Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with inexpensive econoboxes. Now that I’m in the elite “over 40” club, nostalgia for the low-end vehicles from my 1980s childhood is through the roof. I can be commonly found at 3am, half-asleep, hunched over a glowing laptop displaying 100+ open craigslist tabs of clapped-out junkers I want to buy.
My perpetual car search led me to a sweet brown 1974 Datsun B210 that reminded me of the many old Japanese economy cars I used to see buzzing around during my youth. After a short test drive that tugged at my heartstrings, I proceeded to purchase this 43 year old vehicle for the reasonable sum of $1500.
By today’s standards, the B210 not a particularly great car. Even by 1974 standards it was considered a crummy low-grade car. It’s slow. It’s weird looking. Almost all of them outside California rusted to pieces—but they were incredibly reliable. Back in ’74, this was one of the least expensive, most fuel efficient cars you could buy. That was a big deal during the oil crisis, and Datsun sold tons of these.
I’ve always loved the unusual styling of this car. From the strange elongated hatchback shape to the incredibly odd taillights. I even adore those bizarro honeycomb hubcaps that look like someone beat each one with a ball peen hammer. Though I suppose it is possible my favorable view of the design is severely clouded by nostalgia.
Let’s get to driving dynamics. There are none, there is no time for that. The B210 car is slow—glacially slow. Under the hood of the ’74 is a tiny 1.3l pushrod motor that only cranked out 75hp when new. Most people have never had to experience a car as slow as a B210. Driving it is just a few steps above riding a bicycle.
But for a 43 year old car, the diminutive Datsun engine runs great. Even with so little power, it’s still somehow fun to drive. Out of all the cars I’ve owned in my lifetime, this one gets the most stares, approving waves, and looks of bewilderment. “What is that? A B 2 what?” “Oh it’s a Datsun!” “I love it!” “My dad used to have one of those!”
So there you have it. I bought the car that I loved so much as a young boy. I acted on my overflowing nostalgia and purchased an object that seemingly brought back so many good memories and emotions. There can be something very comforting about looking backwards. The road trips in the family van, head pressed against the window, watching the landscape floating by, dad and mom listening to Creedence, catching a glimpse of a weird brown Datsun passing by, disappearing into the distance.
But after a day, my stupid monkey brain finally became conscious of the fact that these feelings were fleeting. Did I really think this car would magically bring me back to the summer vacations of my childhood? For a while, maybe I really did.
What was I really looking for with my incessant craigslist automobile searches? On a recent back road drive, staring past the brown B210 hood at the empty winding road ahead of me, I came to realize I didn’t really want all of these craigslist cars. I wanted what the cars represented. I wanted the stories that the cars evoked. A great memory. An old friend. Having free time to spend driving aimlessly. Meeting new people while traveling.
This little brown Datsun didn’t magically transport me back to my childhood. But what it did was far more powerful. It served as a symbol—and a reminder—to get off my ass and start exploring. To not rely on objects for happiness. To try new things. To take risks. To go out and create brand new memories that get absorbed into a pile of metal, oil, and gasoline.
So I did just that. Earlier this year I made a commitment to myself to go on adventures, discover new things, travel to extraordinary places, make new friends, and of course, justify my countless questionable automotive purchases. Every few weeks I will be posting a video about my travels in unique cars. Here is the first vid that got me started on this quest.
If you’d like to join me on my journey of learning how to not suck at making videos, you can follow me here: youtube.com/helloroad. 🙂