Datsun is an automobile brand owned by Nissan. Datsun’s original production run began in 1931. From 1958 to 1986, only vehicles exported by Nissan were identified as Datsun. By 1986 Nissan had phased out the Datsun name, but re-launched it in June 2013 as the brand for low-cost vehicles manufactured for emerging markets.
In 1931, Dat Motorcar Co. chose to name its new small car “Datson”, a name which indicated the new car’s smaller size when compared to the DAT’s larger vehicle already in production. When Nissan took control of DAT in 1934, the name “Datson” was changed to “Datsun”, because “son” also means “loss” (損 son) in Japanese and also to honour the sun depicted in the national flag – thus the name Datsun: Dattosan (ダットサン Dattosan). Nissan phased out the Datsun brand in March 1986. The Datsun name is internationally well known for the 510, Fairlady roadsters, the Fairlady (S30 240Z, 260Z, 280Z) S130 280ZX coupes, and recently, the Go hatchback. https://youtu.be/8BkTEpWEQhk
Origin of Datsun
Before the Datsun brand name came into being, an automobile named the DAT car was built in 1914, by the Kaishinsha Motorcar Works (快進自動車工場 Kaishin Jidōsha Kōjō), in the Azabu-Hiroo District in Tokyo. The new car’s name was an acronym of the surnames of the following company partners:
- Kenjirō Den (田 健次郎 Den Kenjirō)
- Rokurō Aoyama (青山 禄朗 Aoyama Rokurō)
- Meitarō Takeuchi (竹内 明太郎 Takeuchi Meitarō).
Incidentally, datto (how a native Japanese speaker would pronounce “dat”) means to “dash off like a startled rabbit” (脱兎), which was considered a good name for the little car. The firm was renamed Kaishinsha Motorcar Co. in 1918, seven years after their establishment and again, in 1925, to DAT Motorcar Co. DAT Motors constructed trucks in addition to the DAT passenger cars. In fact, their output focused on trucks since there was almost no consumer market for passenger cars at the time. Beginning in 1918, the first DAT trucks were assembled for the military market. The low demand from the military market during the 1920s forced DAT to consider merging with other automotive industries. In 1926 the Tokyo-based DAT Motors merged with the Osaka-based Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. (実用自動車製造株式会社 Jitsuyō Jidōsha Seizō Kabushiki-Gaisha) also known as Jitsuyo Motors (established 1919, as a Kubota subsidiary) to become DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (ダット自動車製造株式会社 Datto Jidōsha Seizō Kabushiki-Gaisha) in Osaka until 1932. (Jitsuyo Jidosha began producing a three-wheeled vehicle with an enclosed cab called the Gorham in 1920, and the following year produced a four-wheeled version. From 1923 to 1925, the company produced light cars and trucks under the name of Lila.)
The DAT corporation had been selling full size cars to Japanese consumers under the DAT name since 1914. In 1930, the Japanese government created a ministerial ordinance that allowed cars with engines up to 500 cc to be driven without a license. DAT Automobile Manufacturing began development of a line of 495 cc cars to sell in this new market segment, calling the new small cars “Datson” – meaning “Son of DAT”. The name was changed to “Datsun” two years later in 1933.
The first prototype Datson was completed in the summer of 1931. The production vehicle was called the Datson Type 10, and “approximately ten” of these cars were sold in 1931. They sold around 150 cars in 1932, now calling the model the
Datsun Type 11. In 1933, government rules were revised to permit 750 cc (46 cu in) engines, and Datsun increased the displacement of their microcar engine to the maximum allowed. These larger displacement cars were called Type 12s.
By 1935, the company had established a true production line, following the example of Ford, and were producing a car closely resembling the Austin 7. There is evidence that six of these early Datsuns were exported to New Zealand in 1936, a market they then re-entered in May 1962. In 1937, Datsun’s biggest pre-war year, 8593 were built, with some exported to Australia in knock-down form.
After Japan went to war with China in 1937, passenger car production was restricted, so by 1938, Datsun’s Yokohama plant concentrated on building trucks for the Imperial Japanese Army.
