One of the the oldest Nissans in the USA is currently for sale. Nissan established a foothold in the US market one year after Toyota in 1957, and this 1958 Datsun 1000 would have been among the first sold. It might not look like much, but its build date is what’s historically significant here, and we can’t remember ever seeing one in such good condition.
In the late 1950s it was unthinkable that a producer of a 37-horsepower, one-liter compact with the styling of an armoire would one day build one of the most iconic sports cars in automotive history and an unbeatable AWD track weapon. When Nissan created the 210 Japan had no highways. Stateside, it had to compete with bechromed, dramatically tail-finned fuel-injected V8 Impalas. That would explain why according to one of Nissan’s own pamphlets, which is included in the sale, they sold just 1,318 units between 1958 and 1960.
The 210 was the 510’s great-grandfather and was built on technology that was downright primitive in comparison. With an I-beam front axle, leaf springs, and exposed hinges the 210 was the definition of basic transportation. However, that agricultural design actually made it incredibly durable. The same car was entered by Yutaka “Mr K” Katayama into the 1958 Mobilgas Trial and won its class in one of the world’s most grueling rallies.
Most of these cars, if they survived, are today so rusted restoring them would take a Herculean effort. This example spent most of its life in California, so cancer was minimal. Full Disclosure: We don’t know the owner of this car, but the man who helped him restore it is a friend of JNC. So, we were able to reach out and get some information that’s not in the auction description.
It was apparently a wedding gift to a Japanese couple that lived in a small desert community in California. It was originally mint green (like this restored 2009 JCCS entrant), but was painted a non-factory darker green with contrasting black roof by the previous owner, who acquired it from the couple. The seller then bought it from that owner, and shipped it to his home in Hawaii in 2011.
The previous owner had done much of the heavy lifting, having painted the body and rechromed the brightwork. Nevertheless, by the time it got to the hands of the current owner there were still many hard-to-find parts that needed to be sourced. Fortunately, these were much better sellers in Japan than they were in the US, and there are lots of parts available there.
The hard part was getting them shipped over. For example, entire doors were available in Japan for ¥3,000 (about $21 USD) but this car needed only the side glass. So an intermediary in Japan had to take delivery of the doors, remove the glass and pack it securely for a journey across the Pacific. The door pulls and the trim were the hardest bits to find.
Restoring the car took approximately a year. Not everything is original – there’s an MSD ignition and upgraded carburetors, the interior has been redone, and the steering wheel is from an early 310 (though the original wheel is included with the sale). Still, we haven’t seen a better one (the mint green one from JCCS is a ’59), much less one that actually runs. The car also comes with lots of documentation, including manuals, ads, articles, and history paperwork.
Speaking of which, the car reportedly drives pretty well. In the video the car is being driven spiritedly up Old Pali Highway, a road known for putting a car’s cooling system to the test. The Datsun handled it well, its oddball column shift transmission (1st is back, 4th is toward the driver and down, and R is all the way back and down) took , and its four-wheel drums braked straight.
As a running example, it even made a cameo in the film Big Eyes, where it can be seen driving by in the background traffic.
Nissan has come a long way since this humble Datsun L210, but it represents a milestone. As the first champion of an international event for Nissan and the first model sold in the US, it’s historically significant. Z-cars or Skylines wouldn’t exist without it. The auction is live right now on Bring a Trailer,