By on October 14, 2011

We saw this junked ’78 Corolla a while back, and there was this ’81 Mazda GLC and this ’80 Civic, but no discussion of Middle Malaise Era Japanese Econoboxes can be complete without mention of Nissan’s third-gen Sunny aka 210 aka 120Y aka B210. Here’s a nice example I found in a Denver self-serve yard a week or so back.
I forgot to check the build tag for the exact model year, so this might be a ’78 or an ’80; Nissan had a winning formula with this car and didn’t change it much year-to-year.
While not as much fun to drive as the Civic nor as reliable as the Corolla, the 210 was still a solid, gas-sipping commuter that sold like crazy. They were ubiquitous on the streets of (non-rusty parts of) America until about the mid-1990s, then they spent a good decade as junkyard regulars. Nowadays you just see the occasional long-term survivors stumbling into The Crusher’s waiting room after several decades of service.

Put your money in the bank, not in the tank!

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


37 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Datsun 210 Sedan...”

  • avatar

    I owned facelifted ’81 for a short while. I thought it was a rather pleasant little car. Could have used that gearbox as mine was looked into first and I couldn’t find a replacement.

  • avatar

    It’s too bad that the term Malaise Era is used for these cars. These are the precursors to the fantastic imports of the 90’s that are still on the road today. These are the cars of my childhood, the cars I dreamed to own and drive. I think we had one of each in my extended family: Civic, 210, Colt, and Corolla. I don’t remember anyone in my family having a GLC. All but the Civic were driven until they were involved in a collision. The Civic was traded in for a Tercel, which was bigger (4 door), but not as interesting.

    The 82 Civic had a 5 digit odometer. I remember that the salesman at the Toyota dealership just refused to believe that it had rolled over twice, given that it showed 80K km on it at the time of the trade-in.

    • 0 avatar

      The Honda really only had a 5 digit odo? I remember those arguments back in the day with friends who insisted that Japanese cars had six digit odometers because they lasted longer. I certainly knew better, because it was obvious that 100k kilometer odometers would only register 63k miles before rolling over. So they were just recalibrated to read miles…no need to remove a digit. US makers added a digit just to eliminate this perception. Now keep in mind reliability and durability are not the same. Typical Japanese products of the day were certainly more trouble free, but when it came to the long haul, things reversed.

      Remember the old song “It’s a long way to empty in a Datsun”

      • 0 avatar

        I’m pretty sure my friend’s 84 Civic also has a 5 digit odo, but I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him. He got the car from his mom with only 40k km on the clock. It still runs. Rust isn’t a big issue on the west coast.

        The Datsun pictured also has a 5 digit odo. I think they were common at the time.

  • avatar

    My ex had one of these. It was not a bad car in the context of the times, and for what it was meant for. It did have an unusual color. Sort of like jaundiced skin.

  • avatar

    My friend had the wagon version of this, a 1981 I believe. He bought it for $750 with over 150K miles on it, drove it for 4-5 years, and sold it for something like $600. In the interim, somebody ran into it at his apartment complex, and their insurance paid him $700 which he promptly pocketed and kept driving it as-is.

    Before he sold it (with well over 200K miles on the clock), the needle bearings between the input and output shafts in the 5-speed transmission were going out. We priced out the replacement parts and it was going to be over $1K just for the parts. He drove it around in 4th gear on the highway to get around that problem before selling it to get a 1980 Volvo 242GT with 180K miles on it (drove that to well over 300K before the engine harness finally disintegrated).

    What is today’s version of this car? It was really easy to work on as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno, I can’t think of any new car that can be worked on without removing several hundred parts.

      They face-lift and introduce all these fancy new things, yet we can’t fix them when they break.

  • avatar

    Bought a tired looking 76 120y at a bombs and rockets dealer in Hobart, drove it 5000kms in 6 weeks only having to set the points and discard the air filter gutless ill handling but very reliable little heap sold it for $500 and a ride to the airport.

