Unfinished Project: 1972 Datsun 510

I have a real soft spot for the Datsun 510. I’ve owned two of them, and they are one of the most enjoyable little cars that you can ever drive. They are solid, reliable, and with the independent suspension, they also provide great handling. These traits have made them a favorite amongst the rally fraternity, and they are still used in competition today, some 47-years after production ended. This photo shows the car as it was when the current owner purchased it in 2012. It has been a 5-year project for the owner to breathe life back into it, but having come a long way, he has been forced to sell it. Located in Magnolia, Texas, it is listed for sale here on eBay.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same car, isn’t it? The body of the Datsun looks really nice. The owner has gotten the car straight and has performed a repaint in Laguna Seca Blue and the color suits the car nicely. The panels look straight, and there doesn’t appear to be any rust in the known trouble spots such as the rockers, lower quarters, bottoms of the doors, or around the rear window. The car has been fitted with a new windshield and windshield rubber. The rubber in the rear window has also been replaced, along with the trunk seal.

The owner says that it is no show car and that it has a way to go before it is complete. The paint isn’t perfect, but for a daily driver or a car to just enjoy on the weekends, there’s nothing wrong with it. As well as the wheels that are fitted to the car in these photos, the owner is including a set of Panasport Minilites. These are a nice looking wheel, and they would suit the car very well. Also included are boxes of spares, including weather seals, trim items, suspension components, and a full set of new polyurethane suspension bushes for the car. The list of parts is very impressive.

The original L16 engine has made way for a rebuilt L20 engine. The transmission is manual, but the owner doesn’t specify whether this is a 4-speed or a 5-speed unit. Most of the 5-speed units had an over-drive 5th gear, but there was a close-ratio box available with a 1:1 5th gear and they work great in these. Still, even the original 4-speed is a great little unit, so it probably doesn’t matter that much. As well as the rebuilt engine, there is a new clutch, new master cylinders for both the brake and clutch, a Weber carburetor has been fitted, along with a long list of other work. The owner provides this YouTube video of the car running, and that little L20 sounds very nice.

The interior is a work in progress, but it doesn’t look too bad. The carpet is new, and the headliner is a custom-made item made from perforated vinyl similar to that used by Mercedes-Benz. The front seats are from a Mazda Speed 3, and the owner says that they are very comfortable. The dash pad is new, but there are a number of things that will need to be attended to, such as a new cover for the back seat, a lack of sun-visors and rearview mirror, plus a host of small jobs on the dash.

The Datsun 510 is such a good car. They are easy to drive, easy to park, and just plain old good fun. This one has had a lot of work done on it, and with so much hard work already completed, what remains is really only detail work. It appears that I’m not the only person with an enormous soft spot for these little cars. Bidding opened three days ago at 99-cents. It has already skyrocketed to $7,000, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. Good examples are getting harder to find, and if I had the money, I’d be bidding on it myself.

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  1. Todd Fitch Staff

    Nice one, Adam! A gear-head buddies’ Dad had one of these in this car’s original color back in the early ’80s and he wouldn’t have traded it for anything. He knew how special it was even then, like a Poor Man’s BMW 2002 with four doors. I’m not a fan of the color change on this one or the reverse rake but these are great little cars even at $7000. Thanks for the memories!

    Like 6
    • Adam Clarke Staff

      Thanks for that Todd. I still love these little cars. My first one came to a sad end when I was a young guy, and through an act of pure stupidity, I had a head-on collision with a tip-truck at 60mph (that I walked away from!). I regret selling the second one because it was a project car that was nearly finished.

      Like 1
      • Little Cars

        Adam, as much as I like this car in the “after” photos, I think this sedan is also a project car but HARDLY finished! Lipstick on a pig. One look at the stuff still to do in the eBay ad and I question their $7k price. Honestly, the seller appears to have thrown a lot of money at the car and ran out before some requisite repairs were made.

  2. stillrunners stillrunners Member


    Like 3
  3. Beatnik Bedouin

    The 510 was the first everyday Japanese car that surprised everyone with its mix of comfort and performance, all for a RRP of $1995, stateside.

    They were very popular in SoCal and, of course, with the help of Pete Brock (ex-Shelby American, etc) and others, took on BMW and Alfa Romeo in SCCA competition and whooped some serious backside.

    The L-series engine was – and is – a wonderful unit for its era: rugged, reliable and very tuneable.

