Datsun 510 Buyer's Guide 1968-1973

General Discussion about the Datsun PL510
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Datsun 510 Buyer's Guide 1968-1973

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:45

Datsun 510 Buyer’s Guide and 510 Basics
510 Production Run and Model Overview
Major Subsystems and Bodywork
Engine, Transmission, Differential
Electrical
Suspension and Brakes
Interior
Approaching A Potential Purchase
Driving A 510
Maintaining A 510
Upgrading Your 510
510 Information
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For those familiar with the Datsun 510 through past or current ownership, adding another car to the stable isn’t a difficult proposition. Not only are the cars still relatively cheap and available, the trouble spots are known, so it’s hard to get taken in by a car that’s overpriced, or needs more work than even the seller may be aware.

However, over the last year or two The 510 Realm and other 510-enthusiast sites have seen a large influx of new and potential owners – but not only new-to-510 owners, new-to-vintage-car owners. This new blood is crucial to the continued vibrancy of the 510 as an enthusiast’s choice, but how do people new to the 510 (or vintage cars) judge a potential purchase? I hope this expanded buying guide will help spread the wisdom of experienced 510 owners, allowing new 510 buyers to be aware of the 510 trouble spots and select the proper cars. In exchange, the 510 community will gain new owners who will hopefully provide knowledge and support as the years go on. And owners who will drive the wheels off their new cars!

This post will be an update of the original “Buying A 510” thread and include links to The Dime, Quarterly articles and other information at The 510 Archives and The 510 Realm as appropriate.

Datsun 510 History

To begin, take a few minutes to read over the history of the Bluebird model line, of which the 510 was a large part. Merlin Blackwell’s labor of love, Datsun History, encompasses the history of Datsun and Nissan including looks at all the vintage vehicles that led up to the 510, and many that came after:

Datsun History/Bluebirds

RadDat.com, Eddie Ratley’s UK Datsun site, provides another view of Datsun history and information:

RatDat

Datsun 510 Basics

The 510 as the United States and Canada know it was sold from 1968 through 1973 model years. This guide will focus on these cars. The USA, Canada, and Mexico were part of the North American domestic market for these cars, however Mexican cars were built with live-axle rears in all cars and didn’t come with the L-series engine, among other differences. While US and Canada (US/C) cars have crossed the border fairly frequently, it’s rare to see a Mexican-market 510 outside of Mexico. Private imports from Japan have been done over the years, but the available pool of cars numbers fewer than 60 and the differences between JDM and USDM cars would require another article on its own. Looking for information on Bluebird Coupes?

For most of the production run, the 510 was available in two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and wagon body shells. There were small variances at the beginning and end of the run. The two-door sedan was the last variant offered for sale, in late-’68, and only two-door cars were made for MY73 as Datsun was ramping down 510 production in Japan.

As an aside, don’t be alarmed by a car’s title indicating a model year that doesn’t correspond to the car’s actual year as determined by trim, VIN, etc. Back in the day, cars were often titled with the year they were sold, whereas today they’re only titled as the model year in which they were built. This has occasionally resulted in a MY69 510 being titled as a 1970 model. This changes nothing about the car and has no meaningful impact. If you come across a MY72 titled as a MY69, however, you might want to investigate VINs further.

Also, “numbers matching” is not a concept that applies to the 510, especially as originality hasn’t traditionally been a selling point of 510s for sale. The VIN provides little information regarding the original build, and the only information it will decode for US/C cars is whether it is a sedan (PL) or a wagon (WPL). The numbers afterwards can indicate build order, but VINs aren’t sequential through all years in all markets.
Last edited by okayfine on 14 Oct 2013 15:34, edited 5 times in total.
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510 Production Run and Model Overview

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:45

There were no big changes to US/C 510s during the production run, and as such no individual year is dramatically different, more valuable, or universally more sought after. Generally the model year was produced from July of the previous year through June of the year indicated. For example, a MY69 has a build date between 7/68 and 6/69. You’ll see these general production-year breakdowns if you view the dealer parts catalog.

There are also no firm production numbers. The only known documentation from Datsun shows a total production of 1,400,000 cars, but that consisted only of Japan production (of which the US/C cars were only part).

Production Letter

All cars came with:
• Front disc brakes (aside from a bare handful of Canadian-market cars that had four-wheel drums)
• Rear drum brakes
• L16 1600cc inline four-cylinder engine (again, except the four-wheel drum Canada cars which came with a smaller-bore L13)
• A choice of a 4-speed floor-shift manual transmission or 3-speed automatic (floor or column shift, depending on model year). And, again, that oddball Canada L13 car had a column-shift three-speed manual.
• McPherson struts up front.
• Two-door and four-door sedans came with independent rear suspension. The wagon had a live-axle rear with leaf springs.
• Individual front bucket seats, front arm rests, rear bench seat, manual windows, “flow-through” ventilation, etc.

There are differences, however, and 510 production can generally be divided between “Early” and “Late” cars.

“Early” 510s – 1968-1969

MY68

Early 510s are made up of 1968 and 1969 model cars. Some 1970 model cars will have some MY69 parts installed, as Datsun used up left over parts on the new model year cars.

