Sitting For 30 Years: 1971 Datsun 510 Project

It’s no secret that finding sporty and compact rear-wheel-drive vehicles is a challenge, especially if you don’t want to break the bank. During the mid-1980s, many automakers discontinued rear-wheel-drive compact cars or switched them to front-wheel-drive platforms, which means they are scarce these days. Luckily, if you’re searching for an iconic, rear-wheel-drive sports car project, look no further than this 1971 Datsun 510 project that I found here on Craigslist while doing some window shopping.

This Datsun is available in Silver Spring, Maryland with a clean title. The seller mentions that the vehicle sat for 30 years and that it will need “lots of love.”

Unfortunately, there are not any undercarriage pictures, but the seller does describe the exterior as “rough and rusty,” and I’m inclined to agree. The car has very faded red paint, except for the fender, which is blue and oddly not as faded as the rest of this Datsun’s paint. It is also missing a headlight and both of the front marker lights.

Inside the car, you’ll find the front seats are missing, as is the front carpeting. I think a nice pair of aftermarket seats would like great inside this cockpit, but with the number of parts either missing or exchanged on this 510, it makes me wonder if it was a parts car in the past.

Under the hood, there’s a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, which pairs to a 4-speed manual transmission to drive the rear wheels. The seller does not include the miles in the advertisement, but unfortunately, the engine does not run. Interestingly enough, this L16 4-cylinder engine has similarities to the 6-cylinder engine found in the Datsun Z, and many parts are interchangeable, including the Z’s 5-speed manual transmission.

For $2,500, this classic Datsun could be yours. Would you restore or modify this project 510?

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  1. Howard A Member

    Meh, the 510 was a so-so car. Dynamite mechanicals, couldn’t kill them and I think this car helped Datsun become a major player, but they were kind of cheap. Everybody hailed the IRS, which did help the handling over the standard setup, but the rest of the car was pretty lackluster. While it’s fun to see one again, this particular one is toast. Once those front shock towers begin to rust, it’s over. Junkyards up north were full of Asian cars with front suspension collapsed. $500 parts car.

    • Mr.BZ

      While I generally bow to your superior automotive knowledge, Howard, I think “kind of cheap” describes the entire Japanese auto industry in 1971, as that’s what they offered–less expensive, smaller, more efficient cars for the changing American market vs. American cars that were still growing in size, weight and price at the time. Those dynamite mechanicals came from tighter manufacturing tolerances, and translated into better fit overall. The 510 itself became a racing and sales success, and is an icon today, although I have to agree that this one may indeed be toast.

  2. Brakeservo

    Gear shift lever looks like it’s straight out of a Factory Five Cobra kit kar . . . .

  3. TRPIV

    Already gone.

  4. Wayne

    I owned one of these in the late 70’s. Bought it from a fellow crew member while in the USCG. It was a great little car with surprising room inside – even the back seat. The shifter twists around because it was a ball and socket similar to VW’s. good luck to the new owner.

  5. Rob

    1 of the top 5 cars I have owned over the years,(43) my first import back in 1974, what a common sense car, sure put Datsun on the map in the U.S! Mine was a station wagon I purchased off a guy in Alaska, ran great even at -35 deg. F, so
    many features! flow thru ventilation (without opening a window!) wheel chocks stored under the frt. pass. seat, fully reclining front buckets, leather, owners manual even gave valve adjustment instructions, AND a full electrical wiring diagram!, try to find that in an american car! dome light with 3 pos. off, on, door,spare under back with chain hoist, I remember sitting in the car the first day thinking “They actually thought about the owner when designing this car. Drove it to Anchorage, shipped it to Seatlle, drove it to Ohio, think of it often, have pics, but no option here?

  6. jerry z

    Damn sold already! I’ve always wanted to build a BRE replica ( yes it’s been done a zillion times) especially with the red/white/blue graphics. With either Daiseys or Minilites on them, this car is iconic.

  7. FOG

    Wow, this is a real deal! Plenty of performance bolt-on parts, By today’s standards this would be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Long ago, I sneered at these cars racing at Sebring, and other places. Definitely contenders in their class. Would build this to appear almost stock, but equip with surprises for those who laugh.

  8. bobhess bobhess Member

    Had a chance to race one of these in the mid ’90s. Bright orange, roadster suspension pieces, and a very stout engine. Won a lot of races and enduros and had a blast doing it. It was probably the only 510 in south Florida that wasn’t rusty. I’d bet on rust with this one. Too bad.

  9. XMA0891

    We had a ’72 – the only new car my did ever bought – Lived in the Northeast – We called it “The Rotsun”. This one is in way better shape than ours was when we gave it to our mechanic (who kept on driving it for years after). Seeing that (backwards) stick shift brought back a wash of memories. Great Car! Great find.

  10. RexFox Member

    Just last week my sister sent me a picture of a little wagon she had seen on I5 in Vancouver, WA and asked me what it was. I told her it was a Datsun 510 and spoke pretty highly of them because of my experiences. One of my fraternity brothers had a 4 door that comfortably held four 6’ to 6’5” guys, with their spring break luggage and easily cruised at 75 MPH while attaining what seemed like very good gas mileage. Later I saw them running competitively with the 2002s in autocrosses. Cool little cars, but this one is too far gone for me. Someone bought it though.

  11. Kelly Breen

    The 510 was a great little car. It was my first car, and despite my very best efforts it disintegrated into ferric oxide. They were fun cheap, light, cheap, reliable, cheap cars. The bodywork just did not like winter. This one looks similar. There is no easy way to fix that car. Great memories, but these machines just fell apart after about 15 years unless you live in a desert. In Canada they had a life expectancy of about 5 years. With Herculean efforts you could keep them going longer, but there is a very good reason why they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

  12. TimM

    Is it really worth restoring??? The time and money I mean and what is it worth when done???

  13. stephan

    Mom bought one new in Gville 71,0r 72, ran like a scalded dog I tried to kill it and was not able to ” I was 19,”. great cars and ahead of the curve at the time ..All cars are worth restoring if you love the car these 2 door 510s get great mileage stop on a dime handle like a dream…Great cars.

  14. Steve Bush Member

    Never understood why Chevy and Ford didn’t closely exam the Datsun 510 when designing the Vega and Pinto. Can’t help but think these two would have been much better cars if they did.


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