Home » Inline Six Stickshift Wagons: 1978 Dodge Aspen vs 1977 Datsun 810

Inline Six Stickshift Wagons: 1978 Dodge Aspen vs 1977 Datsun 810

Sbsd 2 8 2024
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Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Continuing our theme of nice cars that should be dead by now, we have a pair of station wagons, both with six cylinders under the hood and three pedals on the floor. One of them was a reader suggestion; the other was my choice.

I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of yesterday’s voting. I expected the little blue Omni to lose, but it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of you, and took a decisive win over the Yellow Buick of Texas. From the sounds of it, it came down to the rarity of it: An old Riviera could easily be preserved as someone’s pride and joy, but a throwaway hatchback like a Dodge Omni? Now that’s not something you see every day.

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I actually like both of these cars quite a lot. This generation of Riviera/Toronado/Eldorado is just such a nice comfortable car that it’s hard to pass up. And I think I’d be happier behind the wheel of the Riviera on a long trip – but I also think I’d have a lot more fun owning the Omni, so it gets my vote.

And thanks to the many of you who filled in our younger readers on how to set presets on a mechanical radio: tune to the station you want, pull the button all the way out, then push it all the way in. Next time you push that button, the pointer on the dial will jump to that position. And yes, the button position was independent of the radio band, so you had to remember which buttons you set to an AM station and which were set to FM.

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Well, since everything worked out so well for that Omni, let’s see how another old blue-on-blue Dodge fares. The 1978 Aspen wagon we’re about to look at was a suggestion from reader David Pertuz, courtesy of our tip line, tips@theautopian.com. (I’m not to be trusted with my own email address, it seems, but suggestions sent to the tip line usually find their way to me.) David actually sent in two suggestions, but one of them didn’t have much in the way of usable photos. This Dodge, however, lined up nicely with a car I had already spotted in my searches earlier in the day. It was meant to be, so here they are.

1978 Dodge Aspen – $4,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Goshen, IN

Odometer reading: 147,000 miles

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Operational status: Runs and drives well

Sequels are always tough. It’s hard enough to come up with one great idea and see it through, but then everyone expects you to do it again. And you just can’t force lightning to strike a second time. I mean, it does happen, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Just ask Chrysler, who tried to follow up the beloved Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant with this… thing. The broad strokes are the same: unibody construction, torsion-bar front suspension and a live rear axle on leaf springs, and that legendary Slant Six engine, but the devil is, as always, in the details. The Aspen and Volaré were rushed to the market, and plagued with quality problems and recalls.

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The mighty Slant Six survived mostly unscathed, though strangled by emissions equipment. Most Aspens and Volarés were equipped with an optional three-speed Torqueflite automatic, but if you left the option sheet blank, you got that most standard of standard transmissions: a three-speed manual, with a floor-mounted shifter. This Aspen wagon is so equipped, which is not surprising; it doesn’t look like it has any options at all. That three-speed shifter bends over a plain vinyl bench seat, with no air conditioning to keep your thighs from sticking to it in the summer. There’s not even a luggage rack on the roof of this thing; that’s how stripped-down it is.

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It’s all in remarkably good shape for a badly-made base-model car from the Carter administration. We don’t get a lot of information about its history, but I get the feeling it has been in the same family for a long time. It looks like something inherited from someone’s parent or grandparent. The back bumper is covered in AAA stickers, and it has a trailer hitch; someone has put that old Slant Six to work.

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The seller notes that there is a little rust showing up here and there, but I don’t think there’s a single one of these that didn’t have some rust by the time Urban Cowboy hit theaters. The fact that the vinyl upholstery is all intact and it still has all four hubcaps is remarkable; we can forgive a little rust.

1977 Datsun 810 – $4,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter overhead cam inline 6, four-speed manual, RWD

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Location: San Diego, CA

Odometer reading: 135,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

Meanwhile, Japanese brands were seriously cutting into domestic sales. They had been around for years already, but in the 1970s, Toyota and Nissan started designing cars specifically with the American market in mind. The Datsun 810, based on the Japanese-market Nissan Bluebird, was one such car. In Japan, it was powered by a four-cylinder engine, but here in America, it had Nissan’s fuel-injected L24E inline six under the hood. Compared to the straight sixes in American cars at the time, it was high-tech, sophisticated, and powerful – putting 138 horsepower to the rear wheels through a four-speed stick.

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This 810 runs and drives well, and has had recent work on the fuel pump and injectors. It sounds like it’s due for a smog test – it’s two years too new to avoid it, until and unless the rules change – but it should pass easily. It also has new tires, always a welcome sign on a car for sale.

