Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1972 Datsun 510

Car Culture

With a supercharged Mazda rotary under the hood. Got your attention now?

It was called the “poor man’s BMW”, although the chances of a BMW owner trading in their car for a Datsun were slim to none. But what the Datsun 510 enabled so many to do who didn’t have the cash for a shiny new Bimmer was to have some fun behind the wheel, European style. Thing was, the Datsun obviously wasn’t from Europe.

Today, the Japanese have solidified their ability to build world-class sports cars and even a supercar here and there. It was the original Acura NSX that forced the Italians to take notice and it was the Datsun 510 that made the Germans at least acknowledge the talent of Japan’s auto engineers and designers.

The Datsun 510, the subject of this week’s Craigslist feature, launched back in 1967. While America was engulfed in muscle cars with outrageous amounts of horsepower, Japan preferred to emulate the European car ethos: relatively compact dimensions, superb chassis and suspension, and fun at the wheel while tackling the curviest road or challenging track out there. Datsun, Nissan’s name at the time, launched more than one 510 body style, including a sedan, coupe, and station wagon.

Following its premiere at the 1967 Tokyo Motor Show, the Datsun 510 found its way to numerous overseas markets, including the US where it was powered by a 1.6-liter inline-four engine with a claimed 96 hp and a top speed of 100 mph. Nothing spectacular but it did manage up to 30 mpg.

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Underneath its simple, German-inspired exterior were features like front disc brakes and four-wheel independent suspension. Combined with the car being rear wheel drive and packing a four-speed manual (a 3-speed automatic was optional), the Datsun 510 had all of the hallmarks of a great driver’s car. Not surprisingly, it gained popularity among those who understood it was something special at a bargain price.

The 510 also had a motorsport career in the US. Yes, seriously. It took part in the Trans Am Series under 2500cc class, and scored back-to-back class wins in 1971 and 1972. Today, you can still find plenty of 510s racing in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) classes. In fact, Nissan still offers owners a variety of replacement parts from a Los Angeles-based distribution center.

If you’re looking to buy a classic car with racing pedigree and don’t want to be too concerned about finding necessary components, the Datsun 510 could be for you. Fortunately, there are plenty of them out there to select from, such as this one we spotted on Craigslist Seattle. This 1972 Datsun 510 two-door sedan is actually a bit different from stock. Diehard Datsun enthusiasts may not approve, but we totally dig it. Instead of its original four-cylinder engine, the current owner swapped it for a supercharged Mazda rotary. The work is apparently quite recent because there are only 500 miles on the odo. Other upgrades include new camber plates, Hankook tires, roll cage, and a trunk-mounted battery. The body has been resprayed but we think the current off-white works pretty well.

But that engine. Oh, that engine. It looks clean. So what if it’s not original. The seller got creative and just went for it, resulting in a car that’s not only unique but also a celebration of Japanese auto engineering. The price tag is $14,500 though the seller specifically mentions that figure is negotiable.

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