1968 was the first year of 510 production. As mentioned, there are no major changes throughout 510 production, however 1968 cars are the most individualistic of the run. 1968 cars are easily distinguished by their “suicide” windshield wipers, where the arms rotate out from the center (ala early Mercedes). Other big external cues include arrow front side markers with no rear side markers, a bumper-mounted license plate light for the rear license plate, and a unique ’68-only grill, as shown below:
1968.jpg
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Not shown are the smaller rear taillights of MY68. These one-year-only lights mount with six studs and don't interchange with the later taillights. That means the taillight panel is also a one-year-only piece for MY68 due to the size and mounting differences as well as the lack of license plate light holes (bumper-mounted plate light for MY68, remember).

Introduction to the PL510 Sedan and Wagon

Under the hood, MY68 510s do have a weaker electrical system borrowed from the 411 (the 510’s predecessor). Fuse boxes are completely different from 69+ cars, as is alternator wiring, among other things. Wiring diagrams are available, and a system in good condition should present no real issues aside from being over 40 years old. ‘68s are otherwise substantially similar to the 510s that followed.

Inside the US ‘68s got a unique, padded dashboard. Canada ‘68s got the simple metal dash the rest of the world got. Everyone got a "horizontal" speedo cluster, a short, wide rectangle for the fuel and temp gauges and sweep speedo. Front seats were not equipped with headrests.

MY69

1969 cars changed wiper style to the “standard” with both arms moving across the windshield in the same direction. Externally, this year saw rear round side markers added, a change in rear license plate lighting (from the bumper to twin lights bordering the plate and mounted to the rear taillight panel), larger taillights (mounted with eight studs), and a different grill from MY68.

Under the hood the MY69s enjoyed an upgraded electrical system. The MY69 fuse box, like every year, was unique to the year, but improved in construction and number of fused circuits.

Inside the MY69 was a modernized metal dashboard, but again with a one-year-only dash pad. Instrumentation matches MY68, though the auxiliary controls are moved about the dash.

“Late” 510s – 1970-1973

Service Bulletin - Introduction of the 1970 510

Datsun 510 Historical Record of Modification (the main changes between the early and late cars).

MY70
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510s changed in many ways for MY70. Externally there were larger, rectangular side markers front and rear to comply with new US DOT laws. Front turn signal lenses also changed shape slightly, so parts (lenses, housings, and the front valence sheetmetal) don’t interchange with the early cars unless you swap it all at once. MY70 saw another new grill introduced, but it would basically stay the same through MY73.

Under the hood there were no dramatic changes.

Inside the cabin is where most of the big changes occurred. Datsun again changed the dashboard, moving to a safety dash made of plastic and featuring two large pods (for white-needle speedo and optional tach or clock), siamesed temp and fuel gauges, a separate center pod for the heater controls, radio, and ashtray, and a new glovebox. This dash setup would continue through the end of the 510’s production with only minor changes.

MY71-72

Few changes were made to these cars from MY70 specs. Instrument needles changed from white to red. Heady stuff, back in the day!

MY73
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Aside from the major change of only offering a two-door sedan for MY73, there were only minor updates as Datsun’s attention turned to newer things. (Japan got no ’73 510 production as they had fully transitioned to the 610 model already; US dealers were selling ’73 510s next to ’73 610s.)

MY73s got fiber-optic headlight and wiper switch pulls (noted by green faces), solid rubber bumper overriders (as shown above) and a rear-window defroster.
Last edited by okayfine on 05 Oct 2013 13:21, edited 5 times in total.
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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Major Subsystems and Bodywork

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:46

The 510 was an over-engineered vehicle in many respects, which is probably the major reason so many are left on the roads. The entire drivetrain, driveline, and suspension are bulletproof and they have long stood the test of time. The 510 shell is prone to rust as they weren’t protected from the factory. Interiors can be worn due to the years and use, but pristine interiors are still found on survivor cars, so age itself isn’t much of a factor. The electrical system, if original, should function well once any time-induced corrosion/oxidation has been taken care of.

However, since there’s more involved in each of those parts of the car, we’ll look at each major subsystem below. Also, since most 510s will have modifications from stock, we’ll follow each section with typical modifications, what to look for, and parts availability. There’s no way to cover every mod out there, or even most mods, but certain things are fairly common. This should give you a good primer, even if it’s just enough to get you searching for the specific information you need.

Bodywork
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Rust is Enemy Number 1. And #2 and #3. More and more rusty 510s are being repaired instead of junked, but that reflects the diminishing number of rust-free 510s left in the world. Rust repair is a long and involved process, whether you’re doing it yourself or paying to have it done. The overriding advice to be gained from this article is to buy the best car you can, and this applies most strongly to the condition of the unibody.

DQ - Rust! Our dimes' worst enemy.

What To Look For – Bodywork

Inspect the areas noted in the DQ article above for rust. Keep in mind that for all the rust that’s readily visible to an external inspection, there will be additional rust hidden by paint, carpet, other folds of unibody shell, etc. Which also leads to the possibility that just because a car presents as rust-free during an external walk-around does not mean there isn’t rust hidden somewhere. 510s had no undercoating and were not galvanized from the factory. It’s just a part of 510 life.