  • avatar
    Mike the Dog

    I logged a couple hundred thousand miles in my 210 pizza cars, they were both ’80’s one with this grille and one with the newer grille. They were much quicker and nimbler than most people gave them credit for. I’d routinely have people trying to bitch-pass me from the right-turn only lane, only to be quite shocked that they couldn’t get in front of me to make their left turn (sad dog is sad, NOT). I had a third one for parts to keep the first two going. My only question here? Is this baby-blue baby a two-door or four-door sedan? (mine were all two-door sedans two in silver, one in baby blue)

    EDIT: Now I see the gallery that reveals it to be a white four-door. DUH.

  • avatar

    That car looks like it could be started and run today. I’m amazed at how (apparently) clean it is.

  • avatar

    There was one down the street here for sale last year – very tempting, as it was in great shape.

    There was an even better one I saw driving about a few years ago – it was painted in a red/white/blue paint design with stars and stripes on the hood and roof. As American as you can get in design, yet on a very non-American car for its era. Protective coloration, I suppose.

  • avatar

    Here’s a 210 that met a kinder fate as a legacy car…

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I love the graphics they used in those Datsun commercials. Absolutely classic to the nth degree.

    I have a distant friend of mine called ‘Datsunaholic’. He has owned well over two dozen Datsuns from the 1970’s including several 210’s.

    I LOVE seeing these things on the road. Even more so than old trucks, Volvo’s and VW’s. There is something about an owner who has kept a frugal and less than popular vehicle for the long haul that I find… well… admirable.

  • avatar

    I would LOVE to buy a simple little car to drive to work and the grocery store and stuff today that got 35 in town, 47 highway!

    • 0 avatar

      Golf or Jetta TDI.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t put too much faith in those mileage numbers. EPA mileage ratings in the ’70s and ’80s were often wildly optimistic. In the real world, a car like this might manage 30 mpg average, and less if you really boot it.

      • 0 avatar

        My dad’s 78 Ford Fiesta was rated at 34/46. He regularly got about 32 city, and 42 easily on the highway.

        Remember, high-mpg cars are very sensitive to speed, so you can’t do 65 mph and expect to achieve the EPA numbers.

        Also, those 1970’s economy cars all weighed less than 2500 lbs, only had HP in the 60s or 70s, and didn’t have to meet the stricter emissions standards we have today.

        Yes, the EPA has adjusted its ratings downward at least once since those days, but I think it’s possible to approximate the EPA ratings from then.

      • 0 avatar

        My father’s 6 cylinder (and six passenger) 1979 Malibu only weighed 2900 pounds and change.

    • 0 avatar

      Get an OmniHorizon, you won’t get 47mpg but they’re cheap, easy to find, parts are easy to get, and they make decent long trip cars as well as grocery getters. That or sports cars if you play your cards right.

  • avatar

    Cars like these from the 70’s and 80’s were really great, generally speaking. I had an ’83 Civic 1500DX hatch that was fantastic.

    I would say even the first gen Civics that escaped the buyback program, like many that lived in non salt country proved their metal in durability and longevity as good friends had a ’79 Civic CVCC hatch that while it didn’t look fabulous since they had to rattle can the top and hood of the car who’s silver paint faded to the bare metal (and this car lived it’s life in the Seattle area) and it was still very much on the road as late as the mid 1990’s with probably over 200K miles on it.

    I got my Civic up to 183K but it could’ve gone MUCH longer had it not gotten rear ended and began to leak water inside.

    I would venture to guess, 35-38mpg for most of these cars back in the day even though they were 1500-1800# or so and had well under 100HP but until fuel injection became the norm, this was what was expected with the Accord and it’s ilk getting closer to 32 or so highway.

