Sunday, May 10, 2020

Danville Street Sighting - 1974 Datsun 610 Coupe

As long as we're looking at a string of 1970s cars, how about the '74 Datsun that was parked behind the '74 Ford Pinto Squire from my last feature? I haven't posted too many older Japanese vehicles and this one has been frustratingly elusive. I had seen it here and there around town for over a decade and this was only the second time I had the chance to get photos.

The Datsun 610 was a new model for 1973 in America. The rest of the world knew it as the Nissan Bluebird-U, or 180B. The 610 was supposed to replace the venerated 510, while also serving as Datsun's luxury offering in the US at the time. Datsun was known as an economy car brand, so a compact car with a personal luxury bent seemed like a good idea at a time when OPEC's fuel crisis and government emissions regulations prompted buyers to look to foreign car brands with smaller models. The 610 featured the brand's first fling with "Coke bottle" styling so fashionable during the era. Mysteriously, Datsun would soon introduce another car called the 710, which looked similar to the 610, and despite the larger number it was marginally smaller, less luxurious and less powerful. I'm sure it caused some degree of initial confusion with buyers.

The US-market 610 hardtop coupe seen here was offered with a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine making 97 horsepower. California of course had the most stringent pollution laws and required a special version of the car, equipped with a catalytic converter and designed to use unleaded fuel. California-spec 610s made 94 net horsepower. This was the "big" engine, too, as the '73 came with a 1.8 liter. Transmission choices for 1974 were a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.

Datsun really pushed the luxury aspect of these cars. The brochure straight up called it the Luxury Datsun. I find it interesting that Paul Niedermeyer of Curbside Classic described the 610 as "the first Infiniti". It is somewhat easy to think of this as a 1970s Infiniti G35 coupe, or the first 'G20' as it were. Buying a 610 got you such small-car luxury items as tinted glass, a clock, faux wood dash trim, reclining bucket seats upholstered in "glove-like vinyl" and full carpeting, things that "bring to mind the era of mahogany and red velvet". Yes, that's actual language from the brochure. And air conditioning was still an option, not standard.
I will say that the interior of this car is in fantastic condition from what I can see, though I don't think those seats are original. The style looks different from stock unless I'm mistaken. Datsun was very sneaky in giving the car a brown plastic steering wheel to evoke the woodgrain wheel rims of yesteryear.

I've never actually seen this car in a stock state. The first time I saw it was before I started publishing this blog, when it was in the parking lot of a local business. The body was more stock then, with the rub strips and original factory mirrors. It was sitting on Datsun 280ZX wheels and wore "Datsun 1800" badging. Note that the rub strips, rubber bumper trim and body pinstriping have since been removed, fender mirrors added, the taillight bezel painted black and the quarter panel badges changed to international "Datsun 180B" emblems. The 280ZX wheels have been replaced by custom Panasport/Konig Rewind/Minilite wheels, sometimes affectionately known as "Panofsorts" due to the many brands that produce the design. It looks like it's had some ... body work done on the right rear over the past decade. A custom exhaust with larger tailpipe exits on the left side.

As seen in 2008.
It clearly looks like someone's toy that's been tinkered with and built up to be more fun. These cars have independent suspension all around and are designed to be lightweight, nimble handlers even if they aren't especially quick. Fortunately it's smog-exempt now, so the owner can soup it up as much as they like. I might not have done the build the same way myself, but tell me. When did you last see one of these? It's becoming an increasingly rare bird in a world where the 510s and Z cars are recognized as classics and sports cars in their own right. The 610, particularly the hardtop coupe, is a tidy little car with a lot of potential.

Photographed August 2019

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