Inspect the paint condition and the straightness of the body panels. These areas are more subjective – some people like patina, some like to have nice paint. Factor the condition into your offer if negotiations begin. Cars with more “patina” can be had cheaper, but as with incomplete cars or cars with rust, the value proposition probably isn’t there if what you want to end up with is a shiny Dime.

Become familiar with the various pieces of exterior trim and inventory your potential buy for the complete set. A couple of nice/NOS fender eyebrows or, particularly, bumpers can be worth more than whole cars. Most of the trim is stainless steel, but particular pieces (bumpers, sedan c-pillar vents, license plate lamp housings, taillight housings) are chromed.

Parts Availability - Bodywork

Factory metal replacement panels are NLA from Nissan and only rarely pop up for private sales. Aftermarket fiberglass has been available for the 510 for decades, and currently you can get most of the easily-replaceable panels (front fenders, hood, trunk, front valence, and tail light panel) from small vendors such as FutoFab.com.

FutoFab is run by a fellow Realm member, Dave Patten, and he is finalizing the production of new replacement metal panels as well.

Check FutoFab for the latest availability.

Used sheetmetal can be had and, with obvious exceptions for body style (two-door doors don’t fit a four-door) or year differences (’68 taillight panel is a one-year-only piece), panels can be interchanged between cars. Certainly pieces like hoods and fenders, or doors among the same model of 510, will bolt on to cars from all years.

Trim (badges, bumpers, various stainless or chrome exterior trim, small fiddly bits of interior) is used-market only, aside from rare NOS offerings. “Saving” money by buying an incomplete car can quickly prove a lousy deal if you decide to buy up all the little bits you’re missing.

Modification - Bodywork

There aren’t a lot of modifications typically done to the 510’s body.
• Some cars will have been “shaved,” with all emblems, side markers, gas tank filler flap, c-pillar vents removed and the bodywork done to cover up their existence.
• Many cars will have different grills, signal lenses, and badges from stock. 510 parts like these interchange and running a JDM grill or the JDM “Bluebird” badges are popular modifications.
• Some cars will have fender flares. There are a variety of different flare styles (BRE, IMSA, box) and different ways of converting a car to flares from bolt-on front fenders, adhesive rear flares, complete rear quarter panels, etc.

For most bodywork modifications, care should be taken to examine the quality of the work performed. Rear flares that are attached with glues can produce a seamless integration with the standard body – they can also result in cracks along the flare, breaking the paint and providing an inlet for moisture. The same sorts of inspections should also be done on cars that have been shaved. Good work will show and poor work will usually have to be completely redone, even if you’re not looking for a show car.
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 14:31, edited 3 times in total.
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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Engine, Transmission, Differential

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:46

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The L16 is an inline four-cylinder engine with overhead cam and was a new engine series for the 510’s debut. The L16 is made up of an iron block and an aluminum non-crossflow head. Stock wheel outputs average 60hp or so, no matter what the engine bay plaque says. With the assumption of reasonable care over its life, the L16 (and all variants) is bulletproof. Stories about people finding/rescuing a 510 abandoned in a field for 20 years, fitting a new battery, adding a bit of new fuel, and starting up the engine are common.

The manual transmission is a four-speed floor-shift model with no significant weak points; the auto transmission changed from an early column-shift three-speed to a later floor-shift three-speed. The differential is predominantly a 3.9 ratio; the factory literature says early cars might have had a 3.7 ratio, but if that ever happened it wasn’t very common. The differential is an Hitachi unit and was co-opted by Subaru as well, so supply of open diffs is still reasonable and R160CLSD Subaru units bolt in. Also, modern Subaru diffs also can be adapted to the 510 in a variety of ways.

From the factory there were very few differences in these components over the production run. Power output changed slightly depending on what methods the factory was using to comply with emissions that year. Ignition was single or dual point distributors, again pertaining to spirit of the emissions laws at the time.

What To Look For – Engine, Transmission, Differential

It is best to approach an unknown 510/L-series engine cold. An engine warmed up before you get there can mask hard-start issues, engine wear issues that lead to smoke upon start-up, and start-up knocking due to low oil pressure or a bad oil system. In either case, also:
• Check over the exterior of the engine – it should be relatively free of gunk and grime. If so, it will be much easier to see coolant leaks (such as a head gasket leaking between #2 and #3 cylinders that dribbles off the spark-plug side of the engine) or other obvious problems.
• Check the oil level and inspect the oil condition. The oil should be relatively clean. Low oil level and dark oil on the dipstick might indicate an inattentive seller. Also check under the filler cap, where milky oil or sludge can be another warning sign.
• Check the coolant level and condition. Rusty water has obvious implications for the cooling system and condition of the internal passageways, none good.

A stock L-series engine will have a manual or electric choke, and start-up from cold should be a non-issue:
• Depending on ambient temps it may need the choke for a minute or few, but the car should be drivable after a few seconds.
• There should be no smoke from the exhaust.
• The L-series engine is not a quiet engine, so there will be some normal valvetrain clatter while idling.
• An excessively loud engine may just need the valves adjusted or timing properly set. Or it may need new pistons (or other major work). Ask when the valves were last adjusted. If you get a confused look from the seller, consider the implications.
• The L16 was never a powerhouse stock, so time hasn’t really taken any toll on performance. It will get out of its own way, but you’ll lose stop-light drags to everything made in the last 20 years. Which is to say on your test drive the engine should move through the rev range with ease, but again the L-series is noisy, so don’t expect Honda smoothness.

