in diesel service since the early 80’s and have to say that diesels, for the most part, are good. The trouble is: not everyone who buys one should own one. Myself, I’m the worst hypocrite in the world; I work on them and yet I don’t own one. The reason for that is simple: I don’t do the kind of driving that requires a diesel. I do a lot of stop and go driving that ruins a diesel in no time. I had it figured that to make a diesel pay, the owner would have to put 30K miles on it (minimum) per year. A diesel, once warmed up, needs to stay hot. I’ve had a lot of customers that all but live on the road and their diesels have paid handsomely. I had one customer who sold dental instruments. He ran a 6.2 powered ’86 Chevy Suburban 4×4. He put 80K miles on it a year, adding 480K miles on it before the #4 main cracked and the crank broke. He said that it was just breaking even costwise when the motor blew. But we installed a new motor and he ran it another 400K miles before he retired. The family ended up scrapping the truck because it was getting rustier than a bed-wetter’s mattress springs. I’ve got customers in the oil patch that run Dodge/Cummins, Fords and Duramaxes and they run them 300K miles and get rid of them.

      Like 1
      • Tacoma, Washington USA

        So far, the only Japanese cars I’ve ever driven were Toyotas, and I’ve *never* owned or driven one with a diesel engine. I’ve *never* understood American car drivers aversion to diesel powered cars or even small trucks. I drive a lot, and the distance between home and my job is just over 30 miles. So I would think that a diesel engine powered car would be the car for me.

  12. sparkster

    Rustytech go drive a 2017 Ford superduty diesel. That’ll change your mind.

    • milotus

      …… yea,but it’ll cost a little more than $2500!

  13. Duaney Member

    Rustytech, these Nissan Maxima diesels aren’t noisy, smelly, they are super reliable, and require less maintainence than the gas engine, other than more frequent oil changes.

    Like 2
  14. Tacoma, Washington

    Sweet looking Datsun. I remember when the Datsun 810 Maxima Diesel. I was too young to drive at the time, but I remember being fascinated by the Datsun Diesel. I was so disappointed when the Datsun (Nissan) Diesel was discontinued. I remember saying “what? Why?”

  15. Rustytech Member

    HI Geomech. I agree with your assessment on city driving, I have been doing fleet maintenance management for about 15 years now. Most of the trucks I work with are either delivery trucks, or service trucks with very high idle times, they burn through injectors, fuel pumps, EGR valves and coolers, and oil coolers at alarming rates. Then there are the problems with the particulate filters. Highway diesels fair better. Then there are the maintenance cost, a typical example, an oil change on a gas powered unit is $50, on a diesel $130. An air filter on a gas unit $30 on a diesel $90 to $130. etc. etc. Many of the fleets we work with have been going back to gas power on their new truck purchases.

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Yes, the later models have been ’emissioned’ to death, causing the maintenance cost(s) to rise substantially. I’ve seen some fleets make the switch to gas power but for some reason some of them have started to switch back. Myself, I’m still running gas pots simply because I cannot justify the higher expense. Mind you if I lucked out on the Powerball, I might change my mind. Maybe not; I’d build a bigger shop so I could play with more old toys….

  16. Tacoma, Washington

    “Emissioned to death.” That’s something of an understatement. I’m all for clean air emissions, but it seems as though every attempt to clean up the air all but sacrifices the quality, reliability, fuel economy, and performance diesel engines are known for.

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Modern diesels are choked right down. One engine manufacturer allegedly told the EPA: “You want the exhaust going out to be cleaner than the air going in.” I don’t blame guys for wanting EGR deletes and DPF deletes; they do run better without them. Unfortunately they are NOT legal so our shop has to avoid them like the plague.

      Like 2
      • Tacoma, Washington USA

        Who the hell decides what’s “legal” and what’s illegal, and why?

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Who decides? Probably those that know the least about what makes an engine tick. Some dedicated tree-hugger saw a truck pulling a full load up a hill. He parked his bicycle and told his congressman about that ‘Big Bad Truck’ smoking black and causing acid rain. Of course the congressman wanted to get re-elected so he pushed a smoke law through. I remember back in the late 80’s when someone decided that black diesel smoke was more harmful than that bluish-white eye-burning mosquito killer. “Less particulates; much better for the environment.” Someone forgot to tell my eyes that. Injection timing was grossly retarded and oftentimes you couldn’t get a diesel up to full rpm unless it was under load. I always cheated a little bit and jacked up the timing to where the engine ran somewhat decent. Emission laws be damned! Now, however, everything is controlled by the computer so we have little choice but the set them by the book…..

        Like 2
      • Ralph Fehrmann

        Got an 87 Nissan MAXIMA wagon but it’s gas the little thing surprised the hello out of me when I first got it in 07 fast little car hardly ever breaks down wasn’t maintained real well so been getting Nickle and dimes to death replacing part that got worn out because other worn items were ignored but it runs great has almost 160,000 miles on it and soon when it stops raining have 3. More parts to buy while waiting for the sun too finally return to California then one long day of wrenching the whole front suspension and steering has been rebuilt it will drive like new car but like I said in the beginning car surprised my 300z in sheep’s clothing fast fun,decent on gas milage and can basically jump in it and go any where I want with out asking myself will this 30yr old car will make it because the answer is yes

        Like 1
      • Car Nut Tacoma Ca

        I agree. I’m all for clean air quality. But the people who make the decisions regarding emissions requirements are so unrealistic when it comes to ho “clean” their standards really are.

  17. Arlen

    I just picked up this exact sweet little gem last night from Portland Oregon to add to my list of owned Datsun-Nissan rigs.
    so far the 60 mile trip home with is was a blast and she ran beautifully.
    The list of options on the rig are staggering, in addition to having 90% of them still in working condition.
    will post more pics as I go through it and restore.
    -The Datsun KId

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Congratulations, Arlen! Enjoy it and don’t forget to share some pictures!!!

  18. Tacoma, Washington USA

    @ geomechs: Could be. I would think that the smaller displacement diesel engine between 1.5 and 4.0 litres would be less polluting than the behemoths that displace 6.7 litres or larger, since it burns less oil than the larger engines.

  19. Ray

    I own two Datsun/Nissan 810/910 Maximas, one of them with 436K miles on the original motor. We (me, the wife, kid, and mother-in-law) just got back from a road trip up the coast to Solvang, California, a round trip of roughly 400 miles. I always laugh when some asks “do you think it can make it?” when I say we’re taking that car on a road trip. Some years ago we went on a 3000+ mile trip in it to Yellowstone and the Northwest, with no hiccups. After that, my wife was convinced of its reliability, and “volunteers” the car for road trips, as it keeps the miles off her 2013 Impreza, which doesn’t feel nearly as robust as the old Maxima. With AD08Rs, better shocks, thicker rear bar, and the nice Maxima seats in it, it handles better and is more comfortable than her Impreza.

  20. William

    I owned this same car in the 1980s, the Diesel engine was cool and it was very nice looking car, but it rusted all away in less than eight years

    Like 1
    • Gay Car Nut

      That’s the trouble with cars built around that time. Sometimes the engine will outlast the rest of the car.

      Like 1
  21. Gay Car Nut

    I remember the Datsun 810/Maxima of the early 1980s, but I don’t recall ever seeing a Maxima Diesel.

    • Duaney Member

      They’re out there, I own many of them.

  22. Jerry

    I always thought there would be no reason to buy a new car if you felt right in it and kept up the maintenance, the 1977 Datsun 810 wagon was that car, however, Ohio winters, and road salt, caused the car to dissolve. It just melted away!

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