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Datsun builds top-of-the-line 810s for US buyers

It's the finest Datsun of them all -- and certainly the most expensive. Datsun says it plans to ship no more than 24,000 new-model 810s to the US in 1981. It should have no trouble getting them off the dealers' lots and onto the road despite the $10,000 price for the top-of-the- line Maxima. The less-pretentious model is called the Deluxe.

True to its Japanese heritage, the midrange luxury car is loaded with all kinds of little items -- some might say gimmicks -- that are fun for young and old alike.

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Take the vocal "keeper of the lights," for instance. If, by chance, you fail to turn off the headlights, including the parking lamps, when you remove the ignition key and open the door, a demanding voice pipes up: "Please turn off the lights!"

Jolted by the intrusion, as I was in a darkened driveway when I thought no one else was around, you settle back and smile: "Inventive people, these Japanese."

The newly designed Datsun 810 is formal in shape, and maybe almost boxy. Yet that hasn't hurt the West German supercar, the Mercedes.

The car I've been driving for the last few days is the Maxima high-line version of the Datsun 810, the absolute acme of Nissan know-how and carry-through.

Indeed, the dash of the 810 Maxima looks like the flight deck of a commercial jet. If you like gauges instead of lights, this car has them: speedometer, tachometer, coolant temperature, fuel, and voltmeter, among others. Two sets of four-way switches to the left of the steering post control the left-and right-hand outside mirrors.

The car I'm driving also has an electric sunroof. If you didn't read the owner's manual you might think there is a malfunction in the system when you open and close the roof. Not at all. The automatic sliding roof stops a few inches short of total closing as a safety feature. Then you have to push the switch a second time to complete the operation.

No getting your hand or finger caught in thism system.

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The fuse box is very conveniently situated just in front of the front-seat passenger. A panel snaps out to reveal the fuses.

Yet despite it all, there's still room for improvement.

The door-closing handles are in an awkward position; in other words, too far forward of where they might be expected to be located.

The roof seems especially low for someone not even 6 feet tall. Of course, the sliding-panel roof takes up more space than a conventional roof.

And here's a puzzle: Why are there small black panels on each door handle which obviously have no usefulness, so far as I can see? Are they there to cover up a void which is left when something else was intended to go there? They look like patches and are visually disconcerting in a car of this class.

The trunk, quite large in overall area, is surprisingly shallow all the same. Watch those tall grocery bags because they might not fit. Like other Japanese cars, the 810 Maxima has a remote rear hatch release to the left of the driver's front seat.

All the same, the 2.4-liter, 6-cylinder engine with L-Jetronic fuel injection seems powerful enough and does indeed get out of its own way at a traffic light.

The car is superbly maneuverable with four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, a standard.

In total, the Datsun 810 Maxima is a happy car aimed at making the driver happy as well. The Environmental Protection Agency gives the mileage of the 5- speed manual at 23; and the automatic at 22. The figures are pretty good, I find.

Available as either a 4-door sedan or wagon, the Datsun 810 is the Japanese company's version of a grand touring car, and it goes some distance in measuring up to the playbill.

It's a very gentile car to boot as a soft gong reminds the driver to "buckle up" when he turns the key. Buckled up or not, the car moves out onto the road in style.

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