With the recent and not surprising news of the Nissan Maxima’s planned demise in 2023, it’s time for a Rare Rides retrospective on a nameplate that was once lauded as one of the best sporty sedans on the market. From its origins as a rear-drive Datsun to the eighth generation that’s a shadow of its former self, the Maxima persisted with its unique value proposition: That it was a step up from the standard Japanese family sedan. Our story begins in Japan, with the Bluebird range.
The badging on US-market Datsuns and Nissans got very confusing thanks to the Datsun-to-Nissan changeover that stretched from 1981 through 1984. It resulted in vehicles with awkward names such as “Datsun 810 Maxima By Nissan” showing up in showrooms with all the Datsun logos about to be chiseled off the walls. There was an ever-shifting cast of Bluebirds and Cherrys and Violets and Sunnys sold with American-market designations ending in “-1o” that sometimes corresponded with their corporate identifiers and sometimes didn’t. And then there was the Stanza-based 510 that wasn’t related to its beloved Bluebird-based 1968-73 namesake.
Here is such a car, spotted in a Denver self-serve yard a few weeks ago.
So there’s the “real” Datsun 510, which was sold from the 1968 through 1973 model years and is the one everyone means when they talk about the now-incredibly-valuable BMW 2002 competitor… and then there’s the A10 Nissan Violet, which was sold in the United States with 510 badging from 1977 through 1981. These cars are extremely rare, but I found one in Oakland in 2012 and now I’ve found another in Denver.
Yesterday, I shared a Toyota Corona ad from the February 1969 issue of Playboy. I like the Corona for personal reasons, but if the Time Machine took me back to ’69 and I didn’t have a lot to spend (or even if I did have a lot to spend), the Datsun 510 would be one of my top choices. Wouldn’t you know, there’s an ad for the 510 in the very same issue!
Wait a minute— this Malaise Era heap, with its solid rear axle and AMC Hornet-esque lines, this car can’t be a 510! That’s what I thought when I spotted this car at a Northern California self-service yard last month, having forgotten that Nissan’s American marketers slapped 510 badges on the 710/Violet/Stanza/200B for the ’78 and ’79 model years. This is the first time I’ve seen one of these things in at least 20 years.
The Datsun 240 was as a true revolutionary, smashing the long-stagnant sports car market of the sixties into smithereens. It was long overdue too; folks were getting cranky for the messiah: a truly modern sporty two seater with four-wheel independent suspension, a zippy OHC six engine, dazzling styling, all served up at a reasonable price; say $3500 (about $20k adjusted). The hole in the market for such a car was begging to be filled. And Datsun stepped up and delivered, with a grand-slam home run. But like most revolutionaries, the Z was anything but truly original. But then neither was Che nor Lenin; they studied Marx. And Datsun? They took their studies seriously too.