If this is a manual-transmission car, it’s quite likely the shifter feels disconnected from the trans. Stock 4-speed transmissions have the shift lever ride in rubber bushings, which deteriorate over time. Replacing those will help a lot, but the shift linkage has been known as “monkey motion” since new, so some vagueness is to be expected. The transmission should shift smoothly through all gears and make little noise while running. Grunching into a gear means the syncro is on the way out; conversely grunching in all gears may mean that the clutch slave cylinder rod needs to be adjusted or the clutch hydraulic system should be bled.

Automatic transmissions present no common issues, but further sap the performance of the L16. An inspection of the trans fluid similar to that of checking the oil above is good practice.

The differential should not make noise (whining) while underway, nor while shifting (clunking). Either indicates a diff past its prime. Repair is possible, but replacement is easier and cheaper.

Parts Availability – Engine, Transmission, Differential

As mentioned previously, mechanical parts availability is still fairly good. Datsun used the L-series family from the late ‘60s through to the early ‘80s. It’s also still fairly easy to find specialty shops that deal with Datsun engines, so even fiddly bits like lash pads can be found. And, if all else fails, The 510 Realm, Ratsun, and the Bluebird510 list reach a couple thousand 510 owners, some of whom have stockpiled parts for decades.

Even though the L-series family had such a long production life, transmission choices are pretty limited if you’re looking to stay stock. The flip side to that is that most 510 owners have moved on from the stock 4-speed to 5-speed transmissions, and some have kept their old 4-speed trannies just in case. Some hard parts can still be had through Nissan today, and rebuild kits are probably sitting on some rebuilder’s shelf.

Differentials are rarely an issue. Parts are more limited for diffs because they were never really available piecemeal in the aftermarket. Most of what was offered from Nissan has long since moved to “NLA” – No Longer Available. While the same diff family was used by Nissan through the ‘80s in cars like the Z31 300Z, they were larger diffs and often of unsuitable ratios for L16 use. Subaru continues to produce vehicles that utilize the same R160-sized rear differentials, though all modern (1987 onward) will require various modifications to allow the 510’s axle stubs to bolt in.

Modifications – Engine, Transmission, Differential

Modifications to the engine of a 510 are almost a required part of 510 ownership! Engine mods run the gamut from L-series cams, dual sidedraft carbs, bores, higher compression, etc. A car so modified should definitely be started from cold and driven around a town loop to see how bearable it will be in traffic. Many of these parts are from, or based on, 1970’s-era go-faster theology, and as such there will be much knowledge about how to tune and set up hot street L-series engines.

How To Modify Datsun 510 610 240Z Engines & Chassis

Engine swaps are also a huge part of the 510 scene. Typically the engines that are swapped are later Nissan powerplants, and for the most part the processes to install these engines into 510s are well-known and well-documented. Other non-Nissan engines have also been swapped as the owner prefers, with information of varying quality available about how to perform the swap.

The overriding concern with engine swaps mirrors that for bodywork – evidence of a quality installation. Hacked swaps abound as many people want the benefits of more power and a cool mill underhood but lack all the skills needed to pull it off. Two areas to concentrate on are structural concerns (how it’s mounted at the engine and trans) and electrical concerns (is it wired with a separate fuse/relay box, or are all the wires from the engine the same color and therefore nearly impossible to troubleshoot). Starting a swap engine from cold, restarting when hot, driving it through the rev range, etc., are all necessary steps to help determine the health of the swap.

DQ - Engine Swap Guide Part I

DQ - Engine Swap Guide Part II

Transmission modifications are much simpler, in that they almost always involve swapping out the 4-speed manual (or three-speed auto) for a later Datsun/Nissan 5-speed transmission. A 5-speed is a worthwhile addition if you envision any freeway driving, but isn’t a necessity if you’re sticking with L16 power and local driving. Any swap engine will have a 5-speed trans swapped with it.

DQ - Transmission Identification Guide

Differentials are typically swapped for three reasons: to handle increased power, to add a limited-slip diff, or to change the gear ratio. Ten years ago it was pretty easy to find a Subaru R160CLSD for sale or in a junkyard – these bolt in and are generally pretty fresh since most Subarus of that era were part-time all-wheel-drive. Sadly the supply of those has finally started to dry up. As mentioned, Subaru has used the same style of differential for many of their more-modern cars – even current cars. These all will need modifications of one sort or another to enable bolt-in fitment to the 510, but they are available, reasonably priced, and should last the life of the car.

DQ - Subaru VLSD Installation

DQ - STi R180LSD Installation

DQ - Subaru VLSD Adapters
Last edited by okayfine on 05 Oct 2013 13:26, edited 4 times in total.
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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Electrical

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:46

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Things get trickier once you move to the electrical system. Even the later, more robust 510 electrical systems are still 40+ years old. If they haven’t been hacked up, they’re still made of aged wiring, connections, etc., and could at least stand a thorough inspection and cleaning. Often, however, good-condition harnesses will work fine, even 40 years on.

Wiring diagrams are available, but can be year-sensitive (or even transmission sensitive) depending on the problem you’re trying to track down. A good wiring diagram is an imperative purchase with your new 510.

