Home » I Bet You Thought These Were Extinct: 1981 Datsun 510 Wagon vs 1981 Subaru GLF Coupe

I Bet You Thought These Were Extinct: 1981 Datsun 510 Wagon vs 1981 Subaru GLF Coupe

Sbsd 7 20 2023
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On today’s Shitbox Showdown, I’m showing you around my own stomping grounds again, looking at some old forgotten Japanese cars that not only run and drive, they’re in regular use. But first, let’s see how yesterday’s inline sixes fared:

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Comfortable win for the Hornet. I think that would be my choice as well, though I do like a good ’70s van. Lots of possibilities there that don’t involve free candy, thank you very much. (Really? That’s where all your minds immediately go when you see a panel van?) Oh, and as for what AMC stands for, I always heard “Ain’t My Car.”

Today’s choices are rare, probably even extinct, in other parts of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest, they’re still just everyday cars. In fact, I think I’ve seen both of these cars running around, but there’s also every chance that it was a different silver Subaru coupe and a different maroon Datsun wagon that I’m thinking of. Cars this age in this condition, still earning their keep, just aren’t that hard to find around here. It’s wild, from the perspective of someone who moved here from the Midwest and is used to having seen these cars rusted out twenty years ago. But here they are, largely rust-free, still running and driving – one of them even claims to still be daily-driven. So let’s take a look at them, shall we?

1981 Datsun 510 Wagon – $3,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Battle Ground, WA

Odometer reading: 147,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs great, according to the seller

First, let’s define what we’re dealing with: This is not the “cool” 510, the “poor man’s BMW” campaigned by Pete Brock, the one everybody loves. You aren’t going to find one of those anymore for Shitbox Showdown prices, even a wagon. This is a later model, known in Japan as the Nissan Violet. It’s still a neat old car, though: Nissan’s NAPS-Z twin-spark four-cylinder drives the rear wheels through a manual gearbox. That alone makes it more interesting than a whole host of other cars.

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It’s not in bad shape, either. There’s a pretty good wrinkle in the left front fender (this is what makes me think it’s the same car I’ve seen around), and the paint is faded, but true to form for this part of the world, it isn’t rusty. The inside of this car gives me a bit of nostalgia: the gauge cluster looks just like the one in my old Datsun/Nissan 720 truck. Might very well be the same part, for all I know. And I can practically hear the old Datsun key chime through the photo: “Dink-donk, dink-donk…”

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One of the more popular features of yesterday’s Econoline van was its slotted mag wheels. Well, I’ve got good news for you: this car has ’em too! They’re just stacked in the back. I’m not sure why; maybe they don’t have the correct lug nuts or something. But I bet these will look great on this car.

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And before anyone else says it: Yes, the price seems a little high to me too. But I’m starting to realize that the combination of age and inflation makes every price seem too high to me these days, and I bet this car will sell for close to the asking price, even with the banged-up fender.

1981 Subaru GLF Coupe – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead valve flat 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 133,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Daily driven

Wagons don’t do it for you? OK, how about a two-door hardtop coupe with a flat-four? I don’t know what Subaru has against door window frames, but the frameless windows stretch all the way back to 1971, when this car’s predecessor was introduced. In the case of this car, the quarter windows behind the doors roll down as well, making for lots of airflow on nice days. And that’s not this car’s only party trick: if I’m not mistaken, it also has Subaru’s weird and short-lived third headlight option, though it looks like the little door with the Subaru logo on it is missing.

[Editor’s Note: This cyclops light alone would sell me on this car. – JT]

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What this car doesn’t have is something all Subarus have had since the mid-1990s: four wheel drive. Subaru has offered 4WD since the ’70s, but it was an option back when this car was built. It does have the traditional flat-four, in this case a carbureted pushrod design. This one has a Weber carb and fresh head gaskets, and runs well enough to be driven daily.

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Outside, it’s a little scruffy, and has a strange two-tone paint job that I don’t think is factory. In fact, the silver part almost looks rattle-canned, or at least touched up with Home Depot’s finest. The seller says it doesn’t have any rust, at least, and I don’t see any big damage, just door dings.

