Ronald Reagan campaigned for Democratic votes in the recession-ridden auto capital today and said that as president he would try to get rid of "several thousand" federal regulations on American automakers and move to halt the "deluge" of Japanese auto imports.

In a departure from his usual free trade advocacy, Reagan said he would attempt to convince the Japanese that it was in their own best interests to slow down the sale of their cars in this country "until our industry gets back on its feet."

Reagan was speaking to Chrysler employes alongside the assembly line of the troubled corporation's new "K-car," which Reagan referred to as a car of the future that would be fully able to compete with Japanese compacts. His message about the K-car and federal regulations was music to the ears of Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, who introduced Reagan.

Over a vending machine lunch with Iacoca and seven workers, Reagan also said that he now thinks the federal legislation that bailed out Chrysler and kept it in business has been "the proper answer." Unitl now, he had opposed the bill.

Reagan acknowledged his original opposition but added, "I also said when government has been as responsible as it has been for the problems of the automobile industry, then maybe government's got an obligation to cure what it has caused . . ."

The Republican presidential nominee told the Chrysler employes that Washington was even more responsible that Japan for their problems. He mocked President Carter's promise to ease the burden of federal regulations "by tinkering with a few environmental test procedures."

"If I am elected, and have an administration, I'd go a lot further than a little tinkering with regulations," Reagan said. "I'd like to get rid of several thousand of what I think are unnecessary regulations that have caused your problems. We'll give government regulation a major overhaul, and prove you don't have to lay people off to have clean air, safe cars and good fuel economy."

All cars sold in the United States must meet the same safety and environmental standards.

Reagan gave no clue as to how he would go about his regulatory overhaul. His chief domestic, adviser, Martin Anderson, said afterward that Reagan was talking about complicated regulations dealing with environmental restrictions and gas mileage that would have to be examined once Reagan took office.

The speech in the Chrysler plant was the highlight of a day and a half in Detroit aimed largely at the normally Democratic working-class vote here.

Michigan is a key target state for the Reagan forces. The GOP strategy is to cast Reagan as what state campaign chairman John R. Gnau Jr. calls "the blue collar candidate."

Ganu said he anticipates that Reagan and his running mate, George Bush, will make a combined total of six campaign appearances in Michigan and that former president Ford will spend five days here, Bush, Ford and Gov. William G. Milliken will concentrate on traditional Republican constituences and ticket-splitting voters while Reagan will spend his time in blue-collar areas.

In keeping with this strategy, Reagan emphasized -- as he did on Labor Day in Jersey City, N.J. -- that he is the only nominee for president who ever served as president of a labor union. The former California governor was six times president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Reagan's contention that the United States is gripped by a Carter-caused depressed rather than a mere recession stands up in Michigan better than anywhere else.

Michigan unemployment rate is 14 percent, with autoworker unemployment reaching 18 percent in Detroit and 25 percent in Flint. Unemployment is even higher among blacks and young people.

As a result, four or five Reagan events today -- all but one of which were closed to general press coverage -- were aimed at the economic issue. The exception was a fund-raising reception at the Renaissance Club which Gnau said was expected to raise $200,000 for the GOP in Michigan.

Reagan ate breakfast in his suite with auto industry leaders, toured the Chrysler plant, lunched on a meatloaf sandwich he bought from a vending machine while eating with Iacocca and the workers and then held another private meeting with steel industry leaders.

His most successful event was a backyard barbecue Monday evening at the home of steelworker Emil Petri in the Detroit suburb of Allen Park. Reagan brought the sausage for the barbecue, Milliken brought the potato salad and Petri and his steelworker friends provided the beer.

Reagan was greeted by cheers mixed with some boos when he was introduced by Iacocca at the K-car plant. The autoworkers applauded loudly when he talked about repealing the federal evironmental regulations on automobiles.