Wiring Diagrams at The 510 Archives

The 510 electrical system is not complicated but they did do things a little differently back then. The headlight circuit is one example: The headlamp sockets are hot all the time and activating the switch grounds one prong, turning them on. The circuit also routes all headlight power through the headlight switch, so high-wattage bulbs can get the switch hot enough to melt wires, the plastic housing, and even the solder. OE Toshiba headlight bulbs were closer to 35 watts than today’s Sylvania 55 watt 5-3/4” replacement, and even that additional current can cause trouble in weak wiring.

Provided you’re dealing with an intact harness, tracing wires and finding problems is straightforward due to the smaller numbers of wires and circuits compared to a modern car. The 510 electrical system loves grounds, and many problems have been traced back to fluky or corroded grounds. The 510 fuse box can also benefit from a vinegar bath (remove the box, submerge in vinegar for 10 minutes, rinse, dry, reinstall) to get at corrosion and oxidation.

What To Look For – Electrical

The checks for electrical are pretty simple – does it all work? Turn signals, headlights, flasher, interior dome light, dash lights, gauges – give them all a check during your inspection. There’s no good reason the entire system should not function as designed.

Unfortunately many owners who lack the ability to fix electrical problems attempt to anyway, leaving cars with spaghetti and splices. No aftermarket wiring harnesses exist for the 510 and your best bet if your car’s harness is beyond repair is to find another stock harness and swap it in. Many people talk about rewiring the car with aftermarket harnesses, but it’s rarely accomplished and is not plug-n-play in any respect.

In many cases, basic issues can be fixed with the vinegar fuse box bath and new fuses, followed by an inspection of grounds and connections.

DQ - Troubleshooting Electrical Systems - Part I

DQ - Troubleshooting Electrical Systems - Part II

Parts Availability – Electrical

Many electrical parts are still available from Nissan or the aftermarket. Alternators, starters, the major parts for both, and voltage regulators all show availability at RockAuto. Typical advice is to have your existing alternator or starter overhauled at a reputable repair shop. Purchases of remaned alternators and starters from local auto parts stores are not recommended. If you want to buy new, look to see what’s available from Nissan; you’ll pay a price for it, but you’ll only pay it once – that Pep Boys “lifetime” warranty just enables a lifetime of “free” replacements (that still cost you time). It does in no way guarantee the part will last a lifetime.

Modifications – Electrical

Modifications to the electrical system of a 510, outside of a car that’s had an engine swap to an EFI motor, mainly focus on switching the car from an externally-regulated alternator (and associated external voltage regulator) to a later Datsun/Nissan internally-regulated alternator. This, like the 5-speed transmission swap, is a desirable modification due to enhanced reliability and increased output over the stock 510 alternator.

Beyond the alternator swap, there aren’t many other good changes that are common. Upgraded headlights might fall into this category, but only if the higher-wattage bulbs are paired with a relayed wiring harness, due to the aforementioned method with which Datsun engineered the headlight circuit.

It is increasingly common to find hacked wiring harnesses and/or cars with many electrical gremlins. Electrical problems are some of the most frustrating to deal with and most difficult to assist with over the Internet.
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 14:32, edited 3 times in total.
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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Suspension and Brakes

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:47

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The 510’s suspension, in either sedan or wagon guise, is pretty basic. Sedans came with McPherson struts up front and IRS in the back. Wagons got the same front suspension, but a live-axle out back. Either can be made to handle, though obviously the wagon’s rear will be cruder on bumpy surfaces.

Other than the rubber bushings and strut inserts/shocks, there’s little to wear on a stock system and most issues can be traced to those worn rubber parts. Occasionally you’ll come across bad balljoints or tie rods in the steering, but these parts should see many tens of thousands of miles between replacement.

Aside from those parts, the 510 steering box is able to be adjusted. This will help remove slop from the steering just off center. This adjustment is best performed after reading the procedure in a service manual and that procedure should be followed carefully.

The 510’s brakes work well for what they are. Front 9” solid rotors, a one-piston slider front caliper, and rear drum brakes came from the factory. MY68 cars had a single-circuit brake master cylinder (BMC), which was replaced for ’69 and thereafter with a dual-circuit BMC. Safety implications have made dual-circuit BMCs preferrable on ’68 cars.

Additionally, the rear drum brakes on all 510s are manually adjusted. Modern drum brake cars adjust themselves when you reverse and brake. The adjustment process is not difficult but is something to keep in mind until you can verify the adjustment has been done properly. If, while driving, you need to pump the brakes once before getting good brake feel, adjusting the rear drums should be your priority.

DQ - Optimizing The Stock Braking System

What To Look For – Suspension and Brakes

If the car you’re looking at is being presented as a runner or daily-driver, by all means take it for a spin to see how it drives. Cars that aren’t regular drivers should get an inspection before starting off, or at least some careful slow-speed driving around the neighborhood until you’re confident it will steer and stop on command.

A 510 with suspension in good condition should drive like a car of the era and it should go where you point it. It shouldn’t wallow over bumps, shouldn’t hit the bumpstops after big hits, and the car shouldn’t wander while driving. None of these issues are deal-breakers as the parts are available and inexpensive.

