By on August 9, 2011

Yesterday, we saw an once-ubiquitous 80s Japanese econobox that has nearly disappeared from the face of the earth; at the same Denver junkyard, I found a once-ubiquitous 70s Japanese econobox that also hasn’t been seen on the street for many years. The little fastback B210 was once everywhere.
75 horsepower under the hood, which meant that B210 drivers had to be patient on freeway onramps; even scaling in at under a ton, the B210 was pretty sluggish. Pintos owned the B210 at stoplight races.
The four-speed B210 was poky enough, but just imagine the agony of trying to accelerate with half the power being soaked up by an automatic transmission. Groan.
Still, these things were reasonably reliable (by the very lax standards of the era), sipped gas through a cocktail straw, and looked pretty good. Hey, what do you suppose an SR20DET-swapped B210 would be like?
Nissan was pretty good about making taillights and trim pieces look Mars Base-style futuristic back in those days; I think the current Sentra could use this treatment.
Sorry about the hazy photos— I was at the junkyard on an emergency mission to replace some theft-attempt-damaged parts on my Civic and had only my phone’s camera on me at the time. Check in later for the tale of How I Thwarted Another Civic Thief.

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45 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1974 Datsun B210...”

  • avatar

    MM, I think you need to get a job. I can’t imagine myself having the kind of seemingly-endless amounts of free time to hang around junkyards like you do, although sometimes I wish I did!

  • avatar

    “Hey, what do you suppose an SR20DET-swapped B210 would be like?”


    • 0 avatar

      An ideal lemons racer.

      This is the exact car I want to make into a lemons winner. I might even turbo the stock A13/A14 engine. You can pretty much do all maintenance with a 10mm and 12mm wrenches. I also have a spare KA drivetrain in the garage from a 240sx, I bet I could make it fit.

      With the 4 speed manual, while slow, were a blast to drive. With a proper alignment they actually handled pretty well.
      I owned two ’77 B210s and 2 ’80 210s. I preferred the ’77. Back in the mid 80s my Dad worked for a car importer that was clearing out old stock and I got so many spare parts at stupid cheap prices. A new exhaust for $10 and a complete gaskit and seal kit for a few bucks. I pulled the engine on the $100 dollar beater I bought with a blown head gaskit and rebuilt it for about 20 bucks. It didn’t burn a drop of oil, got over 30mpg no matter how hard I beat it and started on the first crank no matter the weather.

      And yes, they disappeared into a pile of rust.

      • 0 avatar

        It has been amply proven that crazy power-to-weight ratios don’t win LeMons races. What wins a LeMons race is a team stacked top-to-bottom with robotically consistent drivers who never make mistakes.

        That said, I think a B210 with a turbocharged engine sounds like an excellent idea for LeMons racing. Actually, we’ve had a couple of fairly powerful NA B210s in LeMons, and they’ve been, well, pretty terrible. There’s something to be said for modern suspension design.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I would guess the reason why your dad’s car import company had so much NOS parts available was this engine found it’s way into many fork lifts and generators.

  • avatar

    OMG, I have a story about one of these too! Back in the mid 80s my boss had one of these that was the most disgusting car I had ever been seen. (I was later to own a Dodge Colt that was even worse) It reeked of 70’s era Japanese vinyl, kid barf and ass. We always had a blast going places in it because the two of us would laugh hysterically whenever he attempted to make it accelerate. (insert your favorite slowness jokes here) One day we were driving across I287 in Westchester county NY, which back then was piled with garbage right up to the edges of the lanes. Suddenly we heard a death knoll from under the hood and began to loose forward momentum quickly. Hood open and propped up with an umbrella we quickly ascertained that one of the alternator bolts had gone on vacation. Within minutes I found another bolt by the side of the road, but my boss one-upped me by returning triumphantly with a much better looking alternator than the one in the car. We swapped everything out with a pair of pliers (thank goodness everything was pre-loosened) and were on our way.

  • avatar

    Did the beloved by hordes B-210 have a “Honey Bee” version?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. It was a special “special-price” version which was decontented (I can’t remember how, exactly), came only in yellow and had funky “honeycomb” wheel covers which looked like trashcan covers that had an embossed hexagonal pattern with the lines painted black. MSRP was $2999. One of my college student friends got one from her parents as a present. She was thrilled with it. After all, the rest of our crowd was driving used cars of varying value.

