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Editor's note: This is part of a series at KSL.com featuring some of Utah's coolest cars. If you own a customized vehicle — from sports cars to semitrucks — email firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo of the vehicle and a brief description for consideration.HOLLADAY — If you don’t think James Campbell’s 1970 Datsun 510 is cool, read on as this car is presented.
Datsun built the 510 from 1968 to 1973; it came as a two-door, four-door and wagon model. It had 96 horsepower, a 4-speed stick shift, and independent suspension, which was a big deal back then. The coolness factor started when 510s started winning races, beating far more expensive competitors. It became known as the “poor man’s BMW,” and Campbell’s 510 is often mistaken for one.
Campbell grew up on muscle cars but got the 510 bug when his neighbor took him for a ride in his Peter Brock race car replica. The sound and ride hooked him. He now owns five of them.
His red 1970 car spent most of its years green, owned by a grandmother who babied it over its 40,000 miles. When she passed away, her acquaintance who had been eyeing the car picked it up. Campbell bought it from him and got to work.
It ran and drove, but had issues: The brakes were shot and it wouldn’t idle. He re-did the interior, giving it a factory look. He changed it from the 3-speed automatic to four on the floor from a 240Z. He restored the wheels and hubcaps, rechromed the chrome and polished the stainless steel, changed the suspension and polished the valve cover. Campbell said the engine compression was fine, but he still had to fix some leaks.
When rust repair led to a full teardown and new door gaskets, he decided he may as well go for a color change, choosing a red from the Fairlady Roadster.
The list of the changes he made goes on, but the surprising part is what he didn’t do — modify it. It’s hard to find a 510 where someone hasn’t replaced the seats, engine and everything else — even Campbell is making modifications on his other 510s. But his 1970 vehicle looks factory fresh. He says he gets a thumbs up when he takes it out and can’t go anywhere without someone telling him a story about their own or a friend’s 510.
While he said he bought this 510 intending to keep it, it is now posted for sale in the KSL Cars classifieds. He plans to use the proceeds to get another 510 painted.
If you don’t think a bone-stock 1970 Datsun is cool, rest assured there are those who do. Campbell said one not as nice as his sold last year for $30,000. The market is not the same as for some better-known cars, so this one will probably have to find a buyer overseas.
Check out the photos for before/after pictures.
Brian Champagne has reported on cars for more than nine years. He holds a master's degree in communications from the University of the Pacific and teaches at Utah State University.