By on February 16, 2012

The Corolla and the Civic get all the attention when we think about the Japanese subcompacts that put the fear into Detroit during the final years of the Malaise Era, but we mustn’t forget Nissan’s replacement for the rear-drive Datsun 210: the Sentra. You don’t see many early Sentras in junkyards these days; they haven’t been a common sight in The Crusher’s waiting room for a decade or so. Here’s one that I spotted in California earlier this month.


1983 was the first full year of Sentra sales, and it was also the first year in which Nissan badges were bigger than Datsun badges. I don’t recall ever hearing the Sentra referred to as a Datsun, though the ’83s did have “Datsun by Nissan” badges on the trunklid. By ’84, all the American ex-Datsuns were 200-proof Nissan.
I’ve owned a couple of these cars, and I recall them being nowhere near as fun to drive as the contemporary Civic and not quite as comfortable as the Corolla. They got great fuel economy, though, and they once roamed the streets of America in numbers equal to their Honda and Toyota counterparts.
You’re looking at 69 horses of Nissan E16 power. Weighing only 1,900 pounds, this car got highway mileage into the 50 MPG zone. Of course, once gasoline prices dropped well below a buck per gallon in 1985, American car buyers didn’t care so much about that number.

It’s a steal!

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Nissan Sentra Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Garak

    I remember those cars, they were really popular in their day in Finland. Warm and good starters in the winter. You still see one occasionally.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    My brother had one of these, he bought it in 1988, nice car even had AC which for an econobox in Maine was very rare, the only problem was it would not go into reverse or 5th, that and he ran it out of oil going skiing one day blew the engine a year later, he then “upgraded” to an 87 Sundance.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I still occasionally see Datsun/Nissans from this era floating around Seattle as daily drivers, mostly the older 510/Stanzas though.

    There may still be floating around here, a faded red Stanza wagon of about 1983/84 vintage. Haven’t seen it in recent months so don’t know if still around or it got left on the street too long and it got towed.

    Fun living in a part of the world where a 30 Y.O. car can still exist easily and be relatively rust free if from this area all its life.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Still junk after all these years. Our K-Car was better.

    I equated these with your average Coors beer can – just as flimsy. I hate foreign cars…

    • 0 avatar
      friedclams

      Zackman I usually agree with you, but I knew a 1983 Aries wagon well (my mom owned it) and it was an atrocity. The Sentra from the same year doubtless used thinner metal but was a much better engineered car.

      Oh the stories I could tell about that Aries. Apparently the later K-cars got a lot better in later years.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        My post was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Our Reliant was a first-year model and while generally reliable, we did have first-year issues I would never put up with today – but we did, and kept it 7 years.

        A co-worker at the time bought a Nissan Sentra coupe – not sure of the year, but it was a tin can. What really bugged me though – it ran and ran well.

        Really made me mad, because if “they” – the foreign OEMs could do it, why did the domestic OEMs saddle us with X-cars, J-cars, K-cars, (name your favorite piece of junk here) and engines that wouldn’t start or run properly or blew up of their own mind, transmissions – ditto, and other stuff SEEMINGLY the “foreign” OEMs didn’t have issues with. Or if they did, you didn’t hear about it, as if there was some sort of conspiracy going on behind the scenes in the industry.

        Recalling all that stuff really gets my old dander up…cooling off now…

      • 0 avatar
        friedclams

        One thing I think the Japanese manufacturers mastered early on was carbureting small engines! The carbs on equivalent Detroit iron were much cruder and balkier (case in point: Aries).

        If that had been ironed out properly I think there wouldn’t been quite so huge a migration to Japanese makers.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        Quality/reliability issues are best kept within their timeframe. They are also relative to what you’re used to. My mom’s 83 Aries SW was a dream car. Yes it had stalling issues. But once we learned not to use gas with ethanol, those went away. Also it replaced our Cutlass diesel (shudder), so anything was a vast improvement.
        Today a car company would go bankrupt if they tried turning out something equivalent to K-cars. Back then we couldn’t believe Chrysler made something so good.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I dunno about Sentras, but I can say that when I went from a ’90 Horizon to an ’89 Tercel felt like going from a modern horse wagon to a proper compact.