    Someone’s going to have fun with this car…

    Like 6
  4. Miguel

    I can’t believe a 4 door is bringing so much money.

    I am going to have to keep an eye out for these in Mexico, where all were 4 doors, and a few wagons.

    Like 2
    • Teun

      Mexican 510’s don’t have the independent rear suspension, and I think they had the J15 engine, not the L16. In Europe, South Africa and Australia where all 4 doors and mostly 1600’s; awesome rallye cars and no difference in popularity or price. With all the parts I would think this thing could easily surpass 10K

      Like 1
  5. geomechs geomechs Member

    These were good cars in their day. I still prefer the front engine, rear wheel drive configuration that cars used to have. At least back then you had a better chance of controlling a skid. This one looks like a good project.

    A good acquaintance of mine had one just like this. It was the same rust color as this was. But one night he was driving home and didn’t make it. Head-on collision with a full-sized car. They obviously didn’t design crumple zones in those cars back then; the car just folded up around him, with him in the middle. It took several hours to get him out of there. The other driver walked away. I was never OK with a small car after that…

    Like 2
  6. Will Fox

    I’m looking at the junker Datsun with blocks behind the wheels, and the piles of garbage by the garage that OBVIOUSLY have been there for numerous moons. If I lived next door to those hillbillies, I’d file a complaint at my city hall.

    Like 2
  7. Rex Rice

    I spent the summer of ’73 as a sales person at a Datsun dealer. I beat my 510 demo so hard without breaking anything, that later bought one for myself. This was, mechanically, a very strong car. With 5 main bearings and an overhead cam, the engine was bullet proof. Not so much the rest of the car. You could pound a dent with your fist in the thin body metal.
    You don’t see many today as they have rusted away. These were a great but temporary car.

    Like 2
    • Jorge

      in the contrary there are tons of these still around just depends on what end of the coast you are in. Here on the west coast they are plentiful since that’s where they were dropped off the boats. These have reached some pretty high numbers in the past years almost rivaling Z cars. I have a friend who used to have over 30 of them at one point in his shop where he would have parts cars, good bodies, and runners. He also restored, restomod, and made some show cars for customers since he was the “to go guy” he was named “the 510 keeper” and called his shop Datsunville also had a chance to get on TV show called Wheeler Dealers.

      Like 2
  8. Robert Roberge


    Like 1
  9. Martin

    In 1972 it got cancer ,I had to drive to to biggest city in Can . every day for 3 months for radiation ,my parents bought me a new 510 Datson I’m 64 now wouldn’t be caught died in one now ! Who the hell thinks a 4 dr piece of crap is cool ?

  10. Karl D.

    Here in SE Louisiana the early Datsuns and Toyotas rejoined the earth as iron oxide pretty quickly. The last time I saw one of these was years ago. It was a similar color, and was parked outside the gate of a local junkyard. Some joker had taken a brush and painted down the side of the car, “Kyoto 500 Pace Car”.

    Like 1
  11. Fran

    A 510 “project” oh god I pray for our hobby!

    Like 2
  12. Saul

    I’m not dropping over $7k for something with the claim “Car will need to be towed upon pickup.” And what’s with the white valve cover? I appreciate the lengthy ad with lots of things done but more to be done to get the car safe and operating under its own power. Little niggly things that car for a thorough inspection before plopping down the cabbage. Jorge, I wish you the best of luck with this auction. Looks like you will sell it at a good ROI.

    Like 1
    • Jorge

      I’m not the owner of this 510 just been around Datsun long enough to know how good these sell. Yeah there is some untasteful things done to the car that can easily be redone/fixed. The $7k price I agree is a little much if you can’t drive it away, there is one local to me that I can buy for $3500 that’s a runner that has straight body. I have seen some crazy prices for non runners that need a lot of body work and rust repair. The thing is a lot of the young crowd get into these cars and suddenly they become a $3-4k rolling shell or unfinished engine swaps.

      Like 1
  13. John

    I had the wagon version of the 510 in 1973. The wagons didn’t benefit from the IRS that other versions got, but it was still a lot of fun. The fun ended one fall day when I came around a corner to see a full-sized American sedan stopped in the right lane … the driver wanted to admire the changing leaves. I hit the brakes but the road was covered in wet leaves and the Datsun went full-force into the back of the other car. The 510 definitely came out on the losing end!

    I’ve often thought about looking for another 510 but it’s hard to justify with the way prices have jumped.

    Like 1
  14. Olaf E

    Not sold at $ 4,373.

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