Face Off: BMW 2002 Tii Vs Datsun 510

BMW 2002 Tii vs Datsun 510

When you set up to compare two of the most celebrated driver’s cars of the last 50 years, it’s almost impossible not to include a BMW 2002 and Datsun 510. Most of us know by now you don’t have to look far to see heaps of praise thrown at these machines, especially if you’re the type who seeks out pavement that has more than a few kinks between Points A and B. The best part is these lithe handlers can still be had for reasonable money, provided the tin worm hasn’t threatened that wonderful structural integrity. Take a look at this week’s competitors – a 1972 BMW 2002 Tii here on eBay with no reserve and bidding at $2,800 and a 1969 Datsun 510 here on eBay with bidding at just over $5,000 and the reserve unmet.

1974 BMW 2002 Tii Engine

While we love the 2002 on Barn Finds, this is one rough Tii. Still, because of those three special letters, it deserves saving. This car wears the badge of a prior engine fire proudly, with the paint blisters and discoloration still visible on the hood. The engine bay itself doesn’t appear damaged, but Lord knows what happened to cause the fire in the first place and if it’s been corrected. Still, when running correctly, it’s a honey of an engine. 130 bhp is more than enough to move these Neue Klasse cars along with ease, and despite its engine bay woes, this ’74 still sports a clean interior and decent sheetmetal – but rust does lurk in the door edges and the driver’s rear shock tower, so bid sensibly if you’re considering this example.

1969 Datsun 510

Though I’ve had some level of exposure to both the 2002 and 510, I’ve yet to have any seat time in the sporting Datsun. Celebrated for its simplicity, reliability and ease of parts interchangeability, the 510 has been a regular fixture at vintage racing events and club-level activities for years. Bob Sharp put the 510 on the map in many ways, using them for racing and clad in his trademark red, white and blue livery with vintage American Racing wheels on wide rubber. And today, you could buy this example and go straight to Nissan for new replacement parts and even performance upgrades from the company’s Motorsports division. Someone needs to rescue this example and install wheels with the proper offset, pronto.

1969 Datsun 510 Engine

Both of these cars elicit memories of a special place I like to visit in Hyannis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod: Toad Hall Sports Car Museum. I’d encourage you to schedule time for a stop if you’re ever in the area, where you can inspect up-close a 1971 Datsun 510 prepped for racing and a bone-stock 2002 with 31,000 original miles. It’s a vast collection and you can speak with the caretaker who has raced Datsuns extensively and holds a deep appreciation for the 2002 – as he puts it, “A great car, no wonder Datsun copied it for their 510.” And it’s a suitable distraction if you can’t put one of these two backroad legends in your garage just yet.


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  1. Dolphin Member

    I’ve owned two Datsun 510s and liked both of them, but I’d rather have the original of this pair, the 2002 tii. Trouble is, the 510 is in much better condition and the tii will need more work, especially if I’m correct in my guess that there’s some structural rust underneath.

    The 510 will have limited upside for a long time I think, which makes it risky to put much money into it. Better to just do the minimum to make it safe and enjoy it—-assuming it runs well, about which the seller only says: “runs and drives”.

    The 2002, especially the special models like the Turbo and tii, are appreciating strongly now, so it might be worth putting money into….assuming little or no structural rust. Even if there is some structural rust there are people who will tackle this because these are special low-production models that handle well even when stock, something the 510 needs a bit of help with.

  2. Tom

    The rear bumper on the tii is a 73 or the car is a euro

    • Horse Radish

      yes, looks like euro car, no bumper guards, rust etc….
      ’74 or newer…(according to the existing taillights)

  3. cory

    Wow. Probably the best match up yet. I’m a huge datsun fan having owned several 620 pickups a z and now a 311, but I love my bmws, having owned several 3 series cars. Both of these cars I have not experienced and are on my car bucket list. The bmw is a rock solid collector car and the market is steady. This one is the spearhead of desirability in the 2002 group and was a true performance car from day one. If anything classic bmws are under valued right now. The datsun on the other hand, is a run of the mill 510. While there are lots of performance parts available this isn’t really a true performance car. The datsun market is red hot right now, and smells like a bubble to me. Based on condition I would definitely take the 510. Investment wise the 2002 is a better choice. I would lean to the 510 for the simple reason that I wouldn’t feel guilty makING a few mods to it. No one is going to be upset that the 510 isn’t bone stock. The bmw one the hand would be severely devalued by aftermarket parts.

