Tuner Evolution Page 3

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The first real tuner car

Before most tuner-car enthusiasts were born, the Datsun 510 was making its mark as the first Japanese sedan to challenge the status quo of road racing. The BRE 510s became the dominant force in SCCA Class C Trans Am racing. From 1970 to 1973, these cars were so unbeatable that SCCA folded the class before the start of the ’74 season. What made the 510 so formidable as a street car was that many of the parts used by the BRE team were available over the counter at local Datsun dealers. The average sticker price of a 1971 510 was less than $2,100. With an additional $1,500 or so worth of bolt-on modifications, a 510 could easily lay waste to the factory-performance Camaros and Mustangs of the day.

The 510 has achieved cult-car status among today’s tuners. It is a highly respected and historically significant machine, having provided a foundation and heritage for the newest members of the automotive-enthusiast industry.


Number built

• 1997 – 318 • 1998 – 997 • 1999 – 263 • 2000 – 325 • 2001 – 1,234

Auto manufacturers have released limited-edition, higher-performance versions of their production models for almost as long as there have been production vehicles. But the modern concept of a factory tuner car usually defines it as having roots in a relatively common, affordable compact car. Japanese marques have been producing hopped-up versions of their compact models since the late ‘60s for their home market, but in the U.S., one of the first was the Dodge Omni GLH in the early ’80s. That Mitsubishi-made, Shelby-wrenched Dodge, however, never achieved enough mass appeal to carve out a loyal following. It wasn’t until the Acura Integra Type R bowed in 1997 that factory tuner cars really hit the mainstream.

From 1997 to 2001, the Type R represented the pinnacle of factory involvement in the renegade tuner world. Offered in limited numbers, the Type R featured race-inspired suspension, higher-compression pistons, flow-optimized exhaust, improved brakes and an all-business interior that lacked many of the creature comforts found on less performance-oriented Integras. It has been compared with the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt in concept and execution.

Updated: January 2, 2007 — 10:00 AM
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