Nissan markets the modern front-wheel-drive CVT-laden Maxima as a 4DSC (4-Door Sports Car) and while it is a very nice sedan that has a relatively sporty feel, it’s just not a sports car. However, there was a time when it was, in fact, a 4-door variant of a sports car. For its first generation, the Maxima was a front engine, rear wheel drive sedan with all the underpinnings of a 280ZX. It was basically Nissan’s Z-car competitor to the Toyota Cressida, which shares a platform with the revered Supra. The question is, why aren’t these as popular as the Cressy? Consider the following: the G910 1980-1984 Nissan Maxima/Datsun Maxima/Datsun 810.
Yes, that is a very confusing nameplate. Unfortunately, this generation came into existence during exactly the period of brand changeover from Datsun to Nissan in the United States, and ended up with three names. In 1980-1981 the 810 used Datsun’s three digit naming nomenclature with the trim levels of Deluxe and Maxima.
After the announcement to change Datsun to the global Nissan name, the 810 name was dropped and the trim level Maxima was left as the model name. So in 1982-83, the car was sold as the Datsun Maxima by Nissan, as an attempt ease customers into the new brand name. Finally in 1984, it was sold only as the Nissan Maxima. Luckily for us JNCers, they all shared a chassis code, G910.
Making things more confusing for potential enthusiasts, the “first generation Maxima” was actually the second generation of the 810. To find out where the 4-Door Sports Car name of the Maxima came from we have to look at this car. The first generation Datsun 810, sold from 1977-1980, was designed to be a 6 cylinder mid-size car for the American market.
Instead of spending a load of money designing a fresh chassis from the ground up (or doing the logical thing and spending almost no money to simply give us the Laurel), Nissan found middle ground. They used their Japanese Nissan Bluebird (810) chassis and extended the front 99 millimeters to fit their 6 cylinder L24E engine, an old trick dating as far back as the Prince S54 Skyline 2000GT.
While the 810 was the precursor to one of Nissan’s great nameplates, it didn’t quite have the racing pedigree of the S54. That didn’t stop clever marketing executives from playing off the sports car underpinnings though. Ads featured tag lines like “Family cars with a 240Z engine” and “World’s most underpriced luxury/performance car.” There was also an esoteric coupe variant which is currently outnumbered by complete tyrannosaurus rex skeletons.
The 810 today is a very polarizing car. it is the ultimate 70s malaise wagon on the surface, but beneath the Griswold-style exterior lies the architecture of a sports car and better fit and finish than anything made in Detroit. Although not well known today, it’s sold well enough to warrant a second generation.
Luckily, the styling of the first-generation 810 was greatly improved upon with the arrival of the 1980s. The G910 body style kept the L24E engine under the hood, along with the RWD layout and the base model 810 Deluxe came equipped with a manual transmission. It even continued Nissan’s early adoption of the independent rear suspension (and given that it’s a Nissan product the S13 coilover design fits right in and can make for a fun project that parts are actually available for). The result was a car that didn’t look like a gangrenous war wound, handled itself just well enough to be confidence inspiring, and had the bragging rights from its Z-Car roots.
Of course being an 80s car, gimmicks were aplenty. While some, such as the keyless entry system found in the 1984 models, would go on to become a staple of the industry. Others, like the voice warning system, would not be appreciated until decades later. Since digital computers for the consumer were still in their infancy, it would be common to see an analog part being controlled by a computer. As sound compression was not perfected yet, the first generation of the Maxima used a tiny phonograph with various tracks associated to individual warnings.
Under the hood, the Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection system found in a 280ZX was paired to a smaller 2.4-liter L-series straight-six to the tune of 120 horsepower. Although originality is cool, it’s not unheard of for people to swap to a happy set of sidedraft carbs. The engine itself is slightly changed from the original 240Z L24 in the name of efficiency, but changes are largely relegated to the rotating assembly with things such as slightly thinner rods.
There was also a diesel variant only available in America called an LD28, which is just different enough from the petrol L-Series engines to not be helpful. Luckily, the rods from the diesel do swap over to petrol engines for a factory stroker. Of course, if you wanted to just spend all of your money on Baller Points, an OS Giken DOHC setup would look pretty slick in the engine room.
Speaking of baller points, with the zokusha style becoming ever more popular here in the United States, a Maxima would be a great platform to build off of for that style. In fact, its Japanese market cousin was one of the actual race cars that inspired the whole kaido racer look. The lines of the simple three-box body with big, greenhouse-style windows fits the general styling trends found in cars like the other common platforms like Cedrics, Cressidas and Soarers.
The thing that held back the original 810 was the aesthetic. With that sorted, the Maxima was met with only good remarks. Road & Track called it “handsome in the Mercedes-Benz manner” which is no small compliment when most Japanese car reviews of the era had their compliments followed by a “for an Oriental car.” With handsome straight lines of the 80s, you have one of the best looking sedans from the Reagan administration.
The question still stands, though, why isn’t this car as popular as a Cressida? While it is a great car, a stand out of the model line as a whole, the Maxima unfortunately only had one generation of sending power to the right end. The Cressida, however, was kept RWD for several generations, and continued — under Mark II, Chaser and Cresta nameplates — well into the 21st century in Japan.
Also, while the Maxima and Cressida started on equal footing, the Cressida gained a bit of power once the 5M-GE was implemented. What it likely comes down to is that everyone remembers the significantly more numerous FWD Maximas, and that’s the first thing that pops into your head when someone utters the name. Say Cressida, on the other hand, and people think of RWD luxury sedan.
G910 Maximas are one of the best hidden treasures from the waning days of the Datsun Era. With an entry price for a concours example still struggling to break $5000, it’s an affordable treasure as well. At those prices, they’re one of the most affordable JNCs available stateside. The best part is it’s not some weird car nobody has ever heard of with no aftermarket support at all or some commonly stolen whip people know they can get parts off of.