        That Horizon would’ve kept going, but it suffred from tranny issues just short of 90k, seems to be when most domestics have pricey issues.

    • 0 avatar
      3800FAN

      My first car was a hemi…..85 reliant with the Mitsubishi 2.6. It had sat abandoned for 8 years when i gave it a second life in 2000. It was reliable although a gas guzzled (Epa 20/24 i kid u not). In the end it succumbed to the timing chain guide issue.

      I replaced it with an 88prelude si 4ws 5speed. Now that car i really miss.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    A 1983 Sentra hatchback was my first new car. Mine was a 5-speed, and C&D said it had a 0-60 of 11.9 seconds. Today, that’s awful, but that was about 2 seconds faster than a Chevette. Even though it was a 2-door, it had reasonable rear seat room, and you could fold the seats down and lay down in the hatch. That was standard road-trip accommodation for me. I think it was rated at 35 highway, and I could get 33 most of the time. Until the 1984 Civic came out, I think the Sentra was the best small car sold in the US. The 1984 Civic was a game changer.

  • avatar
    GMis4GoodManners

    I had the 85 Sentra wagon with the automatic. Ran forever, minimal repairs, great gas mileage, but you had to turn off the air conditioning when you were going up a steep hill on the highway. You’d start at the bottom of the hill doing 65 and you were lucky (even with the air off) if you were still doing 55 by the time you got to the top of the hill.

  • avatar
    fiasco

    Did my share of “off roading” in my friend’s (mom’s) 84 Sentra sedan…it took more abuse than it should have, up until the rear suspension started to cave in.

  • avatar
    mzr

    My friend had one of these in the mid ’90s. We did a lot of work to it, and it took a lot of abuse.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Ugh…this is as boring a car as it gets.

  • avatar
    Bryce

    Still some of these on the streets they also came with Holden Astra badging in hatchback form

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    wow, that takes me back. My mother bought one new in 83. She bought the 2 door hatchback with AT. It wasn’t fast be did ok for what it was and i remember her getting mid 30’s mpg on the highway. The one thing i liked was the huge glass hatch and decent rear seat leg room for a small car. She never really had any problems with it but the interior was really cheap with some of the plastics turning a chalky gray after about 3 years. That wouldn’t be tolerable these days.

  • avatar

    An old girlfriend had an ’84 5-speed wagon variant handed down from her father who bought it new 10 years prior. What this beast lacked in creature comforts, it made up for being readily fixable and not needing that too often, even under her harsh ownership.

    The car was registered in TX, KY, IN, LA and TX again during her years with it and managed many trips between those places. In 2002, approaching 300k (on only its second clutch no less) it wasn’t retired but sold to a mechanic at the dealer from which it was purchased new who said he wanted something for his 17 yo daughter that he knew how to fix.

    We eventually broke up the act and I moved away from the neighborhood. For a while, when I saw that little wonder around from time to time Dad was driving.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Ah, the B11, carrying on the old Nissan tradition of being competent and boring in equal measure (all the fun stuff came from the Prince side).

    The engine should be the E15 for ’83, but nonetheless I recognize the valve cover from my ’88 TBI E16. The oil “cap” was a big rubber plug pressed into the valve cover. It worked well enough most of the year, but when the temperature got close to freezing, that plug became hard as a rock and was a huge pain to pull out and push in.

    Nissan sold a ton of these, and for a few years in the mid ’80s the Sentra was the top-selling import in the US. IIRC, some of the refreshed ’85-86 B11s with composite lamps were built at Smyrna.

    The B11 to look for these days is the whodat? CD17 diesel Sentra. Slow as dirt, but it got 60 billion mpg and will probably survive an EMP burst from a misfired Chinese satellite.