    • 0 avatar

      Someone in my neighbourhood has a 2nd gen Accord, and uses it as a daily driver. I can’t believe that it still runs. The paint looks original, and the rust isn’t too bad yet.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid-90’s my friend’s dad offered me a dark brown 82 210 sedan for $50. It ran fine and was in good shape, other than some undercarriage rust. Sadly for me, my dad vetoed the purchase but, instead we picked up a $500 ’75 AMC Matador coupe with major unibody rust and a weird intermittent carb troubles. I think he felt a little safer knowing I would be surrounded by two tons of steel. That Datsun would have been a fun little jalopy to roam around in though…I don’t think I’ve seen one since then.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    …….a good friend of mine was used car manager at a downtown Datsun store in the early 70’s. He often recounted the story of a “little old lady” who had purchased a new 1200 automatic to commute to her summer property. Her parking spot was at the top of a steep driveway with little room to turn around at the top, so she preferred to reverse the car up and park facing forward. This had been no problem with her previous full size domestic car, but she was now haunting the service department, complaining about lack of power in her new Datsun. Eventually the dealer principal got wind of the problem and proceeded to give the woman a driving lesson. Being on a small lot, they had just finished building a very steep ramp leading to rooftop parking, so he drove her to the bottom, reversed, and tried to show her how easy a task it was…….and tried, and tried. With 3 people on board (the service manager was along for the ride) that thing could not make it up from a dead stop. Totally embarrassed by this fiasco, the owner did the honorable thing…….dragged her into his office and upgraded her to a 510!

  • avatar

    The Datsun commercials from that era were… “awesome,” to borrow a word;) The jingle seared into your memory like a flame-broiled steak. And the guy who did the voiceover for all those commercials had the most distinctive voice in any auto commercial I can remember. Wish they made commercials like this again.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned both a ’72 Datsun 1200 Fastback (which was anything but fast) and a ’75 Datsun B210 notchback. Both were 4-speed manuals, both were extremely reliable, both were excellent on fuel and both were slower to accelerate than Rosie O’Donnell pedalling a unicycle up a flight of stairs.

    When the engine in the 210 finally began spewing smoke at somewhere north of 150,000 miles I replaced the engine with a JDM version— sans much of the emissions crap that strangled the other one. The result? Only marginally quicker acceleration, but on the long stretches of flat and straight highway in south-central Alberta with the pedal matted it would eventually achieve an indicated speed of 113 mph(!)

  • avatar

    I’m impressed that the interior of such an affordable car featured the rich look of simulated wood.

    • 0 avatar

      By the time the 210 came out in 1979 that particular degree of interior (and exterior for that matter) styling was considered very basic and the opposite of cutting edge. But it’s predescessor the B210’s interior styling when introduced four years earlier in mid to late 1974 was a different story. I recall my older brother liking it so much (compared to what had been available in other small Japanese cars like the Datsun 510 and the ’74 and prior Corolla) that he wanted to trade his ’67 Beaumont for one. Times of course have most certainly changed…

  • avatar

    Looks and sounds like Japans Plymouth Valiant to me, 2 cars from an era when car companies really started trying and stying didn’t get in the way.

  • avatar

    I had a B210 (78, I think) that was a relatively good car. The odo didnt’ work, but the previous owner guessed it had upwards of 200k on it. Needed a bunch of work while I owned it, but I was very lucky to have a good friend whose dad owned a shop. He did a ton of cheap/free work on it for me. I think the head gasket went and the driveshaft snapped (loud and scary from what I remember). But he got me the car super cheap, like $700 or something, and it hardly burned gas.

    Got me through a couple of year of college and the corresponding shi!!y jobs. I was always loyal to nissan afterward because of the b210. Like so many japanese imports it too was rusting badly, having spent its life on salted colorado roads. And water leaked into the interior like crazy when it rained. Ahh, memories.

  • avatar

    My dad is selling a 1979 datsun 210 for about 1,000. the paint is rusty but it still runs great.

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Asdf: Parts made in China, final symbolic assembly of said parts performed in the US. Yay!
  • gtemnykh: Okay, so we agree that it’s not a 3/4 ton truck… moving goal posts much? You seemed to imply...
  • Kyree S. Williams: I’ve seen several already here in Oklahoma City, and I do like the overall shape. I...
  • ash78: Yep, it’s like the “Artist’s Rendition” that would circulate with an Amber Alert for...
  • Ermel: Yeah, well, America. You get the F 150s, we get the Fiestas. That’s just the way it is.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Seth Parks, United States
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Kyree Williams, United States