Nissan's One-Two Knockout Punch -The 510 and 240z.

Many will argue that the Datsun 510 is far from the most important car that Nissan built, and I would agree with them on most points. It's technology was nothing new, it's looks are far from remarkable, and it's performance and handling didn't really break any new ground in the world of auto design. Nissan Glorias, Skylines, and Presidents are all superior to the 510 in some way. The 1968 Nissan Laurel even looked like an oversized 510, with a 1.8 or 2 liter engine.
Early Nissan Presidents

The 510 is, however, probably the most important car that Nissan ever exported. The 510 made Nissan, or Datsun, a name in the US and many other nations. The 510 was a perfect balance of engineering, styling, and cost. The 510's engineering left all who bothered to crawl under the hood, or under the car itself, inspired by its genius, and by its potential. The styling was practical, smooth, and very comparable to European sedans of the era. The cost was impressive. A 4-door sedan sold for just $1996 in the US, that's less than a dollar a pound. The 510 with it's low cost, up to date engineering, and inoffensive styling, made it a big hit with buyers.

Nissan also launched the Laurel on the home market, a sedan meant to bridge the gap between the Bluebird and the Cedric/Gloria models. Production of the Silvia was halted due to a lack of interest. The Skyline sedan, brought over from Prince, got a major restyling and a horsepower upgrade.

Wagon parked at USA Headquarters in Gardena

Nissan sold over 58,000 vehicles in the US in 1968 as a result, Over 90,000 in 69, and 154,000 in 1970... and the numbers kept growing for many years.

1969 saw the continuation of the 1600 and 2000 roadsters, the 510, and the pl520 pick up. It also saw the birth of two cars that would change the future of Nissan; first the Skyline GT-R, a Japanese market only rocket, then the Fairlady Z.

Where the 510 was the poor mans BMW, the 240z was the poor mans Ferrari. It had a fully independent suspension, a 2. 4 liter inline six with dual SU's that delivered 150 horses, and was a truly beautiful car to look at. Nissan USA billed it as a "personalized 2 passenger fastback" whose "sleek low lines are complimented by a roomy luxurious interior". That was a slight understatement. The 240z was loaded with luxury sports car features, far too many to list. It was everything that the long touted GT cars of Europe were, except at a fraction of the price.

1970 was the first true sales year for the Z in the States, and the last year for the 2 roadsters. Datsun had already set up a competition department to satisfy the demands of enthusiasts for aftermarket performance parts for their 510's and roadsters, and a lot of that knowledge was now transferred to the Z's. Datsun supported race teams for all three cars as well, with Brock Racing Enterprises in California and Bob Sharp Racing in Connecticut.

While the 510 was the beachhead of the Japanese Auto invasion, the 240Z was definitely the car that broke through to American buyers. 33,000 z cars were sold in 1971, 52,000 in 72, and 45,000 in 73. Thus began a wave of Japanese auto sales that would cut deep into the American auto industry, cuts that would take nearly 2 decades to recover from. The Z alone sold a million cars in about a decade, something the Corvette took 25 years to do.

Nissan added new technology to its line up in 1970 with the debut of the Cherry front wheel drive compact. The car came in 1 or 1.2 liter versions and was introduced into a number of markets, but again, not the US. The Sunny B110, or 1200 as it was know in the US, also came into being.

The Sunny B110 finally surfed up on US shores in '71 as the Datsun 1200, available in sedan or fastback. It set a fuel efficiency record that initiated the "Datsun Saves" sales campaign a few years later.


Production of both the 510 and 240z continued until 1973, when both were replaced by other models; the 610 and 260Z respectively. the 610 Bluebird had actually been in production in Japan since 1971. The new cars were more about options and accessories than the previous models. The Violet line was also born, with the series using the Bluebird-like 710 designation.

Nissan got a new president in 73 as well, a union loyalist named Tadahiro Iwakoshi. Kawamata was now chairman of the Board, usaully an honorary title, but not this time as Kawamata kept a firm grip on the company he built into a giant. Nissan was second only to Toyota in Japanese car manufacturing, and was fast becoming a world Automobile powerhouse. Based on the success of the 240Z, the 510, and to a lesser extent, the 521 pickup, Road and Track declared that Nissan/Datsun "would establish a market of its own, one which will force other makers to come up with entirely new models to gain a share of it". Just look at the early 70's American cars and trucks, and you'll see that they were right. The Pinto, Vega, GM's Opel, Fords Cortina, the Gremlin and Pacer, Dodge Colt series(Mitsubishi), imported Ford Courier(Mazda)and Chevy LUV(Isuzu)trucks, and a whole list of other disposable "domestics" were the American industry's poorly thought out "band-aid" attempts to compete with the Japanese.

Award winning customized 521 Pickup 2001 North Van Show

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