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    Haha…growing up we all rode around in my dad’s 1984 Nissan Sentra, but it was the somewhat rounder looking coupe. It was totally stripped-vinyl seats, manual door locks and windows, no radio, no AC, 5 speed manual transmission. It survived for a then decent number of years-11 years-but what sent it to the junkyard was that the motor just up and died at 55,000 miles with multiple cracked cylinder (heads?-I dunno, I was like 8 years old).

    What I really recall was just how terrible it was on the highway-everyone on the highway would go zooming past the loaded up Sentra and when we’d all yell for my dad to pass them he’d downshift and then the motor would struggle to do something vaguely resembling accelerating the car. Probably 5-10 minutes later we’d be at the speed of the flow of traffic, lol. On top of that the ultra light nature of the car meant that it floated around like crazy on windy days and passing tractor trailers was always a white knuckle experience. My dad was so proud of the car though since it was the first car he’d ever purchased new-it was super cheap when he bought it, about $5000 for the stripped down model. I think the modern day equivalent is the stripper Versa.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Tekdemon,

      Are you sure you mean 55,000 in 11 years? The normal mileage for a car that age is closer to 130-150K miles in normal driving.

      Also, do you know if your dad ever let the motor rev beyond 3000rpm? If not, then he wasn’t driving it properly as most of these motors did way less than 100hps, with the average being between 50-80hp with the bulk doing upper 60’s to around 80hp – all on roughly 1.4-1.8L 4 pot motors and most could easily rev beyond 5000rpm before hitting redline.

      To get it to pass, he may have had to shift down more than one gear to get the revs up enough to reach deep into the power band for some ooomph and thus he could’ve passed others much more easily, even if loaded down with the family.

      Most Americans are afraid to rev their motors up beyond 3000rpm for fear of damage to the motor when most small motors like the one in that old Sentra, as is a more modern motor found in today’s cars are built to rev high when necessary to gain all their available power for passing etc.

      I had a 1983 Honda Civic with 67HP and had to carry 3 others in it and with the 5spd, I found it did fine even when loaded up with people or stuff, just shift down enough, get the revs up and it got up to speed well enough.

      The motor was still good at 183K miles even if the body wasn’t so hot when I sold it to a couple desperate for a short term driver since their car got stolen back in Dec of 1998.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    When I was living in San Antonio in the eighties my next door neighbors had an ’83 Sentra, the coupe version with a stick, puke green metallic with those ugly plastic tape stripes that dealers loved to put on back then. Don’t think they had any problems, and I rode in the back seat a number of times which was comfortable enough for a little dude like me. But so crude compared to the Toyota/ Honda competition . The interior was downright cheesy and as mentioned here the sheetmetal was really thin.

  • avatar
    roger628

    Sometimes the site of something can evoke memories of things tangental to the object itself. Case in point, a woman neighbor of my parents had this exact car and color. A horrible, divorced shrew of a single mother who seemingly blamed her 2 teenage kids for everything wrong in her pathetic life. She would heap egregious verbal abuse on those kids on a daily basis. She eventually moved away to a nearby high-rise.About a year later, listening to the police scanner one night, it turns out that the son had snuck it out for an unlicensed, uninsured ride and smacked up the front suspension on a curb. I shuddered and could only imagine what that poor kid was in for.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    I remember being 16 years old and shopping a used 200sx and thinking for a moment it was an 8 cyl by the number of spark plug wires under the hood. Nope, 4 cyl.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I had a neighbor with one of these, the 2dr hatch basically a much improved B210. Back in 83-4 they offered a diesel version in 2dr sedan only. It got 50MPG Hwy which at the time was one of the EPA mileage leaders up there with CRX, Chevette diesel, Rabbit diesel.