  • avatar

    They were called the Datsun 120Y in Australia, aka 120Why? Horrible car, amazingly poor roadholding and performance. Most here were sedans but lots of coupes as pictured (a young guy not far from me owns one now), I have seen a single 2-door sedan too.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d forgotten about the sedan version. The hatchback has a certain quirky charm to it, but my god those sedans. Somehow they managed to be frumpy and funky at the same time.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a 4 door 120y in Hobart having left my car in VIC drove the wheels off the thing all over Tassie 6000kms in 6 weeks never missed a beat but an awful car for roadholding comfort performance it was economical but gutless on hills. sold it in a pub no problem for $500 and a ride to the airport.

  • avatar

    When I was in high school, the three guys I associated with most of the time were all big guys, we all played one sport or another. For example, I was the nose tackle on the football team, the other guys were wrestlers or baseball players. We went everywhere in Kevin’s B210, as it was very good on fuel.

    But, we must have looked like a circus sideline when the four of us extracted ourselves from that little car. The worst part was getting that poor little beast to climb the hills we have in Northeast Ohio with any kind of speed. There were a few times I was pretty sure that the car was just going to roll backwards down the hill as it struggled mightily to keep any kind of forward momentum…

    Like so many of these cars, it dissolved in the copious amounts of salt we used in that part of the country.

    What would be fun would be to swap a Turbocharged Ecotec into one of these… That would wake it up!

  • avatar

    When my father moved to Washington, DC back in 1987, he bought a turd-brown B210 for $250 from my sister’s roommate. Everybody that he worked with laughed at him, but the dang thing wouldn’t die…just ran and ran and ran. He didn’t care about bad weather (he didn’t really care about the need to wash it, for that matter). I drove it my first year of college (clutch slipping, ignition mechanism kept the car running even if the key was out…a handy thing when running into a store). I gave the car away a year later to my older cousin, who gave it in turn to his brother-in-law. Affectionately called the “Brown Bean” we still talk fondly of that car…

  • avatar

    Had a station-wagon version of one of these in just that color, and used it on two years’ worth of a 130-mile round-trip daily commute. It was reasonably comfortable if you provided your own lumbar-support cushion, and reliable unless you ran the fuel too low, in which case it would choke on tank residue. One irritating thing was various squeaks and rattles in the dash; I’d drive to work with screwdrivers, trying to find the loose bits that needed to be tightened. Its other quirk was an emissions-control artifact of that era: you didn’t want to let off the gas too quickly under heavy “acceleration” or you’d get a muffler-threatening backfire.

  • avatar

    I had one of these in blue w/ a 5 speed. It was so rusted on the floorboards you could see the road beneath you. Was fairly reliable for the 2 years I had it, but I definitely got it on the downhill side of its life-cycle (think it had close to 200k on the clock).

    Worst repair was the driveshaft just snapped one time pulling onto a busy road. Made a horrible noise and scared the sh*t out of me. I do remember it being a total gas sipper though. As a poor community college student that was worth a lot.

  • avatar

    What a great find. It’s with cars like this that Datsun/Nissan grabbed market share away from the Big 3 in the US.

  • avatar

    My supervisor bought one of these fastbacks new. It had those funny-looking honeycomb wheel covers, and was pale metallic green with a white vinyl top, and black and tan interior. Automatic, too. Never did hear much from him about it, so don’t know if it worked well for him.

  • avatar

    I live in Denver and I went to this junkyard pulling out a transmission from a 5-speed 1982 280zx for my 1972 240z, and saw this car heh. It was one of two that was actually marked as a B210 in their inventory that actually was a B210. The other was actually a 1977 280z.

  • avatar

    Here’s a ’78 that has become a family heirloom.

  • avatar

    The B210 was nick-named the “atomic cockroach” by Car and Driver in 1974. The name fits.

  • avatar

    There is not many on the road, and when I attended university in Colorado, there were too many. They rusted faster than they accelerated.

    I don’t really understand why these cars were popular, other than the fact that they were not American and they were cheap. I had a girlfriend with one and today, most drivers under forty years of age simply cannot imagine a cheaper interior than the ones they put into these cars.

    This car and the F-10 is the reason why Nissan decided to drop the Datsun name. When I think of Datsun, I think plastic and rust. If a car part was not rust, then it was plastic. Yugos looked rather acceptable when compared to these disposable lemons.

