Rare Rear-Drive Coupes: 1974 Datsun 710 vs 1979 Mercedes 450SLC

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Good morning, and welcome to the Two-Door Tuesday edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today, we have a pair of coupes that you don’t see around any more. But first, let’s finish up our name game from yesterday:

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Well, that’s the long and the short of it. And for what it’s worth, I agree; I still dig the Mini, but if it’s between this Mini and this Maxima, then for me the name is Nissan. I already have one cantankerous British hatchback to deal with; I don’t need another. (Yes, I know this one is technically German. That doesn’t make it better.)

Today, our choices may have some younger readers scurrying off on a Google search to learn just what the hell they are. Neither of these cars is at all common in the wild, and one of them I would have guessed was extinct by now. Yet here they are, both for sale here in Oregon, the magical land of forgotten cars. Both are automatics, both are rear wheel drive, and both have the best-looking headlight configuration – quad round sealed beams. Let’s have a look at them.

1974 Datsun 710 – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter inline 4, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Medford, OR

Odometer reading: ad says 7499…?

Runs/drives? Almost, but not quite

I’ll never understand why Nissan didn’t just use the home-market names for their cars in America. We could have had Sunnys and Bluebirds and Fairladys instead of a bunch of numbers that didn’t really correspond to the different sizes or trim levels of the cars. This car, in Japan, was known as the Nissan Violet. Doesn’t that sound friendlier than “Datsun 710”?

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I do like the looks of these old Datsuns, though. Too bad they’ve been lost to time except for a few “greatest hits.” But then, that seems to be the way of things: everybody over-plays “Don’t Stop Believin’,” when the second cut on Journey’s Escape album, “Stone In Love,” is at least as good a song, if not better. Datsun 510s and Z-cars are revered, and the poor 710 and 610, both rear-wheel-drive cars with sharp styling, are resigned to the junkyard of history.

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This 710 isn’t exactly a showpiece, but it’s probably one of the nicest ones left. Some bits of the interior are obviously incorrect, and the front bumper is MIA, but this isn’t the sort of car you nut-and-bolt restore back to original anyway. It’s a lightweight rear-wheel-drive shell, a blank slate that you can modify and tweak to your heart’s content.

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Of course, you could bring the little L18 four-cylinder back to life and just drive it as-is. The engine ran not too long ago, it sounds like, and the paint is still shiny, so it’s not a bad starting point. You’ll still be the talk of Cars & Coffee. But a manual swap would make this little car a lot more fun to drive, and more power couldn’t hurt either, of course. However you do it, it would be a neat car to get back on the road. It’s nice to see a few “deep cuts” like this running around still.

1979 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC – $1,850

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.5 liter V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: Just under 200,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

The Mercedes SLC lives in the shadow of its convertible sister model, the SL. The two cars share a platform and drivetrain, but the SLC adds about 14 inches to the wheelbase, a back seat fit for actual passengers, and a sleek pillarless hardtop roofline. It also commands far less attention and a much smaller price tag than the SL.

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This 1979 model is a 450SLC, which by Mercedes’s reckoning, means it has a 4.5 liter engine. As a US model, this one has a soggy low-compression version of the M117 single-overhead-cam V8, and giant Federally-mandated 5 mph bumpers. It’s a full thirty horsepower down from the same car in Europe, and eight inches longer from those big silly bumpers. No wonder gray-market imports of European Mercedes were so popular.

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These have always been lower value than the convertible SL models, but I can’t understand why this one is so cheap. The seller calls it a “project car,” but also says it “runs and drives good.” The exterior looks fantastic and is a great color. The interior is scruffy, but serviceable, and it has a nice Nardi (or Nardi knockoff) steering wheel in place of the ugly stock Mercedes wheel.

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Honestly, this looks like a nice weekend cruiser as is, unless it won’t pass smog (it was last registered in 2014) or the transmission is on the way out or something. The ad is very light on specifics, so a test-drive is the only way to find out. The ad has only been up for a day, and I suspect that it won’t be up much longer, if this car is as nice as it looks.

Tomorrow is a bit of a special occasion, and I’ve got something celebratory planned, but for today, these are your choices: a nearly-forgotten Japanese coupe, and a German hardtop overshadowed by its drop-top sibling. Neither one is perfect, but either one could turn some heads with a little work. Which one will it be?

Quiz maker

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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50 Responses

  1. The Benz for me. As far as slushbox cars go, the Benz is more likely to be enjoyable than the Datsun.
    And I suspect that parts and service is also likely to be easier for the Benz because that particular model and engine has far more survivors on the road right now than that old Datsun.

    And I just checked… you can even get a trailer hitch for the Benz from Rock Auto! And you can still get stuff like door seals, new lenses for various lights, body mouldings, AC compressors, new windshield washer tanks, windshield washer motors, windshield wiper motors and a bunch of other stuff that is unobtainium… at least from a cheap source like Rock Auto.

    So being nicer to drive, looking more expensive and easier parts/service makes the MB an easy choice.

  2. I had a ’76 Silver 710 4 door, manual.
    I sawed a holly 4 barrel in half the hard way (vacuum secondary) and pulled off the emissions controls and cat. Had to put traction bars on it cause the rear end would jump around so much on launch. I don’t know why that thing was as fast as it was, but I beat a V8 Mustang II with it. Dude was pissed.

  3. I feel like the Mercedes is for someone who wants to cruise around now. The Datsun has the potential for a fun drift car, and a good restoration would really grab peoples’ attention. I don’t think the Mercedes will drift very well.

  4. 450SLC by leaps and bounds. So much so I’m having to resist the urge to go to Oregon with cash in hand, which I can do thanks to the abundance of vehicles sitting in my driveway, leaving no room for another.

  5. Merc for me. People are saying they were everywhere, but I remember the convertible being everywhere and the coupe being non-existent. Sure you don’t see Datsuns on the road much anymore, but honestly it’s kind of boring. At least the Merc gives you some style and if a test drive/inspection pans out it will get snapped up quick.

  6. The Mercedes, I don’t have fond memories of the 710 and while a,Mercedes isn’t cheap to run parts support is much better. Plus you can probably swap some Euro bumpers and tweak the engine if you live outside the Portland emissions testing zone

  7. The Datsun is getting raves in the comments, and killed in the votes. Funny how often that seems to happen! I’m trying to picture what the Datsun would look like with better wheels, and I think it would help me out, but I’m still voting for the suspiciously cheap Mercedes, which as I understand it is EXACTLY the mistake everybody makes with used German cars.

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