Performance-tuned 1970 Datsun 510 arrives at Jay Leno’s Garage

The hand-built pocket rocket was made for driving

On the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, it’s all about a rear-drive, light-weight Japanese pocket rocket.

Jay features a 1970 Datsun 510 after seeing the car at a car show at the Petersen Musem. He invited the owner, Jonathan Lessner, to bring the Datsun for this special episode in which Jay does not wear a blue denim shirt and is instead clad in a black T-shirt with a black leather jacket.

We quickly learn the car underwent quite a transformation. When Lessner first found the car, it was the definition of “barn find.” Basically in scrap condition, Lessner bought the car and completely restored it to his liking and to get out there and drive it. In the end, it became a khaki-colored pocket rocket.

Under the hood is a KA24 2.4-liter inline-4-cylinder engine from a 1989-1994 Nissan 240SX, not the original powerplant found in typical 510 models. The fuel-injected engine is married to a computer stored under the passenger seat, and Lessner guesses it makes around 140 horsepower.


Jay Leno takes the hot Datsun for a drive

This isn’t exactly a SEMA-quality build, but that’s not a knock against the car. Lessner admits he and his friend worked to build the car exactly how he wanted it and to drive the living crap out of it. There’s nothing wrong with one fewer garage queen in the world.

Lessner didn’t exactly treat the body with kid gloves. To make room for those wheel flares, his body man cut away and folded up some of the metal from the wheel openings. That allowed him to fit the new 225/45R15 tires under it.

The car weighs only 2,230 pounds. At the beginning of the episode, Leno challenges Lessner to guess how much it weighs after the owner says he hadn’t yet weighed the Datsun. While Lessner goes with 1,984 pounds, Leno ventures a guess of 2,190. In the end, the scale doesn’t lie.

Inside, the car only has a pair of Recaro bucket seats (from Thailand of all places) and a roll bar. No rear seat here. The dash has some cool gauges and switches, the steering wheel is from Momo, and the transmission features a B&M short shifter with an extender.

Overall, the car is a really wonderful piece of workmanship with an avid owner. Buying the car in scrap condition was likely the best route to go since 510 prices have skyrocketed in recent years. Today, clean examples have no problem fetching $20,000 or more at auction.

This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.

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  • Chuck Mahan
    July 18, 2019, 2:41 PM

    1973 I was Senior Sales Training consultant
    Dick Gulstrand, MilesGupton and Chuck drove from Bob Sharpe in
    Wilton Conn 3 race painted 510’s to Virgina Intl raceway.
    For the sales department salesman training.
    We had fun making the trip


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