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It’s in good condition cosmetically too. The vinyl upholstery looks like it could use a good cleaning, and there are some cracks in the dash under that carpet toupee, but for a car that’s as old as Star Wars, it looks pretty good. The pale vinyl may show dirt easily, but boy, it does a nice job of brightening up the interior. I really wish cars were still this airy and inviting inside.

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It’s pretty clean outside too, except for a few spots, and I really like this shade of green. You can tell how hard Nissan was trying to make this car appealing to American buyers, with all the chrome trim, and the waterfall grille with a hood ornament above it. You could even get a Datsun wagon with woodgrain sides, though fortunately this one has been spared that foolishness. Yeah, I know; some people like the fake woodgrain treatment. I think it’s foolish.

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So there they are, two different ways of accomplishing the same thing, from opposite sides of the Pacific. They’re both holding up well; in fact, a determined enthusiast could probably daily-drive either of these without too much hassle. All that’s left for you to do is choose.

(Image credits: Aspen – Facebook Marketplace seller; Datsun – Craigslist seller)

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ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
2 months ago

I really appreciate that someone preserved a stripped down Aspen wagon, even if it was absolute crap. We need it to remember the darkest of the malaise era, so that it may never be repeated.

AlterId
AlterId
2 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to rebuild it.” – George Santayana, Hemmings Motor News

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
2 months ago
Reply to  AlterId

My God, that’s Genius!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago
Reply to  AlterId

On the page of Gearhead Quotes, that should be quite near the top—and in bold type!

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
2 months ago

Aspen/Volare – whoa–oah. No sale. Drove a sedan my Dad owned and later foolishly bought a coupe. Sorry, their rep for being shitty is well-earned. I’d much rather take my chances with the 810.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Yeah, Datsuns of this era were well-built cars, you’re at least starting with a base that wasn’t assembled by workers drugged out of their minds and quality checked by TBD.

The Aspen/Volare was shockingly terrible, considering the cars it replaced were pretty stolid and dependable and that there was a good amount of carry-over engineering. How Chrysler managed to turn that into THAT is baffling

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
2 months ago

BOTH. I want both of these; always loved those Datsun wagons, but look at how clean that boring-ass Dodge is! Both of these are interesting and I want to see them driving around my area.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago

I was all set to vote for the Datsun, then I saw how nice it was, and so I voted for it even more vehemently.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
2 months ago

You almost got three Mopars out of me in a row. This one almost won due to the Slant 6, but that Datsun is beautiful.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
2 months ago

I’d prefer the ride in the Aspen, and a slant six is criminally easy to make reliable power with. I’d take that one, and do a full restoration. Great low key daily driver.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
2 months ago

The Datsun is the winner by default.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago

This is a tough one. The 810 brings back memories of the yellow one my parents had in the 80s, but then that Aspen just wins my heart.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago

And yes, the button position was independent of the radio band, so you had to remember which buttons you set to an AM station and which were set to FM.

Swanky radios of the period offered preset buttons labeled AM and FM so you wouldn’t forget. A model with five buttons would often have two AM and three FM, which was the style at the time.

Aspen, please!

I have a soft spot for the leaning tower o’ power and appreciate the 3MT. If I had this, the original engine would be replaced with a modded 225 – ideally with a reworked head, hot-ish cam, and three side-draft 2-bbl carbs. Hello, sleeper! 🙂

Any mods would be easily reversible so it could be returned to factory spec.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

It’s a shame the Aspen has all the moisture resistance of a paper bag. If you live somewhere warm and dry, it’s a fine choice, but for much of the country, you may find yourself without a structure in very short order.

Last edited 2 months ago by Tristan Hixon
A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago
Reply to  Tristan Hixon

Very true. When I was a kid, a neighbor had an Aspen coupe: it rusted impressively and almost immediately.

This wagon (if it were mine) would be a fair-weather driver only.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I remember climbing in a friend’s car (don’t remember what it was) and him pointing out that the radio had eight, EIGHT, presets buttons. My parent’s cars only had four or five, so it was wild to see so many buttons. What I remember most, though, was that it wasn’t an even split of four for AM, four for FM, but three for FM and five for AM.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

That’s interesting: the country had started moving away from AM at that point, and I would have expected a bias toward FM.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Yeah, that does seem odd, and it might even be why I remember it all these years later (my memory is screwy like that).

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
2 months ago

My first car was an ’80 Volare (hand-me-down down from my dad in ’86) and, while the engine was bulletproof, everything bolted to or surrounding it was continuously in various stages of brokenness. The Datsun is just ratty enough to have fun with while not being over the edge.

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
2 months ago

I learned to drive stick in the Plymouth version of the Aspen. It wasn’t worth $4900 then.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago

It’s a shit show of nuts asking way too much money. These, and most other shit cans have not appreciated in their value. Am constantly amazed at what folks are asking for their old shit. Greed is not always a good thing. Karma is though…YMMV

(See comment below)

Last edited 2 months ago by Col Lingus
Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
2 months ago

Is this really what we’ve come to with used car pricing, almost 5k for a 45 year old car?

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

Sadly, yes.

D-dub
D-dub
2 months ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

Asking prices are not selling prices.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

Yeah, unfortunately, although someone has pointed out that the Aspen started at a $7000 listing. That is batshit crazy.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago

What is hanging off the passenger-side rearview mirror? Looks like a 2′ strap with a key ring?!? Is this some sort of insurance scam?

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

You’re not being easy on us, are you Mark?

I picked the Datsun, but it could gave gone either way. Neither has AC, and both have vinyl seats, so no advantage either way.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago

A tough call today. Good job Mark.
When it runs decent, you can haul more crap in the Dodge. Did these ever run decent though? Not been my experience.
The Datsun will probably continue to run after most of us are dust in a box.
And not as frustrating to deal with as long as parts are available.

Datsun wins today. There’s nothing about the Dodge that justifies fixing the rust or saving it.

BTW, I was in the movie Urban Cowboy. Filmed in Pasadena, Texas by Paramount.
We rented them storage space in our former lumberyard whilst they filmed. Gilley’s club was literally across the street, and we were allowed to hang with the cast and crew. Good times. But that movie really sucked, except for some of the tunes.

We ate like kings that summer at the craft service table.

Last edited 2 months ago by Col Lingus
Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
2 months ago

I’m going with the Aspen. It isn’t the most desirable car, but I like that it appears all original and in good condition. I also like the blue interior. I don’t think it is a particularly nice or well-designed interior, but it is unique and something you don’t see often. It is great to see something this mediocre preserved so well. I don’t think I would be interested in buying it, but I hope someone does and keeps it this nice.

Last edited 2 months ago by Stig's Cousin
Cool Dave
Cool Dave
2 months ago

I’m in the minority (currently) but I prefer the Aspen. I’m a little surprised myself but I like the cleaner lines and can never argue with a Slant-6!

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

“A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called ASPEN”

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
2 months ago

Isn’t that 810 straight 6 that came in the early 280Z?

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago

It came in the 240Z, hence the 2.4L displacement. The 280Z had the 2.8L version of the same engine, the L28.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
2 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I thought all the earlier straight 6’s were carbureted, and the first fuel injected was on the Z straight 6

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago

Ah I see what you mean. You’re correct in that the injected version of the L-series is shared between this 810 and the 280Z, just in two different displacements.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

I think when the first 280’s came out in ’75, they were injected but the 240Z’s and I think the 260Z were sidedraft SU style carbs.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

It looks a lot like the motor in my ’73 240Z. More smog gear. But my 240Z had twin Hitachi SU style sidedraft carbs and that had to be rebalanced a lot and tended to boil the gas as they were positioned right over the exhaust manifold. Fuel injection would have been nice.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

The Aspen has the right engine, the right transmission and is the right color: it’s just the wrong car. The green Datsun takes the win.

H4llelujah
H4llelujah
2 months ago

This is a TOUGH one. I had a 1980 Aspen and that car was actually delightful to drive. I have to give it the slight edge because in Ohio, there are plenty of Mopar guys with good parts still on the shelves that would keep this thing going for a long time, and for cheap. It’s easy enough to get on ebay and find parts for that Datsun and have them shipped, but when you know a guy 15 minutes up the road that will trade you a spotless carb for a box of 9mm and a 30 pack, you gotta give the domestic rig the W.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
2 months ago

The Dodge truck hood ornament on the Aspen is a nice touch.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim Cougar

I got a laugh out of that myself. Who needs fancy options when you have a RAM?

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
2 months ago

That Datsun is a steal. Because by now most have been utterly ruined and fart-canned to death.

Schrödinger's Catbox
Schrödinger's Catbox
2 months ago

Hard choice. I get they are both wagons and therefore have that certain something about them. But both seem really expensive for a unique, but really utilitarian, car.

For this exercise I’d go with the Mopar.

But in real life? The price is way wrong.

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