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My Life in the Times

John Warner’s Datsun B210 Is Underpowered, Ugly

Power, speed, performance: You won’t find them here. Our reviewer is forced to put this once-sporty 1978 model through its paces. Part of a series of reports on the life of our writer.

GREENBROOK, ILL, May 1, 1986—Some drivers are concerned about gas mileage, others with performance and handling, desiring a car that can dance around curves and stop on a dime. Some want hauling capacity for groceries, or smuggling illegal aliens across the border. Still others look for that “wow” factor, a look and styling that turns heads. For those who are unconcerned with any of those things, we present John Warner’s 1978 Datsun B210 hatchback.

When motoring down the Interstate in the B210, the word that comes to mind is “pokey.” If you like to fear for your life because you’re unable to reach even 55 miles per hour with the accelerator buried in the floor, this is the car for you. The sensation of a half-dozen semi-trucks with trailers barreling past you, causing your undersized and underpowered car to shake and shimmy in their wake like a Dixie cup bobbing in the ocean is not to be missed.

In tests, this B210 goes from zero to 60 in, well, never—unless you’re driving down a rather steep hill.

The lack of acceleration is likely attributable to the B210’s unique engine design: a couple of malnourished hamsters running on wheels connected to the driveshaft by a crude system of belts and pulleys. (On the plus side, engine noise is minimal, except during mating season.)

On curving roads, the B210 proved to handle like a bucking bronc on bennies. However, the manual steering will have your forearms well-toned after trips of just a couple hundred miles.

We’re fairly sure that at one time this car had brakes. Now, depressing the pedal results in a horrid, metal-on-metal grinding noise. For reducing momentum, we recommend downshifting. (In a few more months, the floorboards will have rusted through sufficiently to augment the downshifting with some Fred Flintstone-style braking.)

The looks could be improved with a new door panel, but why buff a turd, if you know what I’m saying. Want to drive the B210 in rainy or inclement weather? Please don’t.

What the car lacks in performance it really lacks in exterior styling. The color can only be described as shit brown, with burnt-orange “racing stripes” peeling off the sides. Slung low to the ground, like a hunchback leaning into the wind, the closest comparison we can make is that viewed from the side, the B210 looks like a Milk Dud with wheels.

Speaking of wheels, I’ve seen thicker tires on a grade-schooler’s tricycle.

This B210’s exterior is further customized with a crushed-in passenger side door, the result of being backed into while parked. (The asshole didn’t even leave a note.) On the positive side of the ledger, the pry marks, where Mr. Warner used a crowbar to get the door to open again, have barely begun to rust and decay. The looks could be improved with a new door panel, but why buff a turd, if you know what I’m saying.

Oh, and the right-side mirror? It doesn’t have one. It was optional when the car was originally purchased. Did you know that a safety device like a side-view mirror could be optional? Me neither.

Interior finishings are minimal. There is a radio, AM only, and half the speakers are blown. A lot of baby naugas were killed for the seat coverings. A missing driver’s side window handle has been cleverly replaced with vise clamps, and the seatbelt seems capable of restraining passengers in collisions up to eight miles per hour. With the back seats folded down, the B210 can haul several boxes, provided the boxes are small, and nearly empty.

If you’re looking for something to get you from Point A to Point B, this is the car for you, as long as Point A and Point B aren’t all that far apart.

This B210 retailed for $750 when purchased from a family friend who swore he loved the car and hated to part with it.

This friend is a lawyer.


TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner