Home » Funny Lookin’ Cars: 1977 Datsun 200SX vs 1978 AMC Pacer Wagon

Funny Lookin’ Cars: 1977 Datsun 200SX vs 1978 AMC Pacer Wagon

Sbsd 5 20 2024
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Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today’s cars are about the same age, and are both, well, funny-lookin’. Not ugly, exactly, just a little weird. But we like weird, don’t we?

But before we get there, let’s finish up with Friday’s four-way shootout. It’s only Saturday afternoon as I’m writing this, a little early to call it, but the results seem pretty conclusive: You all want to road-trip that little red Mercedes, premium fuel be damned. I applaud your courage, and I hope nothing goes wrong anywhere outside of a big city.

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For me, among these, I think the choice is the Cadillac, even though it’s a distant third place in the votes. It’s comfy, it has a dirt-common Chevy V8 under the hood, and you can sleep in it in a pinch. And to the thirty-seven of you who chose the truck, my hat’s off to you. You’ll make it, I have no doubt, but it will be an arduous journey.

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Did you ever have a line from a movie that just lives in your head, and pops out once in a while? Happens to me all the time, and more often than not, they’re lines from either Quentin Tarantino or Coen brothers movies. As soon as I saw the photos of today’s choices, a bit of dialogue from the 1996 classic Fargo came to mind, a description of Steve Buscemi’s character Carl: “Like I say, he was funny-lookin’. More n’ most people, even.”

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Today’s cars are funny-lookin’. More n’ most cars, even. Let’s check them out.

1977 Datsun 200SX – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0-liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Pasadena, CA

Odometer reading: 39,000 miles

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Operational status: Runs and drives great

When Nissan entered the US auto market, it wasn’t content to simply use a different name for the whole company – Datsun – but it created alphanumeric names for models that already had names back in Japan. This car is known as the Nissan Silvia in its home country, but here in the US, it’s the Datsun 200SX. We also got massive battering-ram 5 MPH bumpers, of course, and a whole slew of emissions control devices bolted to its L20B four-cylinder engine.

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Disappointingly, this example is Americanized in another way as well: it has an automatic transmission. Camaros and Mustangs had been rocking automatics for ages by this point, so two pedals in a sporty coupe was not unusual. But there is no question that this car would be better served by Datsun’s slick-shifting four or five speed manuals of the time. But there aren’t many first-generation 200SXs left, so you have to take what you can get.

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It runs and drives great, according to the seller, and is an original one-owner car. The odometer shows only 39,000 miles, but I believe these have five-digit odometers, so it may have rolled over. Probably not more than once, however, from the look of it; it’s mighty clean inside.

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Outside, it’s nice and straight, but it does have some rust. Southern California cars don’t generally rust, but ’70s Datsuns are apparently the exception. To be fair, however, in the Midwest, these cars looked worse than this by the time The Amityville Horror was in theaters.

1978 AMC Pacer Wagon – $2,850

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Engine/drivetrain: 232 or 258 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

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Location: Peoria, AZ

Odometer reading: 100,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but needs brakes work

Perpetual underdog AMC threw everything it had into the development of the Pacer. Unfortunately, everything AMC had never amounted to much. Originally intended to be a technological masterpiece, the Pacer ended up just being wide, weird, and pretty ordinary under the skin. Instead of a Wankel rotary, it made do with the same old inline six as the rest of AMC’s lineup.

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I mean, that’s not a bad thing; it’s a good engine, but it dates all the way back to 1964 – hardly state-of-the-art by the Carter years. It’s smooth and powerful enough for the time, but it got mediocre gas mileage at a time when EPA estimates were printed in great big numbers in every ad. This one runs fine, according to the seller, and the car is drivable, but it needs the brakes redone before being put into regular service.

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The seller also says this Pacer needs some interior work but doesn’t include any decent overall photos to show what needs work. In fact, none of the photos in this ad are great. Ordinarily, I’d probably skip over an ad like this, but how often do you find a Pacer for sale, let alone a wagon? From what I can see, it’s in presentable condition outside, at least.

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It’s not uncommon for project-y cars like this to come with some spare parts, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen five spare taillights included with a car before – three rights and two lefts, it looks like. Why so many, I wonder? Are they expecting a buyer to just back into stuff with wild abandon?

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Yes, they’re both a little weird, but the more I look at them, the more I like them both. I can’t remember the last time I saw either one of them in person, and I know either one would turn my head. And isn’t that kind of the point? Why drive the same thing as everyone else? Get yourself a funny-lookin’ car, and live a little. Which one will it be?

Image credits: Craigslist sellers

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
30 days ago

This was a tough one,I don’t want neither of them,but the Pacer is a AMC so there is that..