    • dave

      I’ve owned a bimmer. ANYTHING, including public transit is better than the constant and exorbitant costs of ownership. I’ll take the Datrsun

  4. Don Andreina

    Great comparo. Yutaka Katayama, head of Nissan USA and father of the Z, was a big fan of the 02 BMWs and used them as the basis for the 510. Mr K died not long ago at the tender age of 105. Datto for driving, Tii for investment.

  5. Horse Radish

    there is some randomness to the seller’s photos:
    the rag on the ground that was covering the license plate
    (can anybody tell me why they are doing that ?)
    angles of the photos,
    no shots from underneath (as to how floor was fixed)
    electrical fire under hood ??
    one rear shock ‘is gone’ (major repair needed).
    Though the BMW 2002tii is, by far, the superior car between these two chosen, I am not too sure about this particular car.

  6. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,
    While a nice 2002 is always a pleasure. The 510 has my vote.
    Had a 510 wagon that I put Webers on. Car had an unbelievable power to rate ratio. Understand why these were successful racing. Plus it’s rare in that it’s a coupe.

  7. Socal Car Guy

    I think Peter Brock (BRE 510 Datsuns — the factory-backed effort — in the Trans-Am series around 1970) was there first, and that was after spending most of a decade at shelby American doing minor little things like designing the now-legendary Cobra Daytona coupes. Would just like to see credit where credit is due, and Mr Brock deserves plenty of credit for his accomplishments.

  8. SoCal Car Guy

    I think the credits for putting the 510 on the racing map should go to Peter Brock and the factory-backed BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) Datsun 510s that put whoop-ass on the BMW 2002s and Alfa GTVs in the SCCA Trans-Am series 2.5-liter class beginning (I believe) in 1971. And this was after Mr. Brock had spent most of a decade working for Carroll Shelby doing little things like designing the now-legendary Cobra Daytona coupes Brock was/still is a damn good engineer and designer as well as being a quite capable automotive writer and photographer. Bob Sharp, particularly after partnering with Paul Newman, made huge contributions to Datsun’s — and Nissan’s racing successes, but BRE was there first

  9. Carl B.

    I have driven both the 510’s and the 2002Tii’s. I sold both at a Datsun/BMW dealer in 1973. Spent a lot time in the Service Dept talking to owners and mechanics. The 510 was a far better car than the BMW. The only thing “superior” about the BMW was its price.

  10. John

    I do love reading how you guys that side of the pond see things. Here in Europe the Datsun is not especially recognised. The Japanese did not attack the European market so aggressively as they did the USA, until a few years later in the mid late seventies. So the 510 is rare, and mostly Datsuns rotted and became largely extinct anyway.
    The BMW on the other hand is the very desirable Tii and an opportunity to acquire and restore it right. As many say here it has an investment cachet. There are plenty of specialists restoring the cars that survive. A known Uk 2002 specialist is “Jaymic”.There though lies the rub, a neglected car can be a a feasible but expensive restoration.Against that is the relative lack of survivors making the Tii even more desirable.
    You don’t see many Tii for sale in Europe either. In any condition.

    • Carl B

      In the late 60’s and early 70’s GB and most European countries still had pretty high protective trade tariffs carried over from WW-II in place. Thus the Japanese had no competitive advantage related to price; and they couldn’t establish a large Owner base that referred or recommended DATSUNS to others, like they did here in the States. Also Nissan was able to produce one model – that sold in all 50 States – where in Europe different import, safety and emissions standards had to be met in several individual and far smaller markets – making it even less profitable to attempt.

      Here in the States – In 1972/3 a Datsun 510 2dr. was $2395.00 and the 2002Tii was just over $4600.00 at most Dealerships. The Datsun 510 had established a reputation as being fun to drive and rock solid reliable – where BMW had established a reputation of being very expensive to maintain with frequent trips back to the Dealers for seemingly endless minor problems. Not to mention the 510’s winning the 2.5 Trans/Am Challenge Championships in 1971 and 1972.

  11. Tom S.


  12. Brian C

    I worked for Bob Leitzinger from 1975-1978. He, Newman and Sharp were all racing B Sedan 510s back then before turning their attention to C Production Z cars. Spent a number of weekends at Lime Rock Watching Bob race both cars,….and handing him or Elliot an ocassional wrench as needed. Never felt the need to own a 510. We traded a 2002 TII Alpina (Euro car) and I considered buying it ($2500),….but in the end,…decided to pass, My first new car was an 810 station wagon with manual transmission and The fuel injected 280 Z motor. Put a set of tires and wheels from a new Z on it, and popped in a sun Roof. It was quite a competent station wagon,…..a true sleeper.

  13. jim s

    i would take the bmw because they do much better in a crash ( as i remember from watching scca SS and IT racing ).

    • Carl B.

      So – you crash often Jim? LOL

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