The first Datsun I had any experience with was the '74 B210 that my Mom drove home one day in 1977. She'd bought it from a Vancouver Area dealer who is still in business and shall remain nameless. The engine blew the same day or the day after. The dealer forgot to put all the oil back in the engine after a pre-delivery oil change, so my mom took the car back and they put a factory rebuilt engine in it. After that it ran like a clock. My Mom and I drove everywhere in that Vermilion hatchback, long trips across the land, to the beach, to visit relatives. We did so much driving that my Mom actually wore out a clutch. She re and re'd it in the gravel driveway of our Surrey home.
The second Datsun I was aware of was the Datsun 510 of my father's future wife. It was an early seventies model, off-white, with a black racing stripe. This was the first car I'd ever seen with a racing stripe. That car was wrecked shortly after, but I guess the image stuck with me.
Around my 16th birthday in 1986, I was given a '73 Toyota Corolla. It was lemon yellow for good reason; it liked to change lanes all by itself. I was then given a Datsun 620 truck as a replacement, spraybombed forest green over red, which I never actually got to drive(no license).
And then, at 18, I bought my first car.
When searching for a new car, I had lots of negative experiences to draw from. All my friends drove Chevy's, and that was enough for me not to. 6 miles to the gallon and endless new engines made me long for a nice reliable gas-efficient import, like a B210 or 510. So I went looking for 510's, as b210's were scarce by then.
I found one on a car lot of dubious distinction on Kingsway in Vancouver. I fell for every sales con in the book. "Someone else is interested so you'd better buy it fast" "don't worry about fixing that , it'll be fine". It was a red '72 510 2 door, lowered, tinted windows, Cragar D slot mags, and a big black racing stripe from front to back. I drove it home, constantly dropping the shortened shift knob on the floor, wincing at the incredible exhaust noise the car made.
I got it in the carport, put a light in the engine bay, and read "nice fire damage" written in the soot on the underside of the hood. The flat black painted engine compartment was actually just the stock red one that was badly charred. I soon discovered the brakes were gone, and the lowering job had been done with a hacksaw to the coil springs. Even with these "problems" the car ran like a clock.
I kept that '72 for a few years, driving it fearlessly on regular journeys of several hundred miles, never contemplating that a car that I had no idea how to maintain might break down on me on some mountain pass. I had rebuilt the brakes, sort of. They pulled pretty hard to the left, but that was better than the rivets that were running on the rotors when I bought it.
I loved that car. It was so cool, not because it was fast or anything, but because everyone looked when it drove by... or covered their ears to drown out the Thrush Muffler. I learned the entire history of that car just by driving around Vancouver. Previous owners would stop me and ask me where I'd bought it, how it ran, and what plans I had for it. I would find out later that this is a very common experience for other Datsun owners.
I sold it in 91 or 92 to a guy who's son worked at the local Datsun custom shop, and as best as I can figure, it is now a race car. Thus ended my initial Datsun experience.
I went around driving a nice mundane reliable Toyota over the next few years, but my mind kept drifting back to the exhaust roar and squealing tires of that head turning 510. I soon found another one, 68 4 door number 2015, which I still own.
My Datsun experience echoes the stories of a lot of enthusiasts I have talked to. The Datsun community now exists on at least 4 continents, with large clubs in places like Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, and the US. Internet clubs alone boast thousands of members. Members themselves rarely own just one car, many own several, some I've met own a dozen or more.
So what's the big deal with Datsuns?
I've had many a discussion on just this subject and this is the best I can come up with. Datsuns are the ultimate underdogs. They're the Rodney Dangerfield of cars; no matter what they do, they get no respect. They're reliable, durable, well designed, and fun... everything you want in a car, but they get no real praise for it.
Datsun's seemingly have no history, no real race victories, and no claim to fame in the auto world. Even worse, they're a Japanese brand. Go buy a book on import cars, there's a 50/50 chance that Japanese cars won't even be in it, or just as likely, that they'll be relegated to some infinitesimal chapter at the back of the book. To my knowledge, there is only one fairly comprehensive book on the history of Japanese cars, and it's been out of print for 15 years.
Datsuns and Nissan's may get no respect, but they do deserve it. Datsun/Nissan has a history, one that goes back over 90 years. Datsuns and Nissans have plenty of racing victories, and not just in SCCA racing. Nissans have won at Le Mans, at The Safari Rally, at Daytona. Datsuns and Nissans commercially have many claims to fame, including a company president in the American Automobile Hall of Fame, the distinction of knocking the Volkswagen beetle off the top of US import sales, and having the best selling sports car of all time.
So that's why I spent endless hours at innumerable libraries and bookstores, finding all the stories that no one really remembers, that got no real press in the first place. I've done this in an effort give "the little cars that could" a little of the bragging rights they deserve.