They say you never forget your First Time.
You’ll always remember the short beat of the heart when you first saw her, the anticipation you felt when you realized that she was yours, the dreamy sensuality that overcame you as you gently washed her body, feeling every curve and contour for the first time.There’s that dull, distant, thud in the back of your head as you realize that you are really INTO her, and as you get a grip and prepare to make her squirm and squeal beneath you, when you realize how wise you are, what a great decision you made to let her into your life…and, as she delivers pleasure after pleasure…well, there’s the promise of payoff, and when you strap her on and let her make her moves, nothing’s better.
…It’s like that with a woman too, only I’m not writing about a woman…
All of the above was about meeting my first Japanese car, my first time with a car that nobody knows anything about and the subsequent times that totally endeared me to it. It’s about a mystery car that traveled below most driver’s radar but was a descendant of Japanese royalty and a precursor to a lot of little sporty rear-drive Datsuns/Nissans to come, evolving eventually into the 240SX.I bought it because it was cheap (under $3,000 in 1974 money), new and exotic. Hardly anybody had Japanese cars then, and NOBODY in the wilds of SW Florida had a little yellow coupe like mine. My First Time with a Japanese car, I’ll never forget her. It was a 1974 Datsun 610 (To purists, it’s the Bluebird), and it was a nifty little yellow 2-door pillar less hardtop with a 2-litre 4-banger eager to make 100 HP, 4 speeds, Independent Rear Suspension, radials, a radio and Air. A surprisingly swift 8/10ths BMW 320i imitation, it went like stink and was bags of fun.
The 610 was built upon the bones of the legendary 510. It was a little heavier, a bit slower, but it was a pocket performer just like its rally-winning ancestor. I got it because we needed a new Family Car. Our ’63 Chrysler 300J had bitten some expensive dust, and we needed Car fast. There was room for both my kids and my wife, there was a pretty good-sized trunk for carrying around a ton of kid stuff, it got amazing gas mileage (high 20s) and it ran sweet, like a genuine sportscar.
The Wife and I immediately left Florida and took off for New York City, from whence my seeds sprang. We drove up the East Coast, staying as close to the Atlantic as paved roads would allow; we did things like crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel at midnight and getting lost a dozen times while exploring the wild reaches of Brooklyn; we poked around Manhattan for a week and we came back home through DC and the mountains of The Blue Ridge Parkway. The 610 broke down only once, and it is still the most memorable breakdown I had in any of my cars, to date. A perfect trip. We took dozens of weekend trips in the 610.
Later, I had a job in The Keys and I put thousands of miles on it, doing a long-distance commute for six months. We took it all over Florida and it was very dependable. We drove the car around for five years, paid it off then the head gasket blew and the little Coupe got pushed into the garage where it became a convenient resting place for all the things that we didn’t want in the house. It had 86, 000 miles on it.
I bought a Z-car and my wife got a Tercel. The 610 lay ignored under layers of family junk. We stored clothes inside, guns in the trunk, plywood on the roof. There it stayed for seven years. Cars came and went. Kids grew up. Gas reached a dollar. Like the sun fading from sight in a coastal fogbank, the marriage that once seemed sound was eventually eclipsed by the smoky problems that no one anticipated, and the sun finally, permanently set in a blood-red goodbye. Of the “shared” possessions, I got the 610, my wife’s way of punishing me. She got the Oldsmobile.
I had it towed to a small shop that specialized in Datsuns and sportscars. The owner was a real enthusiast, and he suggested that we mod the car. He bored out the cylinders, did a 510 racing treatment to the motor. It was now a 2.2 liters and his dyno eventually showed 145 HP. We put on a set of racing headers, got aluminum pistons and a larger carb, put in a truck clutch, and suddenly my little 610 was reborn. We did a lot of suspension mods too, and tinted the windows a limousine black. A set of Minilite Mags and Michelin radials finished it off well. I was back in the saddle again…
Except…the car looked shabby, so off it went to a body shop where a little bodywork and a fresh coat of Sun Yellow made her sparkle in the Florida sun once again. Then I got a mail-order upholstery kit and redid the interior, installing seats from a 260Z and a killer Kenwood at the same time. The car was a winner, a true Beemer-Beater. Nobody expected this 12-year old to perform, but when I pushed with my right foot, she screamed and looked good doing it.
Ultimately, my wife and I reconciled, but for only a couple of years. She was making payments on a BMW then and she was endlessly irritated by the 610’s ability to beat her Beemer. We finally split for good, for reasons more complicated than car jealousy, but at the end, she wanted the 610 as part of our community settlement!!!
I drove it for about six more months. It ran fine, I was really proud of it, and then, one morning on my way to work, I turned up an Interstate ramp and saw a car coming DOWN my ramp, rapidly and in reverse. A woman from Ohio, drunk at 10 AM, in a rental Chrysler that the rental agency knew nothing about, as it turned out. She nailed me, butt-on, and I watched my yellow hood crumple into the shattered windshield. She fled the scene moments after totaling my Sun Yellow Coupe. The cops got her, the insurance paid off and the 610, with 145,000 on the clock and a million stories under it’s belt was junkyard bound. Adios to one of the best cars I’ll ever own.
I saved the Kenwood and installed it into my next car, a ’77 Cadillac Eldorado which I loathingly refer to as “The Green Piece Of Chit”, and have since the day I got it. Worst car I EVER owned.
But that’s another story….
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