[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]
Coupe, sedan and wagon. Trans-Am champion. Reliable enough for the Baja 1000. Timeless looks. Street cred with all age groups. Rear-wheel drive. Cheap!
What is this mythical creature, this answer to all your automotive needs and desires? You’ve seen it before at vintage races, at Japanese car shows, …
Shopping and Ownership
Les Cannaday, the owner of Classic Datsun Motorsports, has built many 510s and other Datsuns over the years—including most of Adam Carolla’s collection. Classic Datsun Motorsports has been running for 20 years. Les shared some of these tips with us.
Owning a 510 requires a do-it-yourself attitude. An old car with a young following is a tricky thing to maintain, and the aftermarket isn’t as robust as it is for, say, the Z-car. Look to the community to answer your questions, and expect to find a lot of old websites with good information but dead links.
You can benefit the 510 community by supporting shops that build quality parts. Many owners got into old Datsuns because they were inexpensive and then put low-quality parts and modifications into them. This aided the spread of inferior parts; for example, it’s difficult to find a rear window seal that actually works.
The Dime Quarterly, a 510-centric publication, went Web-only earlier this year. The staff is a collection of 510 enthusiasts who have been writing about the 510 since the mid-’90s. Their blog has back issues and is full of technical information, old articles from mainstream magazines and event listings.
If you’re keeping the L-series engine, you can build it for street duty to make a reliable 150 to 160 horsepower. Stronger pistons, connecting rods, and high-performance camshafts are all available. You can get individual throttle body kits and fit it with fuel injection, too.
A cheaper route to rebuilding an L-series engine is the modern swap. Many four-cylinder Nissan engines will work using some combination of OEM Nissan engine mounts. The KA24-series engine is an easy and cheap way to get horsepower and torque, and modern engines have a higher performance ceiling than the L-series. Modified crossmembers and engine mounts are available to make the swap easy.
The 510 makes a wonderful vintage racer, and L-series race engines running 110 octane gas make around 190 horses. Ongoing costs are low: The driveline is robust, and the car is easy on consumables.
Expect difficulty with trim pieces on first- and last-year models. The 1968 and 1973 cars had a lot of unique parts, including the emblems and grilles. The first-year car also had a horizontal speedometer; the last-year cars were the only ones that had illuminated switches inside and were not offered in sedan form.
Two-door cars are getting rarer and more expensive. Save a few bucks by opting for the sedan or wagon. Each shape has its own group of aficionados, so there’s kinship regardless of which you choose.