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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Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago

The only reason to buy the Dodge is so you can have people ask you “how’s your Aspen?” Datsun for me.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
2 months ago

I just like the Aspen a little bit more. Two nice cars, though.

AlterId
AlterId
2 months ago

My dad’s parents were Mopar types – my grandmother didn’t even learn to drive until she was over 60, and she had a Duster coupe or the Dodge version of it – but my dad’s last Chrysler product was a ’63-ish Plymouth Fury two-door hardtop, which was also the first car I remember him having and I think I remember riding in it once before he traded for the ’65 or ’66 Fleetwood my mom learned to drive on, then the first of a couple of decades of Oldsmobiles, a light-blue 1970 Cutlass Cruiser that wasn’t new but much newer than he’d had before. So he was a GM guy until he got my mom a lightly-used Town Car in 1992, and that wore off on me. I guess, although it’s just a vague perception thing as I’ve never had a GM.

None of that’s relevant or even interesting, though. In addition to the green paint and general vibe of the Datsun, it has air conditioning. which my cars have also had since I started driving cars that weren’t just a year younger than myself. It gets hot here, and it gets humid at the same time. Maybe not as bad as Houston or New Orleans, but bad enough.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Hi, I’m Larry I had a slant six, this is my brother Daryl he had a slant six, and this is my other brother Daryll he also had a slant six. After a couple years my Valiant slant six would go dead on any left hand turn. Even with it happened with a mechanic in the car never solved it. Both my brother’s also had issues with the slant sixes in their Dodge Darts. I don’t know who labeled the slant six as reliable but I got something to say to him. Also the Datsun in this case is better in every way.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

Datsun 810 for me. It was a top of the line model for Datsun at the time and that is reflected in a lot of little ways and details. And it also looks to be in a bit better condition overall.

The Aspen, on the other hand, was designed to be a bargain-basement car… right down to the 3 speed manual which I now find rather novel.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
2 months ago

When I saw that it was a 3-speed I assumed it was a 3 on the tree column shift!

JDE
JDE
2 months ago

Datsun, IT should be no contest, but especially in this case because it is a craigslist ad and not a sketchy Facebook Marketplace ad. I do wonder how maintaining a 45 year old injection system might be on a yawn of a car, but I do dig 6 in a row rowing your own gears to go.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
2 months ago

Both are priced significantly too high.

I learned to drive in a 1977 Aspen wagon painted in a lovely forest green with the eternal classic leaning tower of power and a three-speed slushbox. I must admit I have significantly fonder memories of the Dodge Aspen than most people and other than gobbling ballast resistors like Pez it was a pretty reliable car for us until it got replaced by an Aries K wagon in ’83 or so. I also like the time capsule ambience of the Aspen; it seems like it was well cared for.

However, it’s up against a Datsun from the days when they built good cars. The Datsun is also in San Diego, the area where I live. The Datsun likely is going to be free of the tinworm and seems to be in good shape, and it’s $500 cheaper.

Forced to choose I have to go with the Datsun but you could certainly do worse than the Aspen.

For both it reveals the ridiculousness of having to smog cars that old. There just aren’t enough of them out there to make any significant contribution to smog issues. I have an older car and when I had to smog it last year I had to call a dozen shops before finding one that was actually willing and able to do the testing. I don’t have a problem with getting polluters off the road but at some point it gets stupid.

OldGuy inan Avalon
OldGuy inan Avalon
2 months ago

I’m new to this interwebby thing website, and cannot see if there are vote buttons, but I’ll take the Datsun with the 4 speed and the $500 in savings.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Got to be logged in

OldGuy inan Avalon
OldGuy inan Avalon
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I thought that I had to be logged in to post, so I should be logged in – no?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Sometimes you don’t get logged in automatically and need to request a message to log in. It is a glitch I Sometimes get.

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago

Can you stuff a VQ/6speed in that Datsun? That would be cool. I also dig the 4 spoke steelies.

The Volare definitely needs a Hemi swap, as cool as slant 6’s are. That thing would make a cool sleeper.

I probably irrationally think Japanese cars of this era tend to have a scuzzy vibe about them, so I’m voting Mopar.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

The Malaise era sleeper I want to build is an ’81 Imperial with a Viper engine, just for the sheer stupidity of the whole idea.

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

HELL YA BROTHER!!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

Yeah maybe get the model right to have star power

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Shoot me. Volare/Aspen are the same vehicle.
You knew what I was talking about, username checks out.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mike B
Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago

Never Nissan, sometimes Datsun.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

I didn’t know about the 810/910 connection and what would become the Maxima.

https://www.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a38532590/1981-datsun-810-maxima-is-junkyard-treasure/

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

My mom’s car in the 70’s and early 80’s was a ’74 Datsun 710 Station Wagon with the 4 banger. Similar shade of green and yeah we had the fake wood paneling on the rear quarter panels. It was a great little car and could actually haul a lot with the rear seat folded down. Super easy to work on too. I can still remember racing across town trying to get my brother and i to school on time lest the nuns punish us.

The funny thing is that my first sports car was a ’73 240Z and that SOHC in the 810 looks a lot like the motor that was in my Z. More smog gear and but similar. So yeah I chose the Datsun for the memories and also because it was such a great little reliable car that took punishment from teenage me and my brother.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

They advertised the 810 as “the family car with a 240Z motor”.

https://www.ebay.ca/itm/385703699745

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

Now the funny thing is that the 810 was in production from 77-81 and that last 240Z was 73′. Thanks for the link! It’s always interesting how they marketed these things.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Well the Z motor was no longer sporty but had some cache and R&D was paid so slam that bitch in a new car for a few year and print money.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 months ago

When I was a kid, a friend’s mother had an Ass-pain wagon, that looked just like this. It was plain jane but it did have an auto. It had this terrible habit of burping gas out of the filler about 2-3s after the nozzle would click off and soaking anyone standing there in gas. For this reason, my friend’s mother would always go to full serve stations.

The pump jockeys probably wondered why the kids in the car were staring at them as the tank go closer and closer to being full. We’d hear the click then cheer as the poor guy got sprayed with gas.

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

I worked at a full serve station when I was a kid in the late 90s/early’00’s. There was a customer still driving one of these piles (a two door) and that happened to me! The damn even nozzle shot right out of the filler neck, fuel everywhere. Luckily, I was dealing with another customer and not standing close enough to get soaked.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

I like them both, but I think I’ll have the Datsun.

CSRoad
CSRoad
2 months ago

I had friend who towed his dragster with an Aspen wagon like that. I think at the 5 year old mark it was the rustiest still running car on the road. Here with the salt that would quickly be a goner. That makes the slightly slower rusting Datsun a better deal.

Cal67
Cal67
2 months ago

I learned to drive in an Aspen wagon the same colour as that one (318 auto though). When my dad sold it the exterior looked in about the same condition as this one, but the rear subframe was so soft that you could’t even jack the car up using the subframe, had to put the jack under the axle. Indiana car won’t likely be much better. So, by default, California Datsun gets my vote.

Cerberus
Cerberus
2 months ago

That 810 looks like the same color of my 260Z. I’ll vote for it anyway. Can’t remember the last time I even saw one in a junk yard. We also had an Aspen wagon in a darker green when I was a kid. That had the simulated wood paneling.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
2 months ago

“Cash” and “Carry”: These were the two Lab Retrievers for whom my neighbor bought an Aspen wagon in the late seventies (brand new).

I thought it was a 4-speed manual, but it might’ve been three. There was a wire partition behind the front seat & the rears were always folded so when Cash and Carry would come from the beach all their water-shakes and sand scuffs would stay in the back.

They were two of the sweetest dogs, and to turn down this wagon would somehow, some way be an insult to their memory.

