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Junkyard Gem: 1981 Datsun 210 sedan


Apr 16, 2023
Junkyard Gem: 1981 Datsun 210 sedan


Nissan began selling the Sunny in North America (with Datsun 1200 badging) for the 1971 model year, and the Datsun B210 version of the Sunny became a big seller here in the wake of the 1973 Oil Crisis. Nissan began building the B210’s successor, the B310 Sunny, in its homeland in 1977; the North American-market version went on sale as a 1979 model. This was the Datsun 210, the last rear-wheel-drive member of the Sunny family, and I found this ’81 sedan in a Colorado self-service car graveyard last fall.

1981 was the final model year for the B310 Sunny (it didn’t get B310 badging here because Nissan decided to call the first-generation Pulsar the Datsun 310 in North America, meanwhile reassigning the old 510 name for use on the Americanized Nissan Violet). The Datsun name itself began to be phased out around the time today’s Junkyard Gem was new, with the process completed in 1984.

The automotive industry had been in a frenzy to design and manufacture new front-wheel-drive models for quite a while by 1981. Nissan sold the front-wheel-drive Cherry (with Datsun F-10 badges) here during the mid-to-late 1970s, but its sales numbers never came close to those of the B210.

This car’s front-wheel-drive successor, the B11 Sunny, first showed up in American Datsun showrooms as a 1982 model. That was the Nissan Sentra, which bore some vestigial Datsun badging early on but was sold here as a Nissan from day one. The Sentra got even better fuel economy than the 210, while offering more interior space at the same time.

Like so many cars of its era that I find in Colorado junkyards, this one is a California-specific model rather than the “49-state” version.

The engine is the 1.5-liter A-series four-cylinder, rated at 65 horsepower. That means this car is a top-trim-level 210 Deluxe; the base model got a 1.2-liter engine while the gas-sipping 210 MPG version had a 1.4.

The MSRP for a 1981 Datsun 210 Deluxe sedan was $5,389, or about $18,531 in 2023 dollars. The original buyer of this one checked the boxes for the most expensive options, including the $295 automatic transmission ($1,014 today) and the $560 air conditioning ($1,926 after inflation). The very cheapest 1981 Toyota Corolla four-door sedan listed at $5,458 ($18,769), and it had rear-wheel-drive like the 210 (the unrelated and confusingly named Toyota Corolla Tercel had front-wheel-drive but was much smaller).

These cars were excruciatingly vulnerable to corrosion, and this one has some nasty rust for a car that started out in Southern California (there are maintenance stickers from Inland Empire shops under the hood) and moved to not-so-rusty Front Range Colorado later on. Perhaps it spent a few years in Michigan in between.

The interior took a beating from harsh Western sunlight.

An automatic 210 with body rot and a nuked interior wasn’t likely to be rescued and fixed up by an enthusiast. A nicer example would have been a good recipient for a fun engine swap.

The 1979-1981 Datsun 210 was available as a two- or four-door sedan, a three-door hatchback, or a five-door wagon.

Drives for four days on a single tank!

Put your money in the bank… not in the tank.

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