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Datsun B210

2436546050_13e0ef7046_bWhen I think about the Datsun B210, I like to think that, sometime before its introduction in 1973, various Nissan engineers were sitting there, staring at an unwieldy wedge-shaped piece of clay, and said to themselves, "Y'know, we could do that ... but we're going to need to paint it avocado green, burnt orange, turquoise, or pale white. Oh, and put on honeycomb hubcaps. It's the only way it'll come together." Then, they invited the marketing people out for drinks.

Unbeknownst to the marketing department, however, when the engineers were buying themselves drinks, they were just asking the bartender for glasses of water that only looked like sake. Once the marketing department was good and drunk, well, pictures were taken, and blackmail ws performed. The result was the fine piece of automotive history gracing our pages today, the Datsun B210. In an attempt to clear its inventory of this misbegotten son of drunken debauchery and engineering hubris, Nissan proceeded to grant it cut-rate pricing, with the seemingly vain and misguided hope that somebody somewhere might actually buy the danged thing.

Of course, as we all know, a funny thing happened on the way to production. I am, of course, referring to the 1973 Oil Crisis, which suddenly made previously irrelevant little cars like the B210 into sudden cult sensations. Since the oil crisis hit the exact same year Datsun introduced the B210, one could say that the outlook for this odd little car was surprisingly... Sunny. Yes, groan if you wish--in Japan, the Datsun B210 was sold as the Nissan Sunny.

324665515_bfb6ec6e0d_o In all seriousness, the B210 was the right car at the right time. Sold at about the same price, when adjusting for inflation, as the present-day Nissan Versa, and featuring a (laughably optimistic) EPA fuel rating of nearly 50 mpg, the B210 was the perfect car for those desperately seeking to escape their petrol-devouring automotive overlords. Consequently, sales were quite brisk.

This encouraged Nissan to perform what would eventually become a rather regular habit--only a year later, Nissan updated the engine range, ditching the A13 four-cylinder for various trims of Nissan's A14 engine. Depending on which carburetor Nissan felt like throwing in, the A14 produced anywhere from 50 to 85 horsepower.

The idea of a Datsun B210 and its 2,000-pound curb weight mated to an 85-horsepower engine leaves me strangely excited. To put that power into perspective, that engine/weight combination gave the B210 a power-to-weight ratio of 1 horsepower per 23.5 pounds, which was only slightly worse than the power-to-weight ratio of a V-6 powered Mustang II (1:22.1). Like the Mustang II, the B210 was rear wheel drive, which undoubtedly made it an absolute blast to drive in inclement weather. But unlike the Mustang II, even the hottest 85-horsepower B210 could exceed 25 mpg on the highway. If you ask me, the B210 even looked better than the Mustang II.

Of course, Nissan wasn't the only company releasing small cars into the American market during this pivotal time. Around this time, Honda released the Civic, a humble little hatchback that deserves a Car Lust of its own. Toyota brought the Corolla and the Starling, both of which helped establish Toyota's well-deserved reputation for reliability. 

By 1978, the improved level of competition forced Nissan to retire the odd-looking little car. Unfortunately, instead of retiring the B210 and replacing it with a car that could compete on equal terms with the Civic and Corolla, Nissan simply replaced the outer shell with a more contemporary-looking one and called the new car a Datsun 210. Perhaps that's why, decades later, Toyota is now the biggest automaker in the world while Nissan reached the brink of insolvency before partnering with Renault.

The Datsuns pictured above are courtesy of cjacobs53 and brianthompsondesign.  

-- David Colborne


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Ugliest car ever. Which is not to say I dislike it. In fact, its ugliness is so pronounced that it verges on cuteness. But it is empirically ugly.

This car follows the typical Japanese design style of character lines going everywhere and nowhere at the same time, a body repairman's nightmare. Toyota pickup trucks have followed suit with every generation. Just follow a line and watch it fade into oblivion.

But these cars were well built. I remember when they were new... not a squeak or rattle to be found. I dated a girl that had one, and changing the radio was an exercise in frustration. These cars, like most Asian cars, were meant to be put together once and not ever taken apart or, Heaven forbid, repainted.

Despite the styling, these cars (And certainly the Civic and Corolla) are why the imports gained their foothold into America's market. A sense of vault-like solidity, high quality of assembly, good fuel mileage, and a low price. Why can't we build one?

