Photo by Ted Hedman
Race Setup and History
Won the 1971 & 1972 Trans-Am Championship
#71- Road & Track's "Top 100 cars of the Century" (01/2000 issue)
Often referred to as the "poor mans BMW", the 510 made quite a show in the Trans-Am 2.5 series by winning the 1971 and 1972 season championship. Although low on power, these little sedans have full independent rear suspension and in race trim are great handling cars. They are still popular today in club racing groups and more are finding their way into vintage. These cars are eligible for Trans-Am 2.5, Production and B-Sedan in most race organizations.
There are a number of myths about this car that are untrue. For one the 510 is not based on the BMW 2002 nor was it designed by the famous Italian design house of Pininfarina. But there tends to be a little truth in all myths. Here is the story.
The 510 is the 3rd generation of a line of cars produced by Datsun (Nissan) that were named "Bluebird". The first car was the 310 (1959) and was based on the British Austin A40 sedan. Datsun had purchased a production line license for the A40 and used this for the basis for most of their cars up until 1963.
In a move to create a more "modern" car, Datsun had created a new roadster, the Fairlady SP310 and a completely new car, the Bluebird 410 sedan. In addition to new underhood mechanicals the 410 had a new look as Pininfarina designed the body. The 410 shared the chassis, suspension and drivetrain of the new roadster. By the end of production in 1967 the 410 had a 1.6 liter four with aluminum head, dual SU carburetors and a tubular header! While the 410 was a big leap over the 310 it was still based on the old body-on-frame technology.
In the U.S., the president of Nissan Motors (USA), Yutaka Katayama or Mr. "K" as he is known, had been pressuring Japan for changes that would meet the desires of the American market. Many of his conversations were with a young industrial engineer, Teruo Uchino. This young designer had a natural talent and, by chance, was later given a free hand to design a new car that was to be styled as a mixture of the 310 and 410. His effort would become the 510.
But the strength of the 510 was not styling; it was in the engineering. A key factor of the 510's success was the takeover of a failing firm, the Prince Motor Company. This firm had a solid history of producing well-engineered cars and had a staff with a number of aeronautical engineers. This is important in that these engineers were versed in making lightweight monocoque aircraft as well as sophisticated powerplants. It wasn't long before the existing Austin pushrod 1600 motor had been converted to work with a new aluminum SHOC head. It is widely held that this new motor was indeed inspired by the powerplants found in Mercedes at that time.
The influence of Prince can also be seen in the unibody construction of the car. This lightweight aircraft style monocoque design and construction was a first for Nissan and would form a solid basis for the suspension that would be responsible for this cars place in automotive history.
The head of Nissan's design studio, Kazumi Yotsumoto, supplied the final ingredient. His goal was to create a car that was noted for its responsiveness and precise handling. At the time this was considered "very German thinking" but thankfully he got his wish.
The 510 was introduced in late 1967 and arrived in America in the fall of 1968 where it was an immediate hit. When production ended more than 500,000 cars had been sold.
It would be difficult for the 510 to be based on a 2002 as the 510 hit market about a year before the 2002 (the 510 and 2002 came to the U.S. at about the same time). A more likely scenario would be that the 510 got some of it's suspension design from the 1600. However the engineers from Prince Auto had produced sophisticated cars prior to the 1600 and much of the suspension design was not new per se, just new to sedans.
The Pininfarina design house was clearly not involved in the design of the 510. However since the 510 was based on the Pininfarina designed 410, their prior design certainly had a major influence. If you look at a 410 it's easy to where the 510 came from. But even more interesting is a side view of the 1963 Datusn 410 and the 1966 BMW 1600 for you will find some striking similarities?