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There is one thing that worries me a little about this car, and it isn’t the tiny guard dog. It’s the fact that the registration tags on the license plate appear to be missing, and there’s no front plate. Oregon tags are good for two years, but since COVID, the cops haven’t really been enforcing things like out-of-date registration, meaning that this car might have been running around with no tags on it for quite a while. Is that the correct plate for it? Whose name is on the title? Will it pass DEQ, with the aftermarket carb? All questions worth asking.

There are plenty of boring modern cars here too, of course. But who cares about them, when there are forty-two-year-old Japanese machines like these still running around? Neither one is perfect, but both are more interesting than some Prius or something. And both sound like they’re useable on a regular basis. Which one will it be?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Drew Slaughter
Drew Slaughter
10 months ago

My username on BAT is Datsun610Longroof. You can guess my vote.

Tony Thayer-Osborne
Tony Thayer-Osborne
10 months ago

The Subaru won’t need to go through DEQ because it’s pre-1974. I would still be leery of extra fees stacked on for skipped registration though.

Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
10 months ago

Today I learned that there have been two much-loved car-tweakers called Peter Brock!

That “poor man’s BMW” comment was briefly extremely confusing for this Australian!

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

The wheels and tires doubled the value of the Datsun. I’m in.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
10 months ago

I was already to vote team long-roof until I reached that part about the 3rd headlight option on the coupe. 1 car with 2 doors 3 headlights 4 cylinders and 5 speeds? Subar-u-bet I’d drive that.

David Escargot
David Escargot
10 months ago

I drove an L series subaru wagon around a farm as a kid but that was awd… I’ll take the wagon over half a Subaru

Myk El
Myk El
10 months ago

This is another one where I’m not really sure there’s a wrong answer, but this being the site we’re on, I expect the wagon to win easily. It’s what I voted for and dreaming of making it into a fast sleeper.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

I prefer the wagon to the hail damaged Subie. I think the description dinged is generous to golf ball pattern.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago

Subaru for me… the 3rd headlight, looks like it’s in better condition and costs less is what sold me.

Ricki
Ricki
10 months ago

Always gonna be taking the Subie. It’s in the Subaru Owner’s Contract. It’s like Ferrari, but shittier and Japanese-er. Lifestyle Brand for life.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago
Reply to  Ricki

Our World Is Flat!

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
10 months ago

Nostalgia for the win! My first car was a 1982 Subaru GLF. That I bought for $1500 in 1991.

Honestly, I’d probably try to pick both these up and refresh (as opposed to restore) them.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago

Long roof for the win.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
10 months ago

Went with the wagon. The rattle can paint job and fart can exhaust bring other things into question..

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
10 months ago

Are they using a bandana in place of a shifter boot in the Datsun?

Last edited 10 months ago by Boxing Pistons
MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

Some call that character, others call it patina.

Mike B
Mike B
10 months ago

These are both craptastic, but the two tone on the Sube is kind of cool. I want to see the slot mags on that one.

Cerberus
Cerberus
10 months ago

Had two S30 Zs and Subarus like this one (slightly later so it had quad headlights). Looks and acceleration aside the Subarus were better to drive than the Zs (with an aftermarket steering wheel, the steering feel was much better, visibility, dirt-cheap running costs, ability to drive 10/10ths most of the time, imperviousness to weather conditions and DGAF-about-it were also big contributors to being more fun), never mind a 510 wagon. I had the Subaru in wagon and sedan and as much as I love wagons, I always wanted the hardtop. Haven’t seen any of these oldies except BRATs in a lot of years now. Screw 4WD, these cars are light on power as it is and even the later Legacys drove better with 2WD—feeling lighter and more responsive and the low power made the driven wheel being in the front irrelevant. Decent tires were all they really kind of needed for snow. Though it does give up some offroad ability, the 4WDs were still limited by ground clearance. I stopped buying Subarus largely because they went AWD only (that and that POS 2.5). As an interesting note, the cam was gear driven. Damn, if it wasn’t so far away and the undercarriage matches the top, I’d actually buy it.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago
Reply to  Cerberus

I’m with you on the handling of these early -and light- Subarus. My GLF was a blast with bald Pirellis on the back: trailing-throttle oversteer always provoked unseemly giggles. Of course, I got into bad steering habits because of that, but I’m working on those—and it was way worth it. Sorta glad this isn’t anywhere near me

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
10 months ago

“…overhead valve flat 4…”

Shouldn’t we be calling a flat four a next-to-head valve engine?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago

Or an ‘on-the-sidelines valve’ engine

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