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LA CAR REPORT: IN SEARCH OF THE FIRST DATSUN 510 STREET TUNER

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Oct 3, 2010

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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Above: Doug Endo with his 510 in mild mod stage in the early 1970s; below: Doug's 510 in stock form.

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Way back before “The Fast and the Furious” made it onto the silver screen, before Hot Import Nights came to town, before hot rodding a Honda or Acura was the dream of every high school gearhead in the San Gabriel Valley, before import tuners were known as import tuners, and even before Nissan was known as Nissan here in the States... There was the Datsun 510. All that came afterwards in the way of import tuners in the Southland owes some homage to the 510 and to the band of predominantly Asian American hot rodders in Gardena, California, that took their overhead cam, four-wheel independent suspension, rear-wheel drive vehicles, and turned them into SCCA racers for the street in the early 1970s. The inspiration came from Pete Brock, best known as the designer of the Shelby Daytona Coupe that won the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964. In the early 1970s, Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) led performance-tuned Datsun 510s in the 2.5 Series Trans-Am Series, and won. That Pete Brock and BRE played a huge role in spawning what later became the import tuner market is undisputed. Also accepted as general fact is that Gardena, California was the hotbed for tricked-out and lowered 510s in the early 1970s. Less clear, however, is whether any single consumer can be credited with creating the first street tuner out of the Datsun 510.

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Datsun 510s at the Japanese Classic Car Show

Doug Endo thinks he may have been the first in the Gardena area to lower a Datsun 510 and turn it into an SCCA version of a street rod. Two factors support this claim: First of all, Doug worked in the parts department of Gardena Datsun (now known as Gardena Nissan), and had access to the SCCA racer parts as soon as Datsun dealers made them available for the 510. Doug recalls being the first one to purchase the parts, and had the Gardena Datsun service mechanics install them as they became available. Second, Doug’s contention is supported by the recollections of some members of the Gardena High School alumni, including this author. What Doug was doing to his car was diametrically opposed to what most youth were interested in at the time—and that happened to be American muscle cars of the 1960s and early 70s. And while many muscle car owners liked to raise their cars—particularly in the rear to emulate a drag racer, Doug took his import tuner and slammed it to the ground. Little did he know that his 510 would help create a new genre of lowrider in this country—i.e. the import tuner. “Polyurethane bushings, BRE springs, shocks, sway bars, front spoiler, wide-rim American Mags Libre wheels, Bridgestone racing tires, large diameter exhaust pipe, Turbo muffler, Wink mirror, custom steering wheel, fog lamps…,” Doug rattles off a number of the changes he made to his 510. Soon thereafter, it seemed like every youngster with a 510 in the South Bay neighborhood was lowering his or her car and giving it the SCCA treatment. Of course, if Doug hadn’t been the first, others would have blazed the same trail anyway. Datsun 510s were so plentiful back then, and the temptation of BRE racing parts was too great to hold back. But Doug’s 510 served as a rolling advertisement, spreading the word for the new American hot rod to come. - Roy Nakano

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Doug departed with his 510 in 1978. His current ride: A C5 Corvette Z06

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: Datsun PL510 Price: $2200 (approximate price in 1972) Engine: 1.595 liter SOHC, I-4 1x2-bbl Hitachi carburetor Horsepower (SAE gross): 96 hp @ 5600 rpm, Torque (SAE gross): 100 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm Transmission: 4-speed manual (3-speed automatic optional) Drive configuration: Rear-wheel drive Steering: Race and pinion Suspension Front: Independent struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar Rear: Independent semi-trailing arms, coil springs Brakes Front: solid disc Rear: drum Dimensions Length: 160.2 inches Width: 61.4 inches Height: 55.1 inches Curb weight: 2125 pounds

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