The Datsun 510 was a compact vehicle produced from 1968 to 1973. Hence the name (or number), the 510 was based on the 510 series Datsun Bluebird sold in Japan. The 510 came in two forms: the PL510 sedan and WPL510 wagon, and had a wheelbase of 95.3 inches (2420 mm). Exterior length for the sedan was 163 inches (4128 mm). Despite its compact characteristics, the 510 had “more fine car fitness than any car in its class” according to a 1968 promotional brochure. The 510 was designed to resemble the BMW “New Class”, and specifically the 1600/2002 series in the BMW lineup. Like the BMWs, the 510 had an FR (front engine, rear-wheel-drive) layout. This gave the 510 the nickname “poor man’s BMW”.
In keeping with compact-car fashion, the engine to power the 510 was the 96 horsepower 1.6-liter L16. This engine was equipped with a 2-barrel Hitachi-SU carburettor. In Japan, the base engine was the 1.3-liter L13. Because of the easy parts interchangeability with early Datsuns, the 510 became a very popular car among auto enthusiasts. This even applies to swapping engines, if the desired outcome is to develop more power by substituting a 1.8-liter for a 1.6-liter, for example.
The Datsun 510 was also a renowned vehicle in the world of motorsports. Datsun registered some for rally racing and SCCA Trans Am under 2.5-liters. For instance, Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schüller drove the Datsun 1600 SSS to an 18th-place finish in the 1970 East African Safari Rally, and American driver John Morton won the 1972 Trans Am Championship in the under 2.5-liter class.
After the 510 discontinued production in 1973, it was superseded by the 610 series. However, the 510 made a return to the Datsun brand in North America in 1977 based on the Nissan Stanza. This other model was discontinued in 1981. In 2013, Nissan Motor Co recalled the olden days of the Datsun 510 and debuted the IDx and IDx NISMO concepts at the Tokyo Motor Show. They featured front-engine, rear-wheel-drive like the 510s of the past (and also much like the BMWs of the present). Because of the 510’s success in the past, there has been critical reception and petition for Nissan to enter the IDx into production. As of yet, there is no indication of it actually doing so, but the enthusiast community still much admires the Datsun 510 as a sports legend as much as any classic BMW sedan.