In the early 1970s, Nissan (then branded as Datsun) sold a truly remarkable car in its showrooms. Few families purchasing the Datsun 510 shopped it for its racing pedigree (1971 and 1972 Trans Am champion) or independent rear suspension; instead, they shopped it because it was economical and fuel efficient.
Even into the late 1980s, Datsun 510s were seemingly everywhere, and SCCA Solo and Improved Touring ranks were filled with fast examples. Then, seemingly overnight, the supply of Datsun 510s seemed to vanish into thin air. Like all Japanese cars of the day, the tinworm was the 510s mortal enemy, which explains why so few survive today.
In stock form, the 510’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine made around 96 horsepower, which was an impressive output from an economy car in the early 1970s. Greg Elliot’s resto-modded example, featured here on Jay Leno’s Garage, makes use of a 2.3-liter Nissan four-cylinder engine, putting out 153 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque.
While that doesn’t sound like much on paper, it’s plenty given the car’s curb weight of less than 2,200 pounds. Elliot’s build also uses many compatible 280ZX parts, such as the five-speed manual transmission, flywheel and rear differential. It rides on a coilover suspension (with camber plates) and sports a 3-inch drop for just the right stance.
While the Voodoo Blue paint is a bit loud for our tastes, we love the look of the blacked-out VTO wheels, as well as the overall quality of the car. Maybe it’s because we remember these on both road and track, or maybe its the sound of the carbureted four-cylinder, but we suddenly find ourselves with the urge to search eBay for survivor 510s.
Jay Leno knows a thing or two about cars, and he’s billing the 510 as a “true Japanese collector car.” That’s good enough investment advice for us.