1981 Datsun 810 Maxima sedan

“For the luxury minded who long to be Datsun driven.”

1981 brought the nicest Datsun yet for America, in the form of the 810 Maxima sedan. Datsun aimed high, advertising the Maxima as having the “luxury of a Mercedes” and the “sophistication of a Cadillac.” Nissan was in the process of transitioning away from the Datsun name, so the Maxima‘s official name was a clunky “Datsun 810 Maxima by Nissan.”

The only powertrain available for the Maxima was the L24E 118 bhp 2.4 liter/146 ci inline six with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection paired with a three-speed automatic. Luxury did not mean quick in 1981—in the 2,800-pound car, 0-60 came in about 12.5 seconds. EPA fuel economy ratings were 22 city/27 highway—with a 16.4-gallon gas tank, a Maxima owner could expect a range of 360 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Despite being the top of Datsun’s sedan line and “the roomiest and most comfortable Datsun ever created” to that point, the Maxima was not a particularly large car. With a 183.3 inch length, it was barely longer than today’s Nissan Sentra, which is classified as a compact car. In advertisements, Datsun stated that the Maxima was “about the size of a BMW 528i at less than half the price.” Both of these claims were true, but the Maxima was not yet a “4-Door Sports Car.”

810 Maxima pages from the 1981 Datsun brochure

Standard exterior equipment on the $10,879 1981 Maxima (about $33,200 in 2020 dollars or just a little less than a 2020 Maxima S costs) included an electric sliding sun roof and Quadrabeam headlights with halogen high beams. Mechanical equipment included a fully independent suspension, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes, and 185/70SR14 tires (a size still readily available) on 14-inch “mag-style” alloy wheels.

Inside, centralized locking, power controls, a tilt steering column, cruise control, and an AM/FM digital four-speaker stereo with a cassette player were included. Standard upholstery included “loose-pillow” velour seats, fully reclining front seats, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, and full Saxony carpeting. Famously, an early version of the vocalized warning system warned a Maxima‘s driver when the headlights were on.

There were few if any options available for the 1981 Maxima sedan. Reviews of the day generally liked the new car’s exterior styling, but the “buff books” complained that the Maxima was only available with a three-speed automatic and velour upholstery. Car and Driver‘s write-up in April 1981 stated: “What we have here seems to be a clear case of over-Americanization.”

It isn’t that surprising that Hagerty’s valuation tools do not track any eighties Datsuns other than the Z-cars. Eighties Maximas rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors.

Make mine Medium Gray Metallic, please.

1980 Datsun 280ZX hatchback coupe

Yutaka Katayama passed on February 19th, 2015, after a long and full life—he was 105. “Mr. K” was the person most responsible for bringing the Z car to market. It is beyond the purview of this blog to head back to the original and groundbreaking 240Z, but we can take a look at the second generation 280ZX.

“It’s Black. It’s Gold. And it is awesome.”

For 1980, the Datsun 280ZX received optional T-tops, but otherwise mostly stood pat for the standard car. Power continued to be provided by the L28E 135 bhp 2.8 liter/168 ci V6 with multi-port fuel injection. With the standard five-speed manual transmission, EPA fuel economy ratings were 21 city/31 highway by the standards of the day (19/28 by modern standards). Moving to the three-speed automatic transmission significantly impacted mileage—ratings on the sticker were 19/26. With a 21.2-gallon fuel tank, an owner of a manual-equipped 280ZX could expect an impressive range of between 450 and 495 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

0-60 times in the 2,900-pound coupe were a little over 9 seconds with the manual; reasonably competitive in the early 1980s. The top speed was about 125 mph.

Standard equipment on the $9,899 280ZX (about $28,400 in 2015 dollars) included four-wheel disc brakes and an independent suspension. Stepping up to the $12,238 GL added power steering, cruise control, and air conditioning.

For 1980, there was also a 10th Anniversary Edition (auto manufacturers were beginning to become aware that anniversary cars could really bring the buyers) available in two different two-tones: either Thunder Black and Rallye Red or Thunder Black and Golden Mist Metallic.

Standard equipment on the loaded $13,850 10th Anniversary Edition (about $39,800 in today’s dollars) included the aforementioned T-tops and two-tone paint, along with leather seats, Hitachi AM/FM stereo radio with cassette, special badging, power windows, headlamp washers, alloy wheels, and P195/70R14 Goodyear Wingfoot radial tires (that’s a size last seen on the 2002 Honda Accord but still readily available).

There is good club support for the 280ZX, though not to quite the level of the original 240Z. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1980 280ZX coupe in #1/Concours condition is $18,400, with a more normal number #3/Good condition car going for $5,700. 280ZXs often show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—as I write this in February 2015, there’s a dark charcoal car with a gray leather interior with 142,000 miles available for $18,000. Lord help me, I would like one in the black and gold two-tone …