5k: Butternut Yellow 1971 Datsun 510 Wagon

If you’re looking for a fun project car, lightweight street machine, a good car for teaching your kid to drive, or all of the above…might we suggest considering the classic little shoebox known as the Datsun 510. They are dead simple, look great, are rear wheel drive and easy to maintain & upgrade. Today we’ve found a nice little ’71 wagon wearing its original “Butternut Yellow” paint and is seemingly complete apart from missing its original wheels and some minor details. It looks like a great winter project and should be easy to put back on the road with a couple months of wrenching over weekends. Find it here on ebay in Salt Lake City, Utah with no reserve and bidding below $3k.

This is definitely a project car – there’s a missing taillight, the tires are cracked and dry rotted, and it seems it hasn’t been driven regularly in at least 10 to 15 years by our estimation. But as we said it looks to be nearly complete, which is a big plus for anyone looking to fix up an older car in their spare time. Sure, the parts hunt is fun when necessary, but we’d rather do a bit of wrenching and then drive the thing versus spending all of our time scouring forums and ebay for a piece of stainless trim that fell off the car 35 years ago.

Another bonus is that this little Japanese hauler seems to be free from major accident damage or a repaint, which will drastically reduce the amount of time & money needed to get it presentable. We love the fact that the seller includes clear, close up images of the minor dings, dents and bruises on the car, and a few minor rust spots too (like the rear bumper). These are the kinds of things we may not notice as a prospective buyer looking at overall wide-angle pictures, through the proverbial rose-colored glasses. The little dents and surface rust would be immediately obvious in person however so it’s refreshing that the seller is being up front and saving the new owner from any surprise or disappointment on pick-up. Honestly, we’d just treat the surface rust with phosphoric acid, replace the rear bumper, and wax this baby regularly. The minor imperfections really tell the story of the car’s age and make a “survivor” car honest, rather than looking artificially brand new.

Under the hood the new owner will have plenty of work to do on the little L18 four cylinder engine, a 1.8 liter iron lump that put out 105 hp when new but looks like it has seen better days in this car. The good news is that the L-series Nissan (Datsun) engines are imminently tuneable, and can be made into stout performers with that vintage “rorty” exhaust note. These engines are very similar in concept to the BMC B-Series (as found in the MGB) and Volvo B18/B20 engines (as found in the Amazon, P1800 and 140) with their iron block, 5-main bearing design and non-crossflow heads, meaning the exhaust and intake are on the same side of the engine. But Nissan one-upped the Brits and Swedes with an overhead cam design; placing the camshaft squarely on top of the head reduces valvetrain reciprocating mass a bit and allows theoretically higher revving and less restrictive port geometries than can be massaged out of the more traditional pushrod valvetrain design. A turbo would go a long way towards getting this lump north of 200hp, or an engine swap to an SR20DET would be boring & predictable but highly entertaining and reliable too.

The interior of this “five-dime” looks pretty ratty, and may be mostly original as well. Regardless, it needs a very thorough cleaning and at the least a new carpet and dash cap. We’d recommend against installing any kind of roll cage for the street unless a) no passengers ever ride in the rear, b) you also install racing seats with 5-point harnesses in the front, and c) you wear a helmet while driving the car. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the risk of bashing an unprotected head (yours or a passenger’s) in what might otherwise be a minor collision.

We could see this wagon being built in several ways – full-on track rat with an engine swap, wide alloys and uber-stiff suspension, or it could be a stock “patina” daily driver, or something in between like a mild streetable performance car with the original engine modified to around 150hp or so. Either way – keep the original paint and the minor dents and dings for character, and for the love of Peter Brock please get those hideous ’90s alloy wheels as far away from this car as possible.

For further reading, good online resources for the 510 include Japanese Nostalgic Car and the Ratsun.net forums. For sweet period correct wheels, see the BRE online store here.

Find a more buttery dime? Drop us a line: tips@dailyturismo.com