Logically, this makes no sense. But we’re talking dogs here, mates.

Griznant
Griznant
2 months ago

I work about ten minutes from that Aspen and have been eye-balling it every day since it was at $7k. I just couldn’t pull the trigger because even though it’s a unicorn, and super clean, it’s still an Aspen. My holding back paid off though as I just scored a SWEET deal on a rust free ’65 Falcon that may, legitimately, only have 16k miles on it. However, storage hasn’t been kind as it was used as a shelf and the mice got into the interior. All fixable though as it’s a 289 car!

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago
Reply to  Griznant

Yours has the 289 V8? Sweet!

Griznant
Griznant
2 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Yeah, it’s insane too. Literally driven by a little old lady from 1965 until the 90s. V8, auto, 4-door, Wimbledon White with blue interior and ZERO rust through. There’s still paint on the bottom of the floors. Oklahoma car that was moved to Michigan and stuck in a shed for the last 15 years which is when the mice ate the interior. The paint is suffering from the elements and having crap stored on it, but it’s so rust free I couldn’t pass.

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago

I saw the headline, clicked, scrolled down to vote for the Datsun, and then down here to proclaim my utter indifference to any further information that might change my mind. I’m going to avoid looking at the ad for it because it’s very friend-shaped and I’m gonna find myself asking for time off work to drive it home.

Cyko9
Cyko9
2 months ago

The V8 barely pushed the Volare/Aspen down the road, so that six is going to be a struggle. I can’t even imagine a small trailer behind it. Plus the rust issues. At half the price, the right buyer is doing the seller a service by taking it. The Datsun on the other hand is pretty good. I’d prefer a blockier 510 wagon, but I’d drive this.

Uncle Cholmondeley
Uncle Cholmondeley
2 months ago

I’m gonna waste my internet bucks on that Aspen for purely personal nostalgic reasons.

I grew up just 25 miles from Goshen, and with a ’76 Volaré station wagon (in “claret red”). My dad splurged for a few options, like the automatic transmission, the reverse-spoiler thing that supposedly keeps rain off the rear window, an AM/FM radio, and, for an extra $5, a two-tone horn. Yeah! But no A/C in a dark red car with vinyl seats — don’t wear shorts in the car in the summer! There was probably a dad-lesson in there, somewhere.

Anyway, when I got my license, that was my car to use. It was probably 25% rust by that point after 10 northern Indiana winters, and it had an unfortunate tendency to stall during a left turn, but that Slant Six otherwise kept chugging and I still reminisce about the fun times and minor trouble I managed to get into with that car.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
2 months ago

I fully expected to vote for Dat Sun, yo, but somehow, mysteriously, I found myself asking, “If an Aspen is listed on Facebook Marketplace, does it make an alert?” The answer is yes, yes it does.

I’m a huge sucker for green cars and I actually like the styling of the 810 more than the Aspen, but I feel the condition is so much better on the Dodge, enough to make up for the price differential. All the jokes about the Leaning Tower of Power have been done already, so I’ll refrain from that, but both have very worthy drivetrains with longevity in spades. In fact, there’s an old gentleman (of course) who drives an old green 810 with woodgrain panels. It’s about the only thing holding his wagon together, so we call him “Old Iron Oxide Sides.”

Aspen ain’t just a place in Colorado. It’s a state of mind and an oil stain in my driveway.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
2 months ago

The slant six will be the only engine still running long after the car it was attached to rots away during the Zombie Apocalypse.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
2 months ago

Before I got a license, we participated in a neighborhood carpool to high school with two other families. One of these families had a brown Aspen wagon very similar to this one. I always had to ride in the front seat next to the mom/dad who was driving that day, and neither of them (or their kids) ever talked. It was just the sound of that slant six ticking away to break up the weird silence on the way. Getting a license/car which freed me from that situation was one of the best things that happened in high school.

So it’s the Datsun, because I don’t need to be reminded.

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