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by Jay Traugott
Japanese automakers have always had a few tricks of their sleeves when it comes to performance, and this 1970 Datsun Bluebird SSS is no exception.
Datsun is a brand name that's likely much more familiar to Baby Boomers than Millennials. It renamed itself Nissan in 1981. With the exception of car fans, Datsun is a name with little to no meaning. But for us, memories of the original Z car immediately flash to mind and how the Japanese automaker built that wonderful sports car that's still a favorite to many after all these years. Another classic Datsun that holds special memories for many brand loyalists and enthusiasts is the Bluebird.
A little background info, if you will. First launched in 1957, the Datsun Bluebird was basically a simple compact sedan that was built in Japan and was exported to various markets throughout the world, including the US. In fact, the Bluebird can be considered the ancestor of the Nissan Altima. However, the first Bluebirds to reach US shores weren't popular. European sales were better, but Datsun continued to improve the car in subsequent generations in both styling and general packaging. But in 1964 the Bluebird SS was launched, powered by a tuned 1.2-liter inline-four that produced either 71 or 77 horsepower, depending on which version.
While this may not sound like all that much by today's standards, it opened the car up to more high-performance possibilities. When the car was redesigned for 1968, it was received favorably enough to be dubbed by one auto journalist as the "poor man's BMW." But unlike previous Bluebirds, this new one offered more body style options. Whereas older models were sold only as a sedan and wagon in the US, a coupe was made available in addition to those other body styles. Power came from a range of inline-fours, ranging from 1.3- to 1.8-liters - the same sort of displacement you might find in a modern Nissan budget hatchback.
The combination of affordability, fun-to-drive factor, solid performance and daily drivability made this generation (510) of the Bluebird a sales hit in the US. One element that contributed to this was the fact that Datsun cars had many interchangeable parts, such as engines, transmissions and suspensions setups. In other words, owners could tune their cars with relative ease. But the version that a true enthusiast wanted was the SSS. Not only did this performance trim level take part in racing events like the Monte Carlo Rally and the Trans Am Series, but it also proved itself on the street as a solid and fun machine.
This particular 1970 Datsun Bluebird SSS is currently up for sale, but the $40,000 asking price may cause some to walk away. However, it still warrants a closer look for a number of reasons. This one is a Japanese market version, with the steering wheel on the right-hand side. Although it's now located in Southern California, it was originally bought by an American serviceman stationed in Japan who went ahead and did a number of modifications. Upgrades include a modified turbo engine with 200 horsepower, mated to a five-speed manual, along with chrome fender mirrors, Japanese-market grille and suspension upgrades.
Inside you'll find the original dash with the factory radio, working controls and an aftermarket gauge hidden beneath the dash and steering wheel. There's even a power steering system which was added later in the car's life. The interior is rounded off with custom made GTS carbon-fiber retro bucket seats and four-point seat belts. With just 45,000 miles on the clock, this is a truly beautiful and unique Bluebird SSS. Trust us, today's Nissan Altima doesn't even come close to being as cool.