In the early 1970s, before the 240Z boom, Datsuns were sold from some Buick and American Motors dealerships. The 510 was not the most popular car the salesmen had in their inventories. They lacked the knowledge and enthusiasm to push the cars into sales.
Datsun made the decision to put on dealer introduction events to spur sales. It was the purpose of the event to show the dealers and their sales staffs just what the 510s could do. To that end, the factory hired professional drivers to give spirited rides to the sales people at race tracks all over the U.S. We did indeed deliver the spirited rides. We pounded around the tracks as fast as the cars would go, all the while extolling the car’s many attributes.
After deplaning in New York, Miles Gupton (aka Guppy) and I picked up two of the Datsun 510s we were going to use. We headed up to the Northwest corner of Connecticut. Winter’s brown colors covered the picturesque landscape. The little 510s happily sang along the lovely winding roads. The Datsun dealer event would take place on the coming weekend at the famous Limerock race track.
We were staying at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, a place well known to me from Group 44 days. The rolling hills and beautiful little town of Salisbury, Connecticut were always a favorite. I had never stayed in Salisbury during the week, only on race weekends. After settling in our rooms we adjourned to the bar. Sitting with Miles at the bar we noticed the locals were somewhat reluctant to join in our jubilations.
Guppy and I spent the next couple of days at the track making sure the rest of the 510s arrived. I did the small maintenance program on the cars to ready them for the hard pounding they were to receive. The cars were brand new. The only mileage on the odometers was from the drive up from New York City.
On Friday we awoke to see the countryside blanketed in a light snow. The Datsun factory boys wrung their hands wondering if they could call the event off on short notice. We drove out to the track to see if we could still put on the show.
The 510s took to the snow with relish. We all had a ball sliding down the hill onto the straight with every conservable yaw angle known to man. Of course handbrake turns and pirouettes were the order of the day. The show was on.
Back at the Inn things were improving as Miles and I bought rounds for the locals. The dealers began to arrive for the weekend’s events.
One of the dealers arrived with one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Apparently I was not the only one. No one missed her entrance; all eyes were hers to command. I later found (to my delight) that the dealer brought a case of Glenlivet and the lady as entertainment. Did I mention that these events were fun?
The next day a hundred or so people showed up for the event; they were divided up in four groups. Each group took turns going thru all the phases of the presentation. There was a break down of the car. Independent rear suspension was a big deal. The next phase was comparisons to other cars in the same price range, and options available for the cars. Sales pitches were next, then the drive arounds. The snow had melted by then and the track was cold but clear.
We usually ran three laps per person. At the most popular events we ran the cars from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with a lunch break. If someone wanted more laps they went to the back of the line and we ran them again and again.
Some people couldn’t get enough, others would be so nervous you could tell as soon as they got in that you needed to be gentle. A good indication would be fingers buried to the knuckles in the dash board.
Miles and I soon got into our show of bumping into each other. The cars had rubber strips on the bumpers that we called dog biscuits. The tracks were littered with them after the first day. We soon found that not only were the people eager to learn more about the cars after a few fast laps, they loved to be entertained with our slapstick comedies.
We sometimes pushed each other around the track or, after a good nudge, slid inside for the next turn. Guppy liked to glide up alongside and open my passenger’s door. The startled passenger would look over to see a smiling maniac give a jaunty wave, then slam the rider’s door shut.
The antics never stopped. We ran that way for several years until Nissan took over. Datsun’s sales jumped after each time we put on a show. The dealers asked to bring us back year after year.
The stories we traded about those years always got better. Miles and I were the regulars. We had guest drivers from time to time that were some of Datsun’s grand bunch of local and international drivers. In most cases we entertained them as much as the dealers.
The real star of the show was the rugged little 510. We just put gas in them and ran for hours on end, with never a complaint. The cars never failed. I loved slithering around in the snow on that first day.
I must say I was sad to see the 510s go.