If the car is squirmy under braking, it could have a poorly adjusted braking system (such as a front caliper sticking) or worn tension/compression (T/C) rod bushings. Visual inspection of the large rubber bushings at the front ends of the T/C rods is easy, replacements are available, and the fix is quick.

Parts Availability – Suspension and Brakes

Stock replacement parts for the suspension and brake system are starting to become harder to find.
• Early cars will have smaller 11mm balljoints, compared to late cars with 14mm balljoints. These parts are not interchangeable, but you can swap an early car to late parts by also changing the steering arms from a late car.
• Front brake calipers and rebuild kits are NLA. Some people have hung on to old sets, or sets they have swapped out in favor of bigger brake kits. More than a few 510s are running around on stock brakes today, but it’s getting harder as parts dry up.
• Stock replacement strut inserts and rear shocks are getting more difficult to find. However, many parts from other cars can be used with minor modifications.

Wheels

The 510 came from the factory with 5.60-13-4PR tires on 13x4" rims. Many stockers are still running around on 13" rims, perhaps even the original steelies, and modernish radial tires. Most cars came with hub caps of one design or another:
• "Dog dish" caps that covered the lug nuts in a circle ~5" in diameter
• "Bullseye" full-sized caps
• A "spoked" design that peaked in the center

Due to the lack of performance that can be obtained from 13x4" rims, many 510s have long since had their stock rubber replaced with aftermarket aluminum wheels of widely varying sizes and styles. A good primer for what fits and works on a 510 can be found at Kurt Hafer's Wheel FAQ.

Not all wheels are created equal and just because they bolt on does not mean they're right for the car. This is not referring to the styling of the wheel, but the size and backspace/offset of the wheel in question. Turning a stable, capable 510 into a wandering, unstable car is as easy as bolting on a set of wheels of the wrong dimensions or wheels with tires that are long past their "sell by" date. However, it is difficult for those new to the 510 to recognize wheels with the wrong specs or be able to note that just because a tire has near full tread depth that the tires are actually eight years old and hard as rocks. Diagnosing a problem that these issues could cause is very complicated as many other suspension factors (loose steering box, worn balljoints) could cause very similar symptoms. It is something to keep in mind, however, both during the initial purchase/test drive and afterwards when you, as the new owner may look to new wheels to personalize your car.

Modifications – Suspension and Brakes

Changes from stock for suspension and brake systems are probably more common than even engine modifications. A 510 has always been a between-the-corners car, not a straight-line monster. Many products are available for 510 suspension modification, mainly to enable adjustability at the front and rear that the factory did not provide for. Such parts include adjustable front lower control arms, adjustable T/C rods, front coilover spring conversions, rack and pinion steering conversions, rear coilover spring conversions, and a variety of methods to correct rear camber and toe on lowered cars.

Most often a modified car will have been lowered, fitted with stiffer springs, etc. These are fine modifications if they are made correctly. A 510 that has been lowered should still have adequate suspension travel to handle bumps in the road, spring rates suitable for its intended mission, and alignment correction front and rear.

Quite possibly the number-one modification for 510s is bolting on the 280ZX front struts and brakes. This changes the front brakes from a stock, solid 9” rotor and single-piston caliper to a ZX vented 10” rotor and larger single-piston caliper. This is popular for multiple reasons, including the large increase in braking performance, larger wheel bearings, and availability of replacement brake parts.

DQ - 280ZX Brakes Stop Your 510 On A Dime

Most 510s are still going to strongly resemble stock-based cars. Only recently have owners started to look beyond the later Datsun models for suspension upgrades, but for every wagon getting IRS in back there are thousands of wagons with the stock live axle.

Moreso than with any other set of modifications, those made to the suspension and brakes must absolutely be inspected for quality parts and quality installation or modification. Any hacks here can result in a totaled car, or much worse. Any car with modified suspension and brakes should be gone over after purchase to ensure any and all modifications were made with a safety-first mentality.
Last edited by okayfine on 05 Oct 2013 13:25, edited 5 times in total.
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Interior

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:47

Interior.jpg
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The 510 cabin is pretty well appointed given what the car sold for when new and how it was marketed. It features “flow-through” ventilation – no silly quarter windows! The heater, in good shape, can heat up the car well. There is headroom for taller drivers, though the shortness-challenged gentleman may look to reposition the seat further rearward. The cabin is relatively open and airy and visibility is very good (aside from the relatively low height of a 510 compared to modern cars and trucks).

Most 510s had front bucket seats and carpet on the floor, and all had a rear bench, vinyl door panels, front arm rests, glove box, radio, etc. Trim and dashboard varied with the model year, as described earlier.

It is possible to find cars with original seat belts, and it is strongly recommended that you replace original belts or belts that are in poor shape. Aftermarket belts are available and you can get close to the period look with different belt and latch styles.

Condition of the interior is mostly up to the life the car has led to this point. Survivor cars can be found with stock interiors that hardly look worn. Alternatively there are basket cases out there, either missing everything or needing everything reworked.

What To Look For – Interior

Similar to the electrical system, you’re looking for a complete, functional interior. Everything should work, from the horn to the heater and fan to the dome light. It will be obvious if parts or pieces are missing. Depending on what they are will determine how hard they will be to replace. Some pieces, like the front kick panels, can be made by hand quite easily.