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
30 days ago

Datsun for me. Setting aside the CSP311 from the ’60s, this car is the beginning of the S-chassis line that eventually led to the 240SX. This is the S10 platform, and I don’t recall ever seeing one in person. My first car was a 1982 hatchback of the following generation, the S110. Those are very rare these days but not as rare as this one. Most people remember the third generation, the S12 (84-88), an example of which sits in my garage. Then came the S13 and S14 240SX’s that everyone knows.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
30 days ago

My recollection is that the Pacer got the grille with the extendo-clip to provide more clearance for the V8. It’s not a bad choice, but we’ll take the Datsun in the hopes of a podium finish at Concours d’Lemons.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 month ago

One of my classmates had a lemon yellow 200SX with five-speed manual gearbox that had dog-leg first gear. The car was a hoot to drive despite its hideous look.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

Hmm, put a 401 in the Pacer or a LS?.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 month ago

I’ll take the Pacer, because wagon. God help me when I have to replace the door handles and so on. They’re probably close to unobtainium by now.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago

200SX for me. I just looks more cool and I think has a much higher novelty factor.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 month ago

I really hated the 200SX when new, but they have kind of grown on me. Does anybody see the Mazda 3 as majorly influenced by the 200SX? The restyle on the Pacer grill is hideous. I will go with the Nissan. Is the inline six really slanted in the engine bay all cattywampus? Don’t think I have ever seen that before.

lastwraith
lastwraith
1 month ago
Reply to  ProudLuddite

You midwesterners and your cattywampus. My bestie hails from Illinois and it took him quite a while to convince me that he hadn’t completely made that word up.

But also, I agree.

Last edited 1 month ago by lastwraith
ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
30 days ago
Reply to  lastwraith

I didn’t know it was Midwestern, but makes sense, only person I ever really heard use it was my mom from Illinois.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 month ago

Have to go w/ the Pacer since I love AMC (especially the Eagle) and didn’t know there was a wagon version- it’s pretty cool. I love that they have always been called “fishbowls” and it makes sense. That Datsun is kinda neat too; I like Datsun- such as their old trucks…just not as much as AMC

Benny B
Benny B
1 month ago

I’m irrationnaly in love with the weirdness of the 200sx.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
1 month ago

Only the Nissan F10 was uglier than that 200SX.

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 month ago

Much more difficult choice than I initially thought it would be. To me, anyway, the Datsun is more “weird in a cool way” than the Pacer. But the more I looked at the Pacer, the more I started thinking that it wasn’t all that terrible. Ultimately, the fact that the 200SX ad included interior photos, and that the upholstery in it (or what’s left of it) is totally awesome, I went Datsun.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago

As a salute to Jason, I pick the one with extra tail lights.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
1 month ago

I probably couldn’t source new body and frame patch panels for the Nissan if it were my full time job.

I’m not sure how much better I’d fare with the AMC, but even if I could patch the Nissan up like new, I don’t want a malaise era four cylinder automatic, and any drivetrain modifications on that are beyond my interest.

I’m also pretty sure the Pacer has a much larger, more active modding and swapping community domestically, so I’d spend my fictional time and money on that one.

Last edited 1 month ago by PaysOutAllNight
Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
1 month ago

The Datsun is delightfully weird. As if a japanese dude in ‘ludes tried to redesign a late ’60s 2 door Citroen DS for an anime character.

JDE
JDE
1 month ago

Much as I would love to grab a hornet/Gremmie/pacer from the 70’s and swap a 4.0 and 5 speed from a 99 Jeep to get fuel injection and a bit more highway friendly toodling, that 200SX is odd enough to see on the road that I would probably overlook the slushbox and take on that rust challenge that is poking it’s head up from underneath.

Certainly if I was spending the money to swap motors, a modern 200Sx drive train in the old girl is not likely to be much more difficult or pricy than the 4.0 jeep train mentioned before.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 month ago

Datsun: I saw this model win @ Lime Rock in the late seventies. Owned & prepped by Bob Sharp Racing and driven by a guy named P.L. Newman.

Of course, the car looks completely different in race trim. And I hafta say, quite potent.

As I’ve reported previously, I think this was the race where P.L. responded to my post-race compliment with “Thanks, kid.” Yep, a long time ago.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

Pacer. Reset the nose to first gen and swap in a rotary like it was meant to be.

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
1 month ago

The 200SX is the car your sister bought when she couldn’t afford a Celica.
That being said, I’ll take the Pacer, then find a used rotary engine from an RX7 or RX8 so i can have the Wankel powered Pacer that god and AMC intended.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

Even a 39k mile Datsun in California has rust!

I’ll take the Pacer wagon, and swap an earlier better looking front end on it.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

That is definitely 139k

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

Solid point.

Still, even in California they rust.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
1 month ago

I had an 89 Wrangler with a 258 and it was the worst engine I’ve ever had to deal with. Constant carb problems, oil leaks, ran bad, and worst of all, gutless. But the later 4.0L was pretty good.

I’d drive a Pacer with an LS swap. But as is, Datsun.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 month ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

I’ve idly daydreamed of a Pacer or Gremlin with a 4.0 stroked out to a 4.6.

Hamish48
Hamish48
1 month ago

I know this places me in a tiny minority, but I always thought the Pacer was kind of cool looking in its dare to be unique kind of way.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 month ago

If I’m getting a Pacer, it is going to be an original hatchback without the Aston Martin grille.

So I’ll take the Datsun and work on a manual swap.

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