Like the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle of yore, the Datsun 510 enjoys a rather unique niche in the annals of automotive history. While never produced in the teeming numbers that the old vintage Bugs were, the 510 shares a similarity with those cars; it was instrumental in transforming the American public's perception of what an economical performance car could and should be. This isn't to say the old Datsun was a fire-breathing V8-killer straight out of the box. After all, its factory-equipped, 1.6-liter powerplant produced only 96 bhp in stock form-a goodly amount of power to make the car reasonably quick, but not really enough to let it go around scorching the pavement on a regular basis.
Even so, the old 510 was overbuilt by most standard engineering conventions of its day. For one, its front MacPherson strut and independent rear suspension configurations made the car an extremely competent handler, which was normally associated with much more expensive cars. Additionally, many of its hard engine parts were built to a greater degree of strength than the car's power output probably warranted. Some parts, such as the connecting rods, main bearings and U-joints were also used in the more powerful, six-cylinder 240Z. When the 510 made its way to the track in the late 1960s as part of Datsun-backed racing programs, it often ran with a stock valvetrain and factory-spec engine internals.
Engine bays don't get much...
Engine bays don't get much cleaner than this. Up front you can see the custom-built Top End Performance air/air intercooler-right next to the radiator, which Nuenke says he had to relocate in order for everything to fit properly.
San Jose, Calif. resident Mark Nuenke owns the green 510 spread across these pages. It was, in fact, his very first car, so he has been involved with it for some time. The gradual project build-up took place over the span of 24 years, arriving at the impressive state of tune you see here. (Nuenke has, in fact, owned the car for roughly as long as this article's author has been alive.)
He bought it in 1976 for about $500, complete with a blown motor, and had to tow it home in order to begin the first phase of its restoration. There, he scrapped the old engine and rebuilt an L18 motor with dual carbs, dropped it into the engine bay, and installed a Datsun Competition racing suspension. A couple of years later, he decided he wanted to add something to the car's physical aggression factor. He purchased and installed a full set of fender flares from Far Performance, cleaned up the body panels and painted the car dark blue. Since then, the paint color has changed twice, but the flares and Nuenke's detailed bodywork remain intact.
At this angle, you can see...
At this angle, you can see the billet aluminum airbox that Nuenke himself constructed and how it ties in to the modified intake manifold, which, in turn, houses the new Electromotive electronic fuel injection system