    And UGLY. Once Datsun stopped making the 510, they just went balls-out hideous. The S-200, the F-10, the B-210, these cars needed to be tarped when parked in public.

    Gutless – these cars had to have manual transmissions to make it up Floyd Hill on I-70.

    These are not worth remembering.

    • 0 avatar

      People whose idea of Japanese cars are 1980s vintage Hondas and 1990s vintage Toyotas have no idea just how crappy Japanese cars were in the 1970s. Yes, they were mechanically reliable, but ugly, underpowered, with inferior automatic transmissions and bodies that rusted even faster than Detroit cars.

      Maybe that’s why they first caught on in southern California, they didn’t rust. But as cars they were mostly a joke. European cars were technically interesting but when Fiat was making the 128, Toyota and Nissan were still making little 4 cyl cars with RWD and cart axles in the back. The Datsun 510 was the exception, not the rule.

      Honda was a real mold breaker because they were a) not a car company and b) focused on selling cars in the US, not Japan.

      • 0 avatar

        @Ronnie: +1. Geez, you’re hitting all of the high notes tonight…

      • 0 avatar

        +1 Ronnie

        You are absolutely right. It’s almost a minor miracle that the Japanese got their quality up to the level it is now. Their engines were alright, but the rest of the cars were beyond crap.

        Damn, I’m feeling old. I still remember when Japanese cars were “rice-burners” and people would ask you how many bushels of rice it took to run your car. And the derisiveness was justified at the time.

  • avatar

    75 horsepower under the hood, which meant that B210 drivers had to be patient on freeway onramps; even scaling in at under a ton, the B210 was pretty sluggish.

    W115 300D. 77HP, 3500# empty.

    Cry me a river, O B210drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      75 hp from 1.3 liters in the US in 1974 seems like almost motorcycle territory. The Mopar slant-6, which was almost 3 times the displacement, was rated at 105 hp in 1974. I doubt this Datsun had the torque to make the automatic transmission a good selection though.

  • avatar

    Hey, I dunno about the Pinto comment. My ol’ man traded a Pinto for a used Datsun, and the B210 was far and away the better performer in every aspect. Of course, the Pinto – even with a stick – was incapable of reaching 60 mph in under thirty seconds, so the bar was set pretty low. This is why the infamous exploding gas tank issue with the Fords was taken so seriously: cars this slow were just asking to be rear-ended! And although the B210’s have long since rusted away, I suspect they were better than the crop of ’75 Pintos that (like ours) rusted through in six months or less…even without seeing salt.

    PS – No, I’m not an alias for Silvy.

  • avatar

    This was my first car..I called it Fred (as in Flintstone) because it felt like one of those cars that needed a little extra footpower. Had the 4-speed stick, but soon learned there was little benefit in downshifting, because there was no more power to be had. Well, actually, I lived in a mountainous area, so I rarely made it past 3rd gear. But a tank of gas would last forever. I remember it had the vents that you could pop open and closed, and my passengers always seemed enthralled by this, opening and closing the vents repeatedly. Alas, the car was undone by a lowly spider that found its way into the fuel system.

    • 0 avatar

      But a tank of gas would last forever.

      Remember the ads? “It’s a long way to empty, in a Datsun” and “Suddenly it’s gonna dawn on you, Datsun Saves!!”

  • avatar

    Up in my neck of the woods but just a short drive. I took it out for a spin. Has a 5 speed. Handles alright.. sounds amazing as it has a straight pipe.. spits and sputters all the way down the tach. A bit rich for my blood though as it has the signs of severe rocker and fender cancer.

  • avatar

    My B210, was my driver’s ed car, a brand-new B210, and it was the only one of the 6 D.E. cars in our high-school’s fleet … I picked it for the manual trans, so i could learn how to shift … everybody else took one of the 5 Buick Regals, with a/t, a/c and FM stereo … I had the m/t, a blower, and a/m … the car was blue, and with none of the deluxe exterior trim of the car in this article.

    p.s. My B210 was great, I never had to fill it up, never had any warranty issues, handled great … of course, I only drove it for a total of about 30 minutes over a period of two weeks, in the school parking lot…

  • avatar

    Ok, I’m proud to say I have a B210 story as well. I inherited a 77 4-speed fastback from my brother, making me the 4th family member that would drive the car through college. By the time I got it, the car had about 180,000 miles and was banged up, the worse being the rear quarter panel turned inside out by a semi-truck wheel.