510s were available with a few different interior colors, with black being the most common. Cars with, say, a blue interior (seats, door panels, etc.) may be harder to find replacements for. Modern vinyl paints are pretty good, however, and people have changed whole interior colors with them.

Following up on the rust section earlier, check the floor boards for rusty pin holes or worse. Cars that at one point suffered from a leaky exterior gasket or heater valve will have had water pooling in the lowest parts of the interior, and rusted floor pans are well known.

Parts Availability – Interior

Aside from the rare private sale of an NOS dash pad, virtually all stock interior parts are going to be from the used market. Seats are fairly common, but many are no longer in good shape. Carpet kits and headliners are readily available. Much of the dash/instrument panel will be particular to a year, or to the early and late designations, and interchangeability suffers.

A few people offer replacement floor pans for front and rear sections to repair rusty panels. Any other affected interior metal will have to be fabricated.

Modifications – Interior

510 interior modifications typically center around a change of steering wheel, shifter knob, and front seats. These are all fairly standard mods and are generally welcome for cars that aren’t going after the “stock” look. Many Datsun/Nissan steering wheels will bolt right on, and front seats from a vast range of modern cars have been swapped in, though none bolt in.

Roll bars, usually an AutoPower four-point roll bar that bolts to the chassis, are not unusual. Inspection of the mounting of the roll bar and any aftermarket seat belts or “racing” harnesses is very important; all mounting bolts should have large washers on the underside of the chassis to spread any loads as the car is stamped from relatively thin sheetmetal.

Audio systems are another common addition to the 510, replacing the stock AM radio in early cars, or AM/FM radios in late cars. The 510 is not an audiophile's dream car, however - much of the fidelity is going to be lost by the NVH of a 510. That hasn't stopped people from installing new head units, amps, speakers, and subs. A complete system can be well integrated into the 510's cabin, but take the time to ensure that speakers placed on the package shelf are secured and won't tumble forward after a hard stop. Also take note of the installation of the electrical side of things; all too often owners will tap wires without really verifying their sources, releasing electrical gremlins in the future. If a car also has an alarm system, be very cautious and inspect the installation closely, or have the installation inspected by a professional. A poor alarm installation will, at best, be a noisy inconvenience and, at worst, could leave you stranded with your car immobile.
Last edited by okayfine on 05 Oct 2013 08:39, edited 4 times in total.
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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Approaching a Potential Purchase

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:47

With the information presented in this article, approach a potential 510 purchase from a position of knowledge. Decide what sort of car you are interested in buying (stocker, lightly modified, heavily modified, racer) and research what similar cars are going for in the current market. A known range of pricing combined with a knowledge of what you’re looking for and what the car is offering will give you the best negotiating position.

Location is another key element in the purchase of a 510. 510s are much more common along the West Coast as that was where virtually all of Datsun’s importation took place during production. Cars have certainly made their way east when sold as new and on the used market in the 40 years since, however the greatest selection of cars will benefit your search for the right car. Consider transportation costs into your budget if you’re looking at 510s that will need to be trucked from other states, but don’t let that extra $1000 or so kill an otherwise good deal.

Remember to look for the best car you can afford, even if it means putting some or all of the modification budget into the original purchase. A stock car can always be modified, but a rusty car or a car missing much will take many dollars to make whole. Almost always this amounts to more than a better car would have cost initially.

Two-door 510s are most popular in the US and Canada. Four-door 510s share everything with the two door aside from the doors themselves. Wagons are a slightly different animal, but have their fans just like the other models.

Lastly, a complete 510 or, especially, a project 510 that is for sale and represented mainly by a listing of parts is not a guarantee of quality, even if the parts all have fancy brand names, nor of value if the parts require extensive work or modification – or don’t even fit the plans you have for the car. Look over these “laundry list” cars and projects carefully. When in doubt, ask The Realm for advice.
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 13:00, edited 1 time in total.
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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Driving A 510

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:47

A 510 will not drive like a modern car. It is best to think of a 510 in any state of modification as a car full of character. Whereas a modern Honda Civic, for instance, will start every time, get you wherever you’re going, and do so without any fuss at all, a 510 may well be consistently inconsistent in its operation. A 510 can certainly be daily-driver reliable, but it may not begin that way.

One facet of that “character:” the noise, vibration, and harshness are off the scale compared to what you will find in any modern car at any price. To a large extent that is just the way cars were made back then – or put another way, that’s how much automakers have learned (and customers have since demanded) since 510 production.

Noise will be affected greatly by exhaust system choices and can be easily changed by making different choices. Vibration can be quelled somewhat by replacement of worn weatherstripping, especially if a car’s door crashes when closing, or a side window rattles in its frame. Vibration at speed points to issues with the suspension (balljoints or wheel bearings) or driveline (driveshaft or half shafts) that should definitely be repaired.

With all that said, a 510 is an enjoyable drive, even around town or on the freeway. Expect a 510 to drive like a 40-45 year old vehicle, as that is what it is. The additions of newer seats or an engine swap have benefits but they don’t really change what it’s like to ride inside a 510.
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 13:00, edited 1 time in total.
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Maintaining A 510

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:48

Wrenching on a 510 is an enjoyable task because the mechanicals are pretty basic, there is generally plenty of room in which to work, and the knowledge base (both in print and in person) about the car and its issues is both readily available and colossal. This is good because a 510 will need more regular maintenance than you may be used to with modern cars. Periodic valve adjustments, carb adjustments, rear drum brake adjustments, etc., are just part of the ownership experience.

