Few will argue the point that the 510 was the car that made Datsun in the States. With an OHC engine, fully independent suspension and a rock-bottom pricing structure (under $2000 new-cheap even by late '60s standards), the solid little sedan quickly gained a life-and a fan base-of its own. John Morton won the SCCA Trans Am 2.5L title in '71 and '72, before SCCA disbanded the class. It also became Nissan's rally car of choice, replacing the heavier Cedric. Four hundred thousand buyers made the 510 Datsun's face on the roads of America.
But not all Datsun 510s were created equal. While they were making a name for the fledgling Datsun marque in the States, Japan got a whole different version all to itself. A fastback roofline and a single-piece taillight were the largest styling differences, but the sporting SSS model received a 1.8L version of the SOHC L-series four while we made do with the 1.6. There was also more luxurious trim inside and out, and it wore a now-traditional Japanese name: Bluebird.
It was a hit at home, immediately outselling Toyota's new top-selling Corona right after its launch, but why the Bluebird never officially came to the States is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the company felt that the notion of an upscale Datsun in an age where they were trying to make a name for themselves selling cheap, honest, but fun transportation, would have been too much for the American market to bear.
Whatever the case, Bluebirds get plenty of respect from the 510 crowd. A few of these rare right-hand-drivers have landed on these shores: best estimates from www.datsunbluebird.com, the source that you'd visit to find information on such things, claim that a couple of dozen now reside in the States. Quite a few of these were converted to full-race status, so street-driven rides are more rare still. And of the street cars, most have been tweaked in some manner or other, somewhere between hubcap-wearing mild and full-on neon-freakout wild.
Count this one in the latter category. Ted Lo of Arcadia, CA, bought his Bluebird in March 2005, from a friend who had imported it privately. "It had been restored in Japan before my buddy bought it-new factory-color paint, new rubber, seals and all that," he says. While keeping this piece of old school history bone-stock would have been easy enough, particularly when it was already done and begging to be driven, that was never Ted's intention.
"I love the sound of the carburetors, but [that engine] just didn't move," Ted laments. "I thought it would be adequate, especially with those 40mm Mikunis, but when you're getting passed by minivans, you know it's time to step up." Start with the engine: the iron-block 1800 was yanked and sold back to the guy he bought the car from in favor of an all-aluminum S15-generation SR20DET, which, thanks in part to Nissan's variable-valve-timing head, is good for a solid 250 horsepower-before tweaks. A GReddy intake, TiAL blow-off valve and a high-flow, ceramic-coated tubular stainless steel exhaust manifold are all he's added to the basic factory package; he's left the stock ECU alone for the moment, though Ted's threatened that tweaks are coming. An HKS turbo timer is also part of the package to keep oil from cooking in the turbo housing.
Dropping an SR20 into a 510 is a common-enough swap these days, but that doesn't mean it's simple. "A lot of the 510 guys have a hard time with the exhaust manifold on SR20 swaps cause it bumps the steering column," Ted reports. "On right-hand-drive cars like the Bluebird, it's not such an issue." Along with the DET, Ted carried over and fitted the factory six-speed gearbox as well-though not before enlarging the Bluebird's tranny tunnel to fit it. The stock Silvia driveshaft was shortened and re-splined to work with the rear. Eschewing conventional wisdom and the Subaru limited-slip diff that often backs up a high-powered 510 swap, Ted used an R200 unit from the Z31-generation (1984-89) 300ZX Turbo. "It's beefier, it can handle the power and it's got that cool finned cover," Ted explained. The exhaust is catalyst-free and runs a single Rrated three-inch pipe all the way back to an HKS muffler.
Anyone who's driven enough stock old school cars can tell you that the 510/Bluebird had one of the most competent chassis of its time, especially considering its price. But when you're adding 150 percent more power to the proceedings, a few choice suspension additions can work wonders. Plenty of pieces are available and as a bonus, the 510 and Bluebird stuff all fit each other-there's no additional custom engineering needed because it's a not-for-US-sale model. Ted added Quickor sway bars (7/8 inch front and rear) and a mix of Tein (front) and QA1 (rear) coilovers for that extra degree of stiffness and control, including the tweakability that Cusco camber plates provide. A decidedly twenty-first century braking package stops the bulk: Ted converted to five-lug wheels for both safety and an increase in his choice of wheel options (more on that in a minute). Mario Lozano of TSR provided the aluminum rotor hats, which attach to 13-inch front and 12 7/8 rear StopTech cross-drilled rotors. Brembo calipers grab with enough force that you're likely to black out if you're not careful.
The brakes fill a set of 17-inch Volk GT-U wheels with gunmetal centers that roll on 35-series Falken FK452 tires; the wheel openings were rolled to accommodate the larger tires. (The originals were 13 inches in diameter. If you're sticking a +4 tire in there, something's got to give!) Similarly, the old recirculating ball steering was chucked in favor of Rrated's custom rack-and-pinion unit. "The rack and pinion is far more accurate, quicker and tracks much better than the stock setup," Ted reports.
The exterior has mostly been left alone. Short of BMW HID lights and a '73 Bluebird grille (chosen for its relative rarity, though with the popularity of JDM parts in the States this last year, this opening isn't as rare as it once was), the crisp folds of the factory steel are unencumbered with decals, body kits or other add-ons.
It looks done, but we all know that these sorts of things are never really completed. Ted is working up plans to install a larger intake manifold, a bigger turbo, an AEM computer and 550 Tomei injectors, which should be good for another 50-100 horsepower at the very least.
Owner Ted Lo
Hometown Arcadia, CA
Daily Grind Buyer For Los Angeles County
Under The Hood '99 S15 Spec-R Nissan SR20DET; polished GReddy intake manifold and oil pan; TiAL blow-off valve; ceramic-coated stainless steel exhaust manifold; TSR custom downpipe, intercooler, fuel lines and radiator; AutoHan Performance custom fan shroud and super-quiet twin fans; Dominion crank angle sensor cover; Walbro fuel pump; Power Enterprise V belt
Drive Train '99 S15 six-speed transmission; Z31 300ZX rear end
Brains Hks turbo timer and fan controller
Stiff Stuff Tein front coilovers; QA1 rear coilovers; Cusco camber plates; Quickor 7/8-inch sway bars
Stoppers Brembo calipers; StopTech rotors (13-inch front, 12 7/8-inch rear)
Rollers 17-inch Volk GT-U (7-inch front, 8-inch rear); Falken FK452 tires (215/35R17 front, 235/35R17 rear)
Outside Stock with '73-specific grille, BMW HID headlights
Inside Recaro front chairs; TSR custom gas pedal
Ice Alpine 9860 head unit with DVD, MP3/iPod capability, Sanyo DVD navigation, custom center console with MB Quart speakers front and rear, Alpine 12-inch subwoofer, Soundstream Tarantula amp by AutoHan Performance; Auto Meter gauges
Props Mario at TSR Fabrication, Han at AutoHan Performance, Juan at Rrated, Brian and Eddie at Mackin Industries, Obed at 787 Motorsports, Mauricio at Jomag and Marco at SR20Store