When the Pacific War ended, Datsun would turn to providing trucks for the Occupation forces. This lasted until car production resumed in 1947. As before the war, Datsun closely patterned their cars on contemporary Austin products: postwar, the Devon and Somerset were selected. For Datsun’s smaller cars (and trucks), such as the DB and DS series, they depended on designs based on the pre-war Austin Seven. The heavier trucks, meanwhile, were based on Chevrolet’s 1937 design with an engine of Graham-Paige design. Nissan also built the 4W60 Patrol, based on the Willys Jeep, and the 4W70 Carrier, based on the Dodge M37. Not until January 1955 did Datsun offer a fully indigenous design.
Datsun in the American market
The use of the Datsun name in the American market derives from the name Nissan used for its production cars. In fact, the cars produced by Nissan already used the Datsun brand name, a successful brand in Japan since 1932, long before World War II. Before the entry into the American market in 1958, Nissan did not produce cars under the Nissan brand name, but only trucks. Their in-house-designed cars were always branded as Datsuns. Hence, for Nissan executives it would be only natural to use such a successful name when exporting models to the United States. Only in the 1960s did Datsun begin to brand some automobile models as Nissans, and these were limited to their high-end models, for example the Cedric luxury-type sedan. The Japanese market Z-car (sold as the Fairlady Z) also had Nissan badging. In America, the Nissan branch was named “Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A.“, and chartered on September 28, 1960, in California, but the small cars the firm exported to America were still named Datsun.
Corporate choice favored Datsun, so as to distance the parent factory Nissan’s association by Americans with Japanese military manufacture. In fact Nissan’s involvement in Japan’s military industries was substantial. The company’s car production at the Yokohama plant shifted towards military needs just a few years after the first passenger cars rolled off the assembly line, on April 11, 1935. By 1939 Nissan’s operations had moved to Manchuria, then under Japanese occupation, where its founder and President, Yoshisuke Ayukawa, established the Manchurian Motor Company to manufacture military trucks.
Ayukawa, a well-connected and aggressive risk taker, also made himself a principal partner of the Japanese Colonial Government of Manchukuo. Ultimately, Nissan Heavy Industries emerged near the end of the war as an important player in Japan’s war machinery. After the war ended, Soviet Union seized all of Nissan’s Manchuria assets, while the Occupation Forces made use of over half of the Yokohama plant. General MacArthur had Ayukawa imprisoned for 21 months as a war criminal. After release he was forbidden from returning to any corporate or public office until 1951. He was never allowed back into Nissan, which returned to passenger car manufacture in 1947 and to its original name of Nissan Motor Company Ltd. in 1949.
American service personnel in their teens or early twenties during the Second World War would be in prime car-buying age by 1960, if only to find an economical small second car for their growing family needs. Yutaka Katayama (Mr. “K”), former president of Nissan’s American operations, would have had his personal wartime experiences in mind supporting the name Datsun. Katayama’s visit to Nissan’s Manchuria truck factory in 1939 made him realise the appalling conditions of the assembly lines, leading him to abandon the firm. In 1945, near the end of the war, Katayama was ordered to return to the Manchurian plant, however he rebuffed these calls and refused to return.
Katayama desired to build and sell passenger cars to people, not to the military; for him, the name “Datsun” had survived the war with its purity intact, not “Nissan“. This obviously led Katayama to have problems with the corporate management. The discouragement felt by Katayama as regards his prospects at Nissan, led to his going on the verge of resigning, when Datsun’s 1958 Australian Mobilgas victories vaulted him, as leader of the winning Datsun teams, to national prominence in a Japan bent on regaining international status.
Datsun entered the American market in 1958, with sales in California. By 1959, the company had dealers across the U.S. and began selling the 310 (known as Bluebird domestically). From 1962 to 1969 the Nissan Patrol utility vehicle was sold in the United States (as a competitor to the Toyota Land Cruiser J40 series), making it the only Nissan-badged product sold in the USA prior to that name’s introduction worldwide decades later.
From 1960 on, exports and production continued to grow. A new plant was built at Oppama, south of Yokohama; it opened in 1962. The next year, Bluebird sales first topped 200,000, and exports touched 100,000. By 1964, Bluebird was being built at 10,000 cars a month.
For 1966, Datsun debuted the 1000, allowing owners of 360 cc (22 cu in) kei cars to move up to something bigger. That same year, Datsun won the East African Safari Rally and merged with Prince Motors, giving the company the Skyline model range, as well as a test track at Murayama.
