My Husband Brought Home a 100-Dollar Datsun
A Beloved Piece of Vehicular History: A 1970 Datsun 510 Wagon
Guess what!" my husband said, grinning like a naughty kid. He'd just walked through the door and hadn't even said hello or "how was your day?" yet.
Uh-oh, I thought, now what?
Without pausing for breath, he told me, "I found an old car, and I'm gonna take the engine out and convert it to electric."
My husband was trying to fit the whole story into one line he could rattle off without triggering a bombardment of practical questions from me, his practical wife. I know he was thinking that if he made the story short enough, I might just nod and go back to what I was doing. Yeah, well, maybe he should have left out the old car part.
But, alas, he had my full attention.
(Hey, you're supposed to be looking at the CAR.)
The Rest of the $100 Datsun Story
Everybody, here's my husband....
Thanks, Deb, dear wife.
Okay, so here's the scoop:
Deb is really good at being patient with me every time I get a new idea, and I could tell she was trying to confront the unknown while still projecting loving support.
Also, I could tell she knew I'd already purchased the car, and I was already thinking about how and where to tow it.
So with too much enthusiasm, I added, "You're never gonna believe this, but the car I found is my old Datsun!"
I couldn't read the expression that came over Deb's face. "The junker you were practically living in?"
"Yeah, the same car we had our first date in at Zion." I had to add that little reminder. On that date, I'd turned off the headlights while driving through the tunnel and got a good squeeze out of it. (Ow! Hey, she just poked me.)
"How much do they want for it?" Deb asked with a smirk.
"That is, how much did you PAY for it?"
It really wasn't that bad, though. Deb and I had a lot of fun scooting around Arizona in that old car when we were first getting to know one another. The 1970 Datsun 510 wagon was the first car I'd ever owned as well as the first car in our relationship, and it was pretty amazing that after the ten years since I'd sold it, and having lived three thousand miles away most of that time, I'd encountered my beloved Datsun once again.
Going Back a Bit Further....
The Origins the Rust-Bucket
In the late Seventies, my best friend's dad, Nat, bought the Datsun for $100.00 from his trombone teacher, who had driven it here to Flagstaff, Arizona, from Texas and given up on it. Nat and his mother removed the old engine and installed a rebuilt one.
For years, the Datsun resided at Lowell Observatory, where Nat lived and worked as an astronomer. His daughter drove it throughout high school and college, and then it sat in the driveway.
In 1992, the Datsun became mine. I bought it from Nat for $200.00, but he refunded me $100 so I could install a re-manufactured carburetor. I drove the car during my senior year in high school, in college and while I worked at the Grand Canyon. I met Deb on the North Rim in December, 1995, and, from there, we went on that first, rather long date in Utah's Zion National Park. Had to do a little roadside maintenance on the way, which I'm sure really impressed my future wife.
When we decided to move back east in July, 1996, I sold the Datsun to a lookout tower guy for $600.00. He drove it daily for several fire seasons up 9,299-foot Mt. Elden and afterward to the East Pocket lookout, a 60-mile, unpaved round trip. He eventually sold the Datsun to a guy named Lars, who drove it to Seattle and left it to die.
Then, a guy named Rex rescued the car and somehow got it back to Flagstaff, where he intended to fix it up. But it just sat for a few years in his yard on Navajo Drive, in the neighborhood where I grew up.
One hundred dollars bought me the car for a second time, and, when I went to Rex's place to get it, the Datsun fired right up. I then drove it full-circle, back up to Lowell Observatory.
What's even more serendipitous about this whole deal is that, after having the seed planted in my head by my grampa about converting a gasoline-powered car to electric, and after researching how to do a conversion and suggestions about a suitable "donor" car, I just happened to stumble across the car I've always loved. Perfect! With a little elbow grease and some TLC, it'll be a piece of cake.
And Deb says: Yeah, right
Okay, That's Enough, Husband of Mine
Give me back my computer
Deb here again.
So, now that we have this lovely specimen sitting out in front of the house, we get to spend all sorts of money fixing it up, so it runs and looks halfway decent. And then we need to save up for the conversion, which will probably cost between $5,000 and $9,000 including the battery bank.
In the meantime, though, the car needs a new windshield and tires, for starters. Not to mention that it doesn't lock, the brakes need work and the weather stripping is falling off doors and windows. And did I mention the broken tail light or missing windshield wiper blades and front grill?
Regardless, though, I am actually kind of looking forward to the whole project and do have a soft spot for that ugly little car. But I'll be especially happy when it becomes an ugly electric Datsun.
'Cause Then We'll Be....
The Datsun 510's Latest Issues
If it ain't one thing....
September: Brakes not working. Oh ... wonderful. Steve says it's the master cylinder.
November: The brakes are okay now (he rebuilt the master cylinder), but the tires are bald. Here goes another few hundred bucks.
January: Got new tires and a new windshield, but now it's something about a bearing. I don't think I want to know any more than that.
February: The passenger-side door won't open.
March: Oh great, my husband got an air horn for the Datsun! Someone gave it to him off their doomed Subaru. Apparently, it's the same type of horn a truck uses.
April: I noticed we were getting low on plates. Why? Because my husband was accumulating dirty dishes in the Datsun. Shame!
June: While driving behind my husband in his Datsun, I noticed that his right break light only works now and then. But there seems to be a long wait between now and then.
November: It seems his car won't start when it's cold outside. So he has had to park it up at his shop, which is at the top of a hill. That way, when it won't start up, he can get it rolling down the hill and hope the engine kicks in before he gets to the bottom.
Do You Have a Decrepit Datsun 510, Too?
If so, here's a manual you might want to pick up....
Steve's copy of this book looks older than the car, he's used it so much. If he's under the car, it's under the car. If he's under the hood, it's under the hood, too.
And If YOU Want To Drive Around Town Suckin' Up Nothin' ... Even if you don't have a Datsun....
Here are some good books about electric car conversions. We have both (and I think they're both in the car).
Some Handy Datsun and Electric Car Sites
All things Datsun 510
A wide range of parts for Datsun restorations
- Down on the Street
Where they admire old vehicles found parked on the streets of the "Island That Rust Forgot." Here's an entry about the 1970 Datsun 510 wagon.
- Electro Automotive
Electric car conversion parts, information and how-to books
- Jerry's EV Conversion
A very well-done resource and blog about an electric car conversion