    Even after the years of abuse, the car was still indestructible. I beat the crap out of it and it never failed, burned no oil, and always started right up. An added bonus was the front brake pads cost about $20 and took 15 minutes to change.

    Somewhere along the line the smog pump was disconnected, so when it came time to move on the car couldn’t pass California emissions and be transferred. With the cost to get it smogged more that it was worth, the finale was selling it for salvage with about 250,000 miles on the clock.

    When the salvage yard drove up the fork lift, I laughed and told the guy to just get in and drive it around back, which he did!

  • avatar

    I had a weird crush on this thing at about the time I was shopping for my first car (budget < $500), for the sick, twisted reason that I thought it vaguely resembled the neighborhood Alfetta GTV I was head-over-heels in lust with. I also have a deep, inexplicable attraction to 1970s Japanese designs that I try to avoid talking about.

  • avatar

    Can you imagine one of these little bombs with a turbocharged Mazda 13B rotary dropped into the engine bay?

    Back in the 80’s when I was taking college auto shop classes, the body shop toolroom attendant had TWO of these- a yellow “Honey Bee” notchback and a brown GX hatchback. He was a cool guy, but kinda weird. He walked with a limp, couldn’t speak well, had unsteady hands, and always had a far-off look on his face.

    That’s when a buddy of mine told me the sad story. The guy used to be perfectly normal until he was in a bad car accident. The brain injury he suffered permanently affected his speech, motor skills, and occasionally his behavior.

    And he still hadn’t learned his lesson after that- he still drove like a maniac.

  • avatar

    So this is the type of car that jj99 says has nice interiors, huh…still I remember seeing these things pretty much intact in Palm Desert in the early nineties…they had rotted away in my neck of the woods after 4 years of use. We forget how good we have it today…

    • 0 avatar

      First time poster. Great site and great find. I had the turd-brown metallic fastback with a 4-speed, 1974. It had previously been totalled and rebuilt. The steering wheel still had a slight bend in it from some unlucky soul’s impact with it. This was back in the “good old days” where vehicles did not require inspection of any kind – at least not in my province. You just gave them the VIN and some money and they handed over the license plates and documentation. Painted the dented bumpers black for that sporty look – actually looked pretty good. I always thought that dash was weird looking. Installed an under-dash Pioneer cassette and amp with 6x9s in the back side panels – that stereo rocked. A friend had the sedan version in red. He had the honeycomb wheel covers – masked off the hex pattern and repainted black and they looked really good. Jesse James mentioned on one episode of Monster Garage that he always wanted the “Honey Bee” version – looked for years and finally found one.

  • avatar

    These things were dirt cheap and dead nuts reliable. Great qualities, even in an ugly car. but I hate them. My mother died in one of them.

  • avatar

    My university buddy had one of these he bought new (semi-rich dad). It gave him more grief than any other car he has owned. In perhaps 40,000 miles he blew the head gasket three times. Each time the head had to be planed. After the third one, the compression ratio was getting so high he needed to us premium gas. I only rode in it once. We hit a storm drain grill by the curb and one of those “premium” window trim pieces fell off the door. We didn’t go back to pick it up. Slow, ugly, cheap/poorly built. Total POS. He replaced it with a Triumph Spitfire, which I think he still owns.

  • avatar

    I’ve always liked the fastbacks better than the notchbacks but have seen all three at onetime or another until about the late 80’s when they began to disappear around the Seattle/Tacoma area.

    I once knew a guy when working at Domino’s Pizza in the mid 80’s who had the ’76 fastback version, in a weird shade of yellow and I suspect it might’ve been repainted as I think it might’ve been originally blue due to the bluish tint of the yellow paint – and the rub strips peeled off of its “chrome” finish in places but DID have the honeycomb wheel covers though.

    I rode in it and it WAS a little more than basic transportation at the time, but it did the job.

  • avatar

    I used to own one of those, back in 1985.
    This car nearly killed me.
    When driving at night at ca 60mph, i got a short circuit.
    Everyhting went pitch black. I just managed to stay on the road :O

  • avatar

    When I was seven, a neighbor moved onto the block with a green B210. Even at that age, the ugliness of this car made no sense to me. It would sprout random rust spots that the owners would cover with spray paint they bought at pep boys. The B210 sure didn’t help build Nissan’s reputation for quality. Such a POS best forgotten.

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