The "Poor Man's BMW" Was An Unrivaled American Hit
Everyone loves the Datsun 510—it’s just one of those rare cars that hits all the right buttons for every type of enthusiast, regardless of whatever particular niche of cardom they’ve settled in. A friend of mine had a ’72 wagon that garnered so much praise from pedestrians and traffic it was embarrassing—gas stations became venues for impromptu interviews from grandmothers in minivans and high school kids in Civics with chopped springs. Everyone wanted to know what it was, how it drove, or what kind of engine he had in it (a built Mazda rotary). Though shamelessly based on contemporary European designs, the little Bluebird somehow carries a friendlier demeanor than those that inspired it—rightfully or not, it must be the badge.
Known as the fourth-generation Nissan Bluebird in its home market, the 510 was super sophisticated for a Japanese car of the day, and was among the first with both a SOHC motor and four-wheel independent suspension (wagons still made do with a more traditional solid rear axle). American-market cars came with 1.6 liter versions of the L-series four used across the range, and claimed 96 HP right out of the box. The 510 was as powerful as many sports cars of the day, and weighing no more than a ton for most versions, it’s no surprise how quickly it became known as a “poor man’s BMW”.