I remember seeing them in bright screaming yellow, with black cartoon honeybee logos and striping complimenting the hexagonal hubcaps. The "Bee"-210, as it were.

With the hot version of the A-14 engine, the horsepower-to-weight ratio is getting into CRX territory--no threat to the gassers at the local dragstrip, but zippy enough for fun on the backroads. Bet it handled nicely, too.

Yep, these were ugly (especially the liftback as viewed from the rear) and gutless. And those honeycomb wheel covers were ALWAYS getting dented and scratched because of their domed-up bowl shape.

But these cars sold like wildfire in the late seventies and were literally all over the place.

Looking at the liftback now, I can see how the shape, with its too-high rear, might actually be very aerodynamic. Has anyone made a super-high MPG car out of a B210 liftback? Doesn't look like it would be too difficult to do.

I think there are a couple of the sedan versions (second photo) close by where I live. I drive by one every time I go to the Local Upscale Outdoor Shopping Mall. I rather like the styling of those. Never did take to the top one, although it seems like one of those designs you can just stare at for hours and never know quite what to think about it.

I actually think the design was stolen from some Cub Scout's Pinewood Derby car.

We had a 1st Gen Honda Civic hatchback in blinding orange in 1976-1979. I remember as a child seeing my dad lift the rear end off the ground. By himself. Thankfully the bumper held!

--Big Chris

Actually, the original "Pregnant roller skate" was on my list of posts. Last one I think I saw was owned by a fellow grad student, and he still was putting around in it in the late 1980s. My views on that kind of embody the Gandhi bit about "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Omigod ... this was my FIRST car, purchased used for $800 in the summer of 1977, when I was a junior in high school. A blue four-door with a manual transmission. I added an aftermarket wooden Datsun shifter knob. Strangely, I don't remember much about the car, other than it was slow and I hated it. The instrument cluster had a bunch of idiot lights, so sometimes at night when I was driving home from my job flipping burgers I'd pretend I was flying an X-wing. To be fair, it never broke down on me, though we did have to replace the anti-dieseling solenoid, and it got great gas mileage. The next summer I traded it in on a 1966 Mustang 2+2 I found on a used-car lot for $900, and that's when my automotive life really began. :-)

Sorry to drop a down fall on this little car, but this is model of car that my wife had lost her life in. Even though this was in 1986, this car was the year and make. It was a death trap for her! There was only 1' of the floor board holding the car together! sorry but ever time i see this type of car i still to this day think of her.

The Datsun B210 "Sunny" became the B310 "Sunny" during the time Datsun was changing its name to Nissan in America. The next generation, in 1983, was called the Sentra (Also "Sunny").

I was fortunate to work at the Nissan plant during construction and start-up; we eventually built the Sentra in 1984. From "60 Minutes" to the Challenger disaster, it was a rush. Maybe a post is in order?

Well, yes I've had first hand experience with one of these. I had a girl friend who owned one. It was in the northeast and it was rotting out in the extreme. I remember suggesting she get a new car when I noticed the exhaust fumes would pour into the car when it was in motion. There was really not much to recommend it, the car was crude by all standards and not a lot of fun to drive. But that said, aside from an eagerness to rust out, there was nothing terrible about the B210 either. The car in question was pure white - except for the rust.

I have to say this never held my interest the way the 510 did. The 510 did a lot of things very right. The 210 was just a little awkward at just about everything.

haha i love how that car looks! It's very different, that is a crazy wedge it goes great in that color! I would like to see that Bee- 210 haha. and I love how the first one is next to a Honda Element.

To say that it looks better than a Mustang II.... is not to say much at all. :)

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


I LOVED my datsun B210. I got it as a junior in college, 1988. It was fun to drive, sporty. I took road trips with my girlfriends all up and down the east coast from NJ to FL. I glued dinosaurs to the dashboard and it became the dino mobile. I have to say that my car saved my life. It came to a terrible but valient end. I rolled it a 450 ft. down a cliff on highway 1 in California. My seatbelt held me tight. The roof dented ever so slightly. At the bottom of the cliff I landed upside down. Battery acid leaked through the hood and I climbed out of the driver side window. I walked away from that crash with a scrape on my left shoulder and a bad case of poison oak from climbing up the cliff. I loved that car and wish I still owned it. I crashed it in 1991. RIP Dino Mobile.

We had a 78 B210 in 1982. I remember thinking it looked much sportier than our 73 Corolla because of the fastback roof line. Sadly it was less. It had cool ash trays in the back seat that would rotate out of the side panels...but no arm rest, spent all the $ on the ash trays apparently.
It had constant ignition problems and the throttle would stick at inopportune moments. But it did last a few years and held a bunch of stuff in it's bulbous rear end. And did get excellent gas mileage.
Had a "5-Speed" logo on the back. I wrongly assumed my parents had bought the sport model. But it's in Italics! Do Italics not indicate "sport"? Not on this car.
Also the first car they owned with a "4 Speaker Stereo System" which even had cool LEDs on the (aftermarket) radio which would indicate to you that you have turned it up to eleven.

My B210 was also my first car and I loved it. At the time I was putting myself through college and delivering pizza. One day I was delivering a pie to a rural address and it spunout on me on a dirt road into a ditch. Tough little car, two guys helped me push it out and it kept on going. It was previously owned by a Datsun mechanic, who dropped in an A15 with dual Mikunis and a mild cam. It went like hell but handling was a crazy affair - the engine easily overwhelmed the leaf-spring suspension. The rest of the car was brown which did a good job of covering up the rust spots. Finally, the drivers-side window failed and was replaced by a piece of plexiglass which kept popping out. Since I lived in Florida, I kept a rain-jacket in the passengers seat to keep dry on delivery runs. Good times, good times...

//Has anyone made a super-high MPG car out of a B210 liftback? Doesn't look like it would be too difficult to do.//

Yes, actually:

My school's vehicle research institute built one...unfortunately, no pics or other stats other than the general knowledge that it got insane MPG on propane, though.

I had a 1980 210...the boxier, less visually-offensive sequel. Got it for free, and did, out of necessity, the following work:

clutch, brakes pads / shoes / rotors, fuel pump, aftermarket stereo, bondo'd rust holes, painted, new radiator, new fuel and coolant hoses, removed all semblance of vacuum lines for smog purposes, and probably way more.

I couldn't have asked for a better medium to learn to work on cars with. Simple, tons of engine bay room, and by this time, lots of stuff that needs to be fixed. However, the 78 hp mine was rated for seemed, shall we say, optimistic.

Wally just went over your B210, and she's gonna need: plugs, points, bearings, valves, rings, pistons, starter switch, wiper switch, ignition switch, ignition wires, fuel pump, water pump, oil pump, clutch, clutch bearings, clutch plate, brake linings, brake shoes, brake pads, brake fluid, radiator, radiator hose, radiator hose couplings, radiator fluid. And it could stand a good wash.

A good friend drove the hell out of one of these while we were in school together. He used to draft behind semi's to get even better mileage. He often drank to excess, and then I would become its designated driver. Once, as I reached behind to grab the shoulder harness, he slammed the rear door on my fingers. To this day, whenever anyone mentions a B210 . . . my fingertips tingle.

By the way, Toyota introduced the StarLET (not Starling), an incredibly efficient little piece of tin with wheels, of which I have many more fond memories than that B210.

We had these in Australia as well, but the were known as the Datsun 120Y. Which soon became known as the "120 Why?". We got the two-door liftback and a four door sedan. To the detriment of us all, they ware so damned reliable they hung around well into the 1990s. Thankfully they are disappearing now.

I have a 1980 Datsun 210 hatchback that was given to me by a family member (father-in-law). I have every piece of document you would want to have in an old car that goes with this one including the check where it was purchased. It has 67,000 miles and I put 40,000 on it myself in the last five years just riding around town. I am interested in restoring the car back to its original purchase look before my father-in-law gets any older. He is in his 80's. I need information on parts and any input you nice people have that may help me suprise my father-in-law. This would really make him extremely happy. Thanks A Million Calvin Sturgis

Calvin: You might try the Nissan USA Corporate Headquarters located in Franklin, Tennessee, to see if they can steer you. Good Luck!

Ah, the old Atomic Cockroach. I remember these running around when I was a kid.

One thing I remember about these cars was that they weren't the rabbit holes that Hondas and Toyotas were. People who got their first taste of Japanese cars at Datsun dealers were often ready and willing to give the next American car that received optimistic reviews a chance. Even today Nissan is luckier to be grouped with the good Japanese cars than they are to be associated with Nissan. The only non-European cars on Consumer Reports list of cars least likely to last 200,000 miles are Nissan products. All 10 of the cars considered most likely to last 200,000 miles are Honda and Toyota products:

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