Bringing Neglected 510s Back To Life

General Discussion about the Datsun PL510
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Bringing Neglected 510s Back To Life

Post by okayfine » 05 Oct 2014 17:03

Let’s say you have this 510. It maybe needs a little work. In fact, it’s been sitting in a field/under a tree/in a barn for the last 10 or 20 years. You know it needs work, but it’s mostly there and…nevermind, it’s sitting in your garage now, and you want to bring it back to life! How do you go about it?

There are many methods, and it definitely depends on what your car, in specific, needs. What your car needs will in large part have been dictated by the conditions of its storage – barn cars tend to survive much better than field cars. We’ll run through some basic steps below, so you can pick and choose what to do for your specific car. The number of stories of long-term non-op 510s starting with just a fresh battery and some fresh gasoline are too numerous to mention…but it’s not always quite as easy as that.

Before you leave the seller’s presence, make sure you ask why the car ended up in the field/under the tree/in the barn. The seller’s recollection may well have faded due to the passage of time, but any tips you can get can help with process of getting your new car back on the road.

Clean It Up

The first step of cleaning up your new 510 will make the following steps easier. Cleaning your car will also allow you a more detailed inspection of the car than you might have made before your purchase. Your findings may add to, or subtract from, the “Before Start” list.

Start with a thorough washing of the exterior, engine bay, and underside of the car. Pressure washers can be very useful, especially in the engine bay and underneath. While you’re cleaning, keep an eye out for rust. Most 510s that have sat outside have rust to varying degrees, and this can impact the financial viability of your particular car.

Follow this up with an interior scrub. I’d recommend pulling the carpets, seats, and door panels while you’re at it. You don’t know what’s been living in your car, be it rats or mold, and you’ll want to deal with it now. Carpets in solid condition can be folded up and put in a washing machine, or you can make busy with a scrub brush and soapy water. Seat and door panel vinyl should also readily clean up with the same brush and soapy water. Avoid soaking the door panel particle board or the seat foam.

With the interior stripped, it’s time for another inspection for rust or, perhaps, past rust repairs. Judge the rust (see below) and/or evaluate the repaired panels. Examine areas you wouldn’t have had access to with the interior installed.

Inventory Parts

With the car clean, the next step is to inventory the parts that came with your car. Generally speaking, cars that have sat for any length of time have missing parts. Sometimes they’re sold off, other times they’re removed to keep another car going. Whatever the cause, you’re going to need to replace them, and to do that you’re going to need to know what you’re missing.

Obvious missing parts will be easy to add to the list, but if you’re new to 510s, you may now know all the parts the car would have originally come with. You can use the various factory brochures (available at The 510 Archives, and other sources on the Internet) and some of the more stock-based restorations documented in the Projects and Featured Projects forums on The 510 Realm. The Datsun 510 Buyer’s Guide also has details on what sorts of things changed between years.

If in doubt, ask. Not only did trim and parts vary over the years of 510 production, but any or all previous owners of your car may have swapped on parts from differing years…or differing models of Datsuns. For any questions about specific parts, it is best to include wide-angle and zoomed/detail shots of the part(s) in question.

As your list of missing parts grows, you’re going to need to begin sourcing replacements. Some mechanical parts are still available through the Nissan dealer, places like, or your local auto parts store. As the 510 nears its 50th birthday, however, some parts are becoming hard to find or are now straight-up unavailable new.

Body panels are typically either used parts from swap meets or online classifieds or new fiberglass or steel parts from FutoFab.

Interior and trim parts are almost always going to be used, or NOS parts offered up on eBay or The 510 Realm classifieds.


It is likely your new-to-you 510 has rust, especially if it has sat outside for any length of time. Rust is the 510’s worst enemy. Read up on the rust trouble spots specific to 510s in The Dime, Quarterly Issue 5.3. Compare those trouble spots with your car and see how it compares. Don’t stop there, however! If you can see rust on the exterior panels, chances are the rust has crept into the interior construction as well. This is especially true at places like the rear rockers where Datsun saw fit to sandwich three or four layers of sheetmetal together.

