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Reminiscing – Imperial Motor Company

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1970 Datsun brochure. Scan from editor’s collection.

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader John Bellah of La Habra, California.]

Truth be told, I’m a “gearhead.” Pure and simple and most probably certifiable as such. Let’s face it — I love cars. From my mid-teens on I was always tinkering around with one of the family cars, a friend’s hot rod, or maybe a gas-powered lawnmower. In high school I worked at a gas station. High school came and went, and I went on to the local community colleges, took a few classes and headed for the job market. As it happened, the father of a girl I was briefly dating was the used-car manager at a large Datsun (now Nissan) dealership in downtown Los Angeles. He believed in me and hired me as a porter/mechanic to keep his cars clean and running.

Fast-forward a couple of years or so and my training and experience enabled me to become a Master Technician at Imperial Motor Car Company. Imperial started as a small used-car lot that later expanded into selling new imported cars, such as Rover, Hillman, Humber, and similar British makes. In the mid 1960s, they purchased a Datsun franchise, which became so successful they closed out the franchises on the English cars to concentrate on Datsun. But then, it was still a “mom & pop,” hole-in-the-wall operation — which would rapidly expand.

Even then this was a specialized shop. One person worked on the sports cars, a couple did heavy-duty line work and the remainder did Pre-Delivery-Inspections (P.D.I.), aftermarket accessory installation, minor servicing, brakes, etc. Because I had a background in electrical and carburetion, I was also assigned tricky carburetor, electrical, and tune-up problems. In my three years working for Datsun, I must have serviced one-third of the Datsun cars in the Los Angeles area.

At the end of the first eight years of adulthood, I took the plunge and changed careers. One of the pitfalls of turning a hobby into a profession — one can get easily burned out. Over time, however, I found it pleasurable to dig back into my toolbox and tinker on. One afternoon in the mid-1990s, I was scrounging about a local self-service “boneyard” for items of one of my project cars. While walking through the rows of various automotive hulks being readied for the final journey to the “crusher,” I spotted a 1970 Datsun station wagon, still painted in its original color — in this case, burnt orange. For old times’ sake, I stuck my head under the hood and, to my surprise, spotted my mark, indicating I had performed the P.D.I. early September of 1970 at Imperial Datsun, the selling dealer. This meant I probably also installed the aftermarket luggage rack and AM radio.

Aside from checking fluid levels, inflating the tires, tossing in the floor carpeting, and installing the outside rearview mirror(s) and other accessories, a proper P.D.I. on those cars ensures the cylinder head bolts are properly torqued, valve clearances set to specs, and vital fluids are at the specified level. Proper P.D.I. procedures can make a difference between a happy customer and a car that’s a lemon, so I assume this orange station wagon gave its owner(s) 25 years of good service. I don’t remember any major collision damage and assumed after 25 years it went to its demise due to old-age issues. Thus, I brought the orange Datsun into the world and 25 years later saw it leave this world — headed to the “crusher” to be converted into a refrigerator, lawn mower, or perhaps a KIA.