Final Edition: 1981 Datsun 510

When we think of the Datsun 510, it’s easy to picture the 70’s-era model, usually a ’73 or a ’74, tearing up the road course and clad in the familiar BRE Datsun colors. Or, in street form, lowered over some aggressive tires and bouncing off the curves of a mountain road. Less often do we remember the final gasp of the 510, which would become a four-eyed hatchback like this one here on craigslist, listed for $4,000 or best offer. 

A far cry from its original incarnation, eh? The hatchback body style was becoming more of a fixture on American roads, particularly among Japanese imports like Datsun and Mitsubishi. Needless to say, I doubt this was the car that convinced Americans to give up their big trunk-loving ways. This 510 is in surprisingly good condition for its age, but there is rust blossoming along the fenders and doors on the driver’s side, as seen here.

This example retains a better-than-expected interior, and thankfully, it is equipped with a manual transmission. The dash is said to be crack free and though there are no tears in the seats, I find it hard to believe this economy car didn’t come with anything other than gray-tweed cloth buckets. Perhaps the vinyl was an aftermarket installation, or maybe the original selling dealer decided to spiff things up a bit on their own.

Here’s the problem: despite being in a minority of 80s-era Japanese economy cars that has survived mostly unscathed, rust repair is still a must if you wish to protect your investment. While the rust seen here is not necessarily terminal, it needs to be addressed sooner than later. With rust near the bottom of the car, I’d want to know just how far it has wrapped underneath. Anyone think the unloved 510 deserves a chance?


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  1. Rod

    This car would make a great daily driver. Chances are the rust has taken hold of the body and is deeper than shows. However, the price is way to high for this car.

  2. Dovi65

    I agree with Rod; this one would make a great commuter, errand runner, or for sending your teen off to college. With the rust, and the bump in the left rear flank, $4k is an unrealistic expectation; I figure the hammer will drop around $2500, maybe a little more. Always good to see an 80s survivor!

  3. GearHead Engineer

    I have a soft spot for this era 510, having owned two of them. Good, reliable cars. But this thing is only worth $4k if it comes with 370 $10 bills in that hatch area. It’s rusty and dented, and underneath those cheap vinyl covers the seats are probably a mess.

    – John

    • Mike Reese

      Yeah, I had a ’78 year model. Rust never sleeps.

  4. 68 custom

    I agree with above. a great daily driver at 1k max, watch the rust eat it up as you drive…

  5. Terry J

    Ahhh….Mom’s car. She bought it new and drove it for years. When she died, my sister Kay needed a car and it became hers. Totally dependable UNLESS Kay exceeded 55 m.p.h. Then it would sputter and stall. Never any other time. We came to believe that Mom was somehow watching over my sis and the little car. :-) Terry J

  6. Beefer

    1973 was the last year of “real” 510 production.

  7. JoeBazots

    Yeah – a little optimistic on the price. I have a lot of love for these little 80s survivors. Would, at a minimum, make a great platform for an interesting 3.7L / 6 Spd. swap.

  8. Doug Towsley

    optomistic on the price, but a good go to work car on a budget. Nobody cares if you get dented or someone door dings you in too tight parking lots. Cheap and easy to maintain. Too bad they dont make them like this anymore. Ugly body style though.
    I would have to look but this is the time frame where Nissan/Datsun started with the NAPZ motors. These were an evolution of the L series motors with upgrades but small port heads with cross flow intake/exh and dual plugs. In theory would make good power but they take a lot to flow for high performance. The Dual plug with staggered timing was meant for fuel efficiency and low emissions, not gross performance. But Datsun/Nissan was great about interchange and many of these powertrains could be mixed and matched and some serious grunt. These series motors typically are 2000cc but some were 2200 and 2400. Later 240 SX motors were a popular swap into earlier Datsuns and everything pretty much bolts up, The 5 speeds were durable and good.

  9. Little_Cars Alexander Member

    I’d be mindful of someone who, in the write up, calls this a Darwin 510! I can’t make my spellcheck make that mistake and even if it did, I would manually correct it before posting so I didn’t look like an idiot.

  10. Datsuntech

    There was no 1974 Datsun 510s. Early 510s were 68-73 and then this style 510 known as an HL510 or A10 was made from 1977-81. There were no 510s from 1974-1976. Please correct your article.

  11. David Miraglia

    I’d take for a 1,000. She would be a great local city car.

  12. Adam T45 Staff

    I’m assuming by some of the above comments that early 80’s Datsuns in the US suffered from the same issues as the ones produced in Australia. When I was a young guy I owned a 1981 Datsun Bluebird (pictured). It was a beautiful thing to drive and I did a huge amount of work upgrading the mechanicals to extract performance and decent handling out of it. But I watched it slowly dissolve before my eyes. It was literally impossible to keep ahead of the rust. I always claimed that it was the ultimate environmentally friendly car because it was completely biodegradable!

    • Adam T45 Staff

      Stupid computer. Let’s try again!

  13. Adam T45 Staff

    Sorry, here’s the picture. My browser had a problem.

    • Adam T45 Staff

      I hope that my browser uploads the picture this time!

  14. RC46

    I love 70’s – 90’s Japanese cars more than I should, but this car does nothing for me.
    My brother’s friend bought one of these brand new in two tone blue, and this was one of the first cars that stirred absolutely no emotion in my 10 year old soul.
    Time and nostalgia has done nothing for this car.
    I never thought I’d see one of these again.

  15. Bob C.

    There were TONS of these on the road during the mid 70s into the 80s, but they rusted away like crazy. Even Rusty Jones couldn’t save them.

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