Not all rust needs to be repaired if you don’t have a show car in mind as the finished product. Any rust that compromises safety, however, will need to be repaired before you get too much further along in your project. Rust that may compromise safety includes any rust in the floorboards, suspension mounting points, firewall (think about the pressure exerted on the brake pedal), engine mounting, battery mounting, etc. If the bottom edge of your driver’s door has rusted through, that’s a minor safety issue. If the rear suspension crossmember mounting point to the chassis is rusty, that’s a major problem.

Rubber Parts

Rubber parts exposed to weather (especially UV, such as sitting in a field) break down fairly quickly. Rubber parts that have sat for years without use also break down, so barn-find cars will still need much of the rubber parts replaced. Weatherstriping, suspension bushings, and brake lines and all fluid hoses, among other parts, should be evaluated and replaced as necessary.

Electrical System

The 510’s electrical system is pretty simple and, left alone, very reliable. The electrical system of cheap, used 510s are rarely left alone, however. Combine that with an abandoned car that might have been home to hungry mice or rats and you could well have a literal rats nest of a 510 electrical system.

Again, inspection will be key. Generally the engine bay wiring loom is most likely to be hacked by humans or varmints, followed by the under-dash wiring loom. If you see lots of splices or lots of non-factory wiring (all red wire to the coil, voltage regulator, or ignition switch?), you may have stumbled on the cause of your new car having been put to pasture.

The condition of the wiring will dictate how far your initial evaluation needs to go. If you have a stock car with an original harness in good shape, you may just need to clean up all the connectors (wire brush or emery board, not sandpaper which is aluminum oxide – an insulator). Corrosion on connectors will increase resistance, reducing power flowing through that connection; in many cases the resulting lack of power won’t enable that circuit to function (think starter, primarily).

The fuse box should be disconnected from the wiring and the chassis, then submerged in vinegar for 5-10 minutes depending on the corrosion evident. After that time, rinse thoroughly with water, then dry completely before reinstalling. The vinegar will be able to clean out corrosion in the rivets that connect the terminals in the fuse box, as well as shine up the copper fuse contacts. New fuses should be installed; the old fuses may look good, but may still be faulty due to the end caps corroding internally.

If your wiring harness is not in good shape and has been chewed by rats or chopped by humans, you’re going to have to make friends with a good wiring diagram and a multimeter. Check the system over to verify the circuits operate as the wiring diagram indicates. Start this huge project by focusing on the circuits that have been damaged. You can skip those circuits that look intact, but remember this down the road if you have running problems.

If you’re new to things electrical, be sure to check out The Dime, Quarterly issues 5.3 and 6.1, the Troubleshooting Electrical Systems overviews.

With a solid electrical system and clean, corrosion-free connections, all that remains is a new, charged battery. Unless the battery that came with the car has the appearances of being new, you may well save yourself some headache simply by replacing it with a fresh one.

Fuel System

Gas from 30 years ago, if stored properly, will likely be fine today. Gas from two years ago, even if stored in a sealed container, will probably not make an engine run. That doesn’t mean it is not still flammable, so be safe in dealing with it.

To start this project, drain the gas tank of whatever is inside it and dispose of it properly. As with the Rubber Parts section above, any rubber fuel hoses will need to be replaced. A new fuel filter should be installed. The fuel tank should be removed and inspected; the easiest way to inspect it is to remove the fuel sender and look inside through the hole (flashlight, not lighter). See good bare metal? Congratulations, you lucked out. See white or greenish powder residue (bad gas), or silty rust coating the bottom (corrosion)? Time to get that tank tanked.

While you have the fuel system apart and drained, verify the hard steel lines under the car are free of blockages. Use an air compressor and blow through the lines to verify flow. If your fuel tank had rust, it is likely these hard lines will also have rust. If you can’t get them to flow properly, it’s time to make up some new ones. Remove your clogged lines and use them as templates to bend up new steel lines.

Brake System

If the brake master cylinder still has fluid in it, examine the fluid reservoir to determine the fluid’s condition. Fluid in the reservoir may mean that the entire brake system has fluid throughout and some of the parts are salvageable or rebuildable. The brake system is one of the most important systems on the car, however, so most of these parts will need to at least be pulled and inspected, if not outright replaced by new parts.

Rear drum brake parts are still fairly available, and rear wheel cylinders will probably need to be replaced. Front stock disc brake parts are quickly becoming unavailable. Again, inspection of what you have, including disassembly and cleaning of your front calipers, for instance, will tell you what you absolutely need to fix. If you can save your front caliper pistons and can source a front caliper seal kit, that may be all you need to repair it.

Engine, Clutch, and Transmission

The L-series engine is very robust and many have sat for long periods of time between starts. If the engine in your car looks unloved, it may well still fire off given fresh gas, a good battery, and the right electrical impulses. However, it would be wise to take some precautions before First Start, unless you are absolutely sure of the engine’s history.

What’s more, if the engine in your car has come to you with any open ports or holes, you might want to consider a more thorough inspection and tear down. You don’t know what’s gotten into those openings over the years (moisture, mice, nuts and bolts). At the very least pull the valve cover for a quick idea about the overall maintenance of the engine. Lots of gloppy black oil or deposits does not equal good news.

Remove the spark plugs and chuck them in the trash. Spray a healthy shot of PB Blaster (others suggest automatic transmission fluid) into each combustion chamber. Let the lubricant sit for a day or two. After the lubricant has sat in the cylinders, put a 27mm socket on the crank pulley bolt and slowly turn the engine over. Does the engine turn over a full 360° without any interference? Congratulations, you may have a runner!

If the engine doesn’t turn through a full 360° freely, you may have rust along the cylinder walls, or you may have an issue with the timing chain (and so have a valve hitting a piston). It gets more complicated from here. The soaking lubricant should have helped ease up any rust issues, but you’ll need to verify TDC and perhaps even pull out cylinder head rockers to eliminate valve timing as an issue.

With an engine that turns freely, the first thing you will want to do is change the oil and filter. Replace the spark plugs. Inspect the spark plug wires and replace if necessary, along with the distributor points, condenser (if an original distributor), cap, and rotor. Inspect the carb and replace if necessary or rebuild if able. Spin the water pump by hand to ensure smooth operation, replace if necessary. Change all the cooling system hoses and ensure your radiator is clean and sealed.

Before going for engine start prime the engine oil circuit. There are a few ways to do this, but the best way to prime the oil circuit is to remove the distributor, drop the oil pump, remove the distributor drive shaft, and reinstall the oil pump. Take a long, flat-head screwdriver and cut off the handle, then chuck it up in your drill. Set the drill to reverse, and slide the flat-head tip down into the oil pump. Rotate the drill by hand to verify you have engaged the slot. Then spin the drill in reverse until you see or hear oil coming out of the cam. Reinstall the bits you removed, verify your timing remains correct, and get ready for engine startup!

The clutch, provided it was in good condition at last use and hasn’t been exposed to the elements, should remain in good condition after sitting for any extended period of time. If the transmission is in neutral and you can spin the engine by the crank bolt, as above, that is a good sign. If the transmission is definitely in neutral and turning the crank bolt turns the driveshaft, you have problems here. As long as the engine turns without the transmission turning, see what happens after you get the engine started.

The transmission could use some new transmission oil, but should otherwise have survived dormancy just fine. The differential could also use some new oil, and should also have survived just fine.

Engine Start

While not the last step to a running, driving car, engine start is a huge leap in your resurrection of your new 510. Keep a fire extinguisher at hand during these first few starts, but go for engine start and let us know what happens!
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson

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Re: Bringing Neglected 510s Back To Life

Post by Pista_510 » 12 Oct 2014 21:31

Nice article Julian - as usual, appreciate you taking the time to document all these thoughts and insights - your passion is remarkable!

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Re: Bringing Neglected 510s Back To Life

Post by okayfine » 13 Oct 2014 06:39

Thank you.

Any comments, suggestions, additions, subtractions, let me know.
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson

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Boy Blunder
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Re: Bringing Neglected 510s Back To Life

Post by Boy Blunder » 14 Oct 2014 17:42

A good post. If the Parts car doesnt sell I still would like to do this... Make a "ratsun" to beat on while not racing the "garage queen"

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