  • avatar
    FordTempoEnthusiast

    Okay Murilee. Enough with the Japanese junk. We need some domestic muscle. Say, a nice old Topaz or maybe something Malaise-flavored. Or a vintage 70s F-Series monster.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    There’s an ’83 or ’84 Sentra hatch, light yellow, that’s here in my town. It’s owned by an oldddd woman and lives at the old person’s RV park near my apartment. I see it driving around sometimes and that sucker is clean. Not a scratch or dent, even the old school CA license plate is oxidized or faded like they often get.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    I liked how you mentioned it wasn’t as fun to drive as a civic or comfortable as a corolla. That’s what I’ve always disliked about Nissans to the present day. They’ve just always felt a notch below their japanese competition (including mazda) in terms of comfort, driving dynamics, or fit/finish/interior material quality, or all 3. I’ve test drivien many nissans cuz they look so sweet on paper but then there’s always a killer factor that makes me say no. 91 240sx was the on-off clutch and trashy 12 valve truck motor, 95 maxima was the fact that I couldn’t position the seat comfortably without the stick shift being out of reach, 02 maxima was the cramped interior and STALE driving dynamics, 02 altima was the sunroof cutting out all the headroom cheap interior plastics and poor 4 cylinder reliability, 04 maxima was the cheap interior, 07 altima was the loudness of the motor, the tinny suspension feel and stab-in-your-back lumbar support with no lumbar adjustment without going to the sl model.

    I’ve found mitsubishis to be more comfortable well rounded cars than Nissans.

    I could go on and on but I’ve always walked away from nissan test drives feeling dissapointed.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    My mother-in-law currently drives a 1984 Nissan Sentra Diesel. I didn’t even realize they made a diesel until I started dating my now wife 15 years ago. It suffered some serious body damage when it was run over by some lady driving a jacked-up land barge SUV last year; try finding comps for that car when your battling with the insurance company over value. She’s still driving it, though with a salvage title now.

  • avatar

    Had one, used, same color, sedan, 5 speed, paid $300 for it from my uncle’s car repair garage/used lot. The passenger fender looked like someone took a machine gun to it, some asshole threw a brick through the driver’s side window the first day I had it. I put in the window from an 84, and it didn’t fit (this is after five weeks of lexan and tape). Drove it 90 miles a day back and forth to school (New Bedford to West Barnstable), 6 days a week for 18 months at least, and cruised around in it for hours and hours and hours just about every night. Had a Sears brand stereo that never had two working channels.

    Car had one leopard skin seat cover.

    I drove it for 2 full years, put in one clutch, and one set of cheap-ass tires, traded it for an Aiwa brand walkman one day before I went overseas for college — September of 1992. The guy I traded it to put another 20,000 miles on it (so he told me) before it finally gave up the ghost at just shy of 250k miles.

    It was surprisingly comfortable, especially on the highway.

  • avatar
    sandmanx

    I had a 1982 tan colored one that I learned to drive in and was my first car. It was a 5 speed and I remember the car had no power but since I was a dumbass 16 year old I still tore it up. 63 days after getting my license, I rear ended a Chevy Beretta and totaled it(and the beretta too…good riddance). While the car was a total crapcan, it was a good first car, and a small part of me misses it.

    Datsun by Nissan was also on the back of the 82. I don’t remember this car getting good mileage, as I seem to remember around 20mpg on it. Another funny thing with cars from this era seemed to be the manual trans never had a tach, but the slushboxes always seemed to have them, so I never knew how high I was revving the motor.

  • avatar
    smuryof

    Hey… I actually drive one of these every day. 2 door hatchback, mud brown outside & tan interior. Just got the air conditioning working today, actually. Tin can or no, I love the car. I bought it from a kid 3 years ago for $750, really clean inside and out. It’s my daily driver, 15K miles per year. When I bought it, it had 150,000 miles, and it is just now getting to the 200,000 mark. I drive it hard every day, just about peg the needle (not too hard when the speedo maxes out at 85) but I also use full synthetic and keep up on all the maintenance.

    My biggest problem? Rock chips. Apparently, there is only one windshield left in the entire WORLD for this car (at Pilkington Classic,) and after I use that one up, I won’t be able to register it here in Utah anymore. So I have to be extra damn careful behind those gravel trucks…


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