Obtaining a copy of the “How To Keep Your Datsun Alive” book should be the second thing you do, after buying a 510 itself. I actually bought that very book before buying my first 510, and I’ve had that copy ever since. With that alone you can readily work on any aspect of your 510, up to rebuilding the engine.

How to Keep Your Datsun L-Series-Z-Series Nissan Alive
ISBN: 031764890X

Datsun510.com - How To Keep Your Datsun Alive

You will need a basic set of mechanics tools in metric, and you’ll add more tools over time as we all have. Most 510 maintenance requires no special tools, just some knowledge, a couple wrenches, and a desire to get dirty. The 510 is a great car to learn mechanics, and mechanics is much more than just removing a “broken” part and replacing it with a new one. 510 ownership will develop troubleshooting skills modern car owners never do.
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 13:59, edited 2 times in total.
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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Upgrading Your 510

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:48

510 upgrades and modifications are expected and encouraged. They allow a 510 owner to tailor his or her car to their personal desires, be it keeping a stock 510 on the road, running a slightly-modified car, going with a resto-mod setup, or shooting for that full SR20DET goodness.

Upgrading what you’ve just bought should, in many cases, be the last thing you do. By all means fix any safety issues, even if it’s an upgrade (such as ZX brakes over stock/NLA 510 parts). Otherwise, take a few months with your new 510 and get to know it, drive it, and listen to it as it tells you what it needs. This advice is suggested to prevent new 510 owners from buying a car and immediately condemning it to project hell, where good cars go to die. You can always modify a car later, but what has been taken apart does not always go back together again.

So much has been done to the 510 over the decades that new modifications are increasingly rare. More modern engines, such as the Honda F20C or GM’s EcoTec, have been installed in 510s, but technologies like traction control, ABS, etc., may never appear on a 510. This isn’t to suggest that no one try for things new or uncommon, just that the support you’ll otherwise find in the 510 community may not be there for you if you strike out on your own.

How To Plan Projects

Which Engine Should You Run?
Last edited by okayfine on 03 Oct 2013 14:01, edited 2 times in total.
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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510 Information

Post by okayfine » 03 Oct 2013 12:49

510 information abounds. The Internet saved 510 enthusiasm by joining up unrelated groups of owners, regions, and modification philosophies. This knowledge base is available to all 510 owners, merely by visiting one of the established 510 forums or the Bluebird510 maillist.

At The 510 Realm, for example, you’ll find dedicated subforums for every aspect of 510 ownership and modification. You’ll also have access to the search function, as many first-time owner questions can be resolved by searching or reading the factory manuals. One hugely important feature of The 510 Realm is the Project Build subforum. There you’ll find complete builds of cars, so you can read all the highs, lows, and work-arounds that each owner experienced in the build of their car. Read through a few, perhaps decide on a future path for your own car, and you’ll have keen insight into what it will take to pull it off.

The 510 Archives were created as a long-term digital storehouse of 510 information. At The 510 Archives you’ll find 3.8GB of Datsun 510 information, from factory literature and service information to original BRE part installation instructions and Trans-Am build photos, and complete collections of all three nationwide 510 club newsletters (UFO Reports, FiveTen Again, and The Dime, Quarterly). All this information is presented free for your use. Enjoy it, and spread the word.

510 information isn’t just on the Internet. Datsun factory service manuals are still available in print through private sales, as are copies of the highly recommended “How To Keep Your Datsun Alive” tome. Every once in a while a factory copy of the Datsun 510 Parts Catalog (a printed copy of the factory microfiche detailing all parts and part numbers, including lovely exploded views of components) pops up on eBay. Any or all of this printed material is very worthwhile for a 510 owner.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

In conclusion, I hope this guide is useful to you as a new-to-510 buyer. Much of it consists of hard-won knowledge gained through experience and mistakes. There’s plenty to gain as a new 510 owner, but starting out on the best foot relative to your car purchase will enable you to enjoy your new car and contribute to the next wave of new 510 owners.

Once you get your first 510, be sure to check out these Suggestions For New 510 Owners.
Last edited by okayfine on 13 Oct 2013 12:33, edited 1 time in total.
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: Datsun 510 Buyer's Guide 1968-1973

Post by RONSLYCHUK » 03 Oct 2013 17:22

Well done Julian,great piece of information for all that are interested in 510's.

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Re: Datsun 510 Buyer's Guide 1968-1973

Post by Byron510 » 03 Oct 2013 20:21

Agreed, nice work - and there was a lot of work put into this.

Good job - glad to see that tricycle you're building hasn't removed all your 510 inspiration :D

Thanks Julian.

Byron
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because the opposite never works.

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Re: Datsun 510 Buyer's Guide 1968-1973

Post by 510wizard » 03 Oct 2013 21:33

You out did yourself on this one. It shows that the Realm is the best 510 forum out there. Thanks for all you do for the community. Now get back to that trike :)

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