The company introduced the Bluebird 510 in 1967. This was followed in 1968 with the iconic 240Z, which proved affordable sports cars could be built and sold profitably: it was soon the world’s #1-selling sports car. It relied on an engine based on the Bluebird and used Bluebird suspension components. It would go on to two outright wins in the East African Rally.
Katayama was made Vice President of the Nissan North American subsidiary in 1960, and as long as he was involved in decision making, both as North American Vice President from 1960 to 1965, and then President of Nissan Motor Company U.S.A. from 1965 to 1975, the cars were sold as Datsuns. “What we need to do is improve our car’s efficiency gradually and creep up slowly before others notice. Then, before Detroit realizes it, we will have become an excellent car maker, and the customers will think so too. If we work hard to sell our own cars, we won’t be bothered by whatever the other manufacturers do. If all we do is worry about the other cars in the race, we will definitely lose.”
Datsun in Europe
Nissan began exporting Datsun-badged cars to the United Kingdom in 1968, at which time foreign cars were a rarity, with only a small percentage of cars being imported – some of the most popular examples at the time including the Renault 16 from France and Volkswagen Beetle from West Germany. The first European market that Nissan had entered was Finland, where sales began in 1962. Within a few years, it was importing cars to most of Western Europe.
Datsun was particularly successful on the British market. It sold just over 6,000 cars there as late as 1971, but its sales surged to more than 30,000 the following year and continued to climb over the next few years, with well-priced products including the Cherry 100A and Sunny 120Y proving particularly popular, at a time when the British motor industry was plagued by strikes and British Leyland in particular was gaining a reputation for building cars which had major issues with build quality and reliability. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Nissan frequently enjoyed the largest market share in Britain of any foreign carmaker.
By the early 1980s, the Nissan badge was gradually appearing on Datsun-badged cars, and eventually the Datsun branding was phased out, the final new car with a Datsun badge being the Micra supermini, launched in Britain from June 1983. By the end of 1984, the Datsun branding had completely disappeared in Britain, although it lingered elsewhere until 1986.
In Japan, there appears to have been what probably constituted a long held ‘official’ company bias against use of the name “Datsun”. At the time, Kawamata was a veteran of Nissan, in the last year of his presidency, a powerful figure whose experience in the firm exceeded two decades. His rise to its leadership position occurred in 1957 in part because of his handling of the critical Nissan workers’ strike that began May 25, 1953, and ran for 100 days. During his tenure as President, Kawamata stated that he “regretted that his company did not imprint its corporate name on cars, the way Toyota does. ‘Looking back, we wish we had started using Nissan on all of our cars,’ he says. ‘But Datsun was a pet name for the cars when we started exporting.'”
Ultimately, the decision was made to stop using the brand name Datsun worldwide, in order to strengthen the company name Nissan.
“The decision to change the name Datsun to Nissan in the U.S. was announced in the autumn (September/October) of 1981. The rationale was that the name change would help the pursuit of a global strategy. A single name worldwide would increase the possibility that advertising campaigns, brochures, and promotional materials could be used across countries and simplify product design and manufacturing. Further, potential buyers would be exposed to the name and product when traveling to other countries. Industry observers, however, speculated that the most important motivation was that a name change would help Nissan market stocks and bonds in the U.S. They also presumed substantial ego involvement, since the absence of the Nissan name in the U.S. surely rankled Nissan executives who had seen Toyota and Honda become household words.”
Ultimately, the name change campaign lasted for a three-year period from 1982 to 1984 – Datsun badged vehicles had been progressively fitted with small “Nissan” and “Datsun by Nissan” badges from the late 1970s onward until the Nissan name was given prominence in 1983 – although in some export markets vehicles continued to wear both the Datsun and Nissan badges until 1986. In the United Kingdom for example, the Nissan name initially was used as a prefix to the model name, with Datsun still being used as the manufacturer’s name (e.g. Datsun-Nissan Micra) from 1982 until 1984. The name change had cost Nissan a figure in the region of US$500 million. Operational costs included the changing of signs at 1,100 Datsun dealerships, and amounted to US$30 million. Another US$200 million were spent during the 1982 to 1986 advertising campaigns, where the “Datsun, We Are Driven!” campaign (which was adopted in late 1977 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent 1979 energy crisis) yielded to “The Name is Nissan” campaign. (The latter campaign was used for some years beyond 1985.) Another US$50 million was spent on Datsun advertisements that were paid for but stopped or never used. Five years after the name change program was over, Datsun still remained more familiar than Nissan.
In 2001, Nissan marketed its D22 pick-up model in Japan with the name Datsun. This time however, the use of the brand name was wholly restricted to this one specific model name. Production of this model was between May 2001 and October 2002.
On 20 March 2012, it was announced that Nissan would revive the Datsun marque as a low-cost car brand for use in Indonesia, South Africa, India, and Russia, and on 15 July 2013, nearly three decades after it was phased out, the name was formally resurrected. Nissan said the brand’s reputation for value and reliability would help it gain market share in emerging markets.
The Datsun brand was re-launched in New Delhi, India, with the Datsun Go, planned to be on sale in India in early 2014. Datsun models are sold in Indonesia, Russia, India and South Africa since 2014. The brand entered Kazakhstan in 2015, Belarus and Lebanon in 2016.
The Datsun Go will be built at the Renault-Nissan plant in Chennai, India. Production is also planned in Russia and Indonesia. The Go is based on the same Nissan V platform as the Nissan Micra. The Go+, a minivan, was added to the range in September 2013.
In February 2014 the Redi-Go concept car was presented.
It is expected that the Redi-Go Crossover will hit the Indian shores by the mid of 2015.
Datsun Fairlady 1600 (in Australia)
circa 40,000 produced
|Assembly||Yokohama Plant, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama, Japan (Tonouchi Industrial, 1958-1960)
Hiratsuka, Kanagawa (Nissan Shatai Plant, 1960-1970)
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door Roadster|
The Datsun Sports (called Datsun Fairlady in the Japanese and Australian markets), was a series of roadsters produced by Nissan in the 1960s. The series was a predecessor to the Z-car in the Fairlady line, and offered a competitor to the European MG, Triumph, Fiat and Alfa Romeo sports cars. The line began with the 1959 S211 and continued through 1970 with the SP311 and SR311 lines.
The Fairlady saw competitors follow its introduction, with examples called the Honda S500, the Toyota Sports 800, and the Daihatsu Compagno. In Japan, it represented one of three core products offered by Nissan at Japanese Nissan dealerships called Nissan Shop, alongside the Datsun Truck and the Datsun 1000. The Datsun SRL 2000 was the two-seat roadster that made their name. Paul Newman started his racing career in one. It had a potent 1,982cc overhead cam engine with dual SU type side draft carbs and a five-speed transmission. In 1991, Nissan introduced a limited number two-door convertible styled in a retro appearance to the Datsun Sports called the Nissan Figaro.
|Body and chassis|
|Related||Datsun Bluebird 211
Datsun Truck 220
|Engine||988 cc C I4|
|Transmission||4 speed manual|
|Wheelbase||2,220 mm (87.4 in)|
|Length||3,895 mm (153.3 in)|
|Width||1,455 mm (57.3 in)|
|Height||1,350 mm (53.1 in)|
The first Datsun Sports model was the 1959 S211. It used a 988 cc C-series straight-4 producing 37 PS (27 kW; 36 hp). The S211 was based on the Datsun 211 sedan. Incorporated into the side trim were the side badges, which said “Datsun 1000”. It was designed by Yuichi Ohta, who had previously designed the Datsun DC-3 and the prototype to the S211, the A80X. Both the A80X and S211 featured fiberglass bodywork, influenced by the Chevrolet Corvette. Only 20 examples of the S211 were built, making the S211 the rarest of all Datsun models.
|Fairlady / Sports 1200
|Body and chassis|
|Related||Datsun 223 Pickup
|Wheelbase||2,220 mm (87.4 in)|
|Length||4,025 mm (158.5 in)|
|Width||1,475 mm (58.1 in)|
|Height||1,380 mm (54.3 in)|
The SPL212 was introduced in 1960. This was the first Datsun sports car imported to the US. The letter L means “left hand drive”. Now with steel bodywork, it was built in slightly higher volume than the S211, with 288 produced through 1961. The SPL212 was based on the Datsun 223 truck. It had a 1.2 L (1189 cc) E-series straight-4 engine producing 48 PS (35 kW; 47 hp). A 4-speed manual transmission was specified, and an a-arm suspension with torsion bars was used in front. Drum brakes were used all around. This was the first vehicle to bear the “Fairlady” name. The badge on the trunk lid was the same badge that was used on the Datsun 223 truck. It was named in reference to the Broadway musical My Fair Lady. The SPL212 and later SPL213 were sold only on the export market; they were named for their engine displacement. In 1960, production of the Fairlady was moved from Yokohama to the Nissan Shatai plant in Hiratsuka.
These cars are quite valuable. In 1996 a set of unrestored cars (SPL212) sold for US$100,000.
The SPL213, produced in 1961 and 1962, is very similar to the SPL212. The main difference is the dual-carburetor “E-1” engine which pumped out 60 PS (44 kW; 59 hp), a large increase in such a small and light car. Like the SPL212, the SPL213 was based on the Datsun 223 truck. 217 examples were built.
|Also called||Datsun 1500|
|Production||August 1963–January 1965|
|Body and chassis|
|Related||Datsun Bluebird 310
Nissan Cedric 30
Datsun Truck 320
|Engine||1.5 L G15 I4|
|Wheelbase||2,280 mm (89.8 in)|
|Length||3,953 mm (155.6 in)|
|Width||1,495 mm (58.9 in)|
|Height||1,275 mm (50.2 in)|
The first true Datsun sports car was the 1963 SP310 “Fairlady 1500” model (right hand drive), and the SPL310 (left hand drive). In America it was known as the Datsun 1500. The SP310 was based on a modified Bluebird 310 sedan platform instead of the truck platform of earlier models. It featured an 85 hp 1.5 L (1,497 cc) G15 engine (from the Cedric) but with a single SU carburettor. Only 300 SPL310’s were equipped with the single carb and these first few had only 77 HP as opposed to the 85 HP of the dual carb models built in 1964 and 1965. A four-speed manual transmission was the only shifting option and has a non-syncro’d first gear. The rear axle used the shafts and differential also from the Cedric. It was a well-equipped car with a transistor radio, tonneau cover, map lights, and a clock. The first SP310s (1963–1964) also had a unique sideways third seat in the rear.
To coincide with the 1964 Summer Olympics, Nissan established the gallery on the second and third floors of the San-ai building, located in Ginza, Tokyo. To attract visitors, Nissan started using beautiful female showroom attendants where Nissan held a competition to choose five candidates as the first class of Nissan Miss Fairladys, modeled after “Datsun Demonstrators” from the 1930s who introduced cars. The Fairlady name was used as a link to the popular Broadway play of the era. Miss Fairladys became the marketers of Datsun Fair Lady 1500.
Facelifted Datsun 1600 roadster (1969)
|Also called||Datsun 1600|
|Production||January 1965–April 1970|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door convertible|
|Related||Nissan Silvia CSP311|
|Engine||1.6 L R16 I4|
|Transmission||4-speed synchromesh manual|
|Wheelbase||2,280 mm (89.8 in)|
|Length||3,955 mm (155.7 in)|
|Width||1,495 mm (58.9 in)|
|Height||1,300 mm (51.2 in)|
Many changes were made for 1965. Though the 1.5 L SP310 continued in production through January, a new 1.6 L R16-powered SP311 and SPL311 joined it. The new model was first shown at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show, but did not enter production until March 1965. The restyling was executed in part by Count Albrecht Goertz, who would later be involved with designing the first Fairlady Z. Marketed as the Fairlady 1600, or the Datsun Sports 1600 in many export markets including North America, it featured 14 inch wheels and minor exterior changes. The SPL311 was also known in the United States, on the West Coast, as the “Roadster”. The front suspension was independent, utilizing coil springs over hydraulic shocks. Rear suspension was a common leaf springs design, dampened with hydraulic shocks. The 1600 SPL311 came with a pair of SU carburators. The engine produced 96 PS (71 kW; 95 hp). The R16 is an in-line four cylinder OHV engine. Early SPL311 came with a high compression engine that had three main bearings, hydraulic lifters, a cast iron block and cast iron head. Timing of the distributor could be easily adjusted to reduce pre-ignition knock and thereby tune for questionable quality gasoline. Engines in later SPL311 had 5 main bearings and this addressed a design weakness. Top speed for the SPL311 with approximately 91 octane gasoline was approximately 105 mph. The axle gearing suffered from design limitations and Datsun performance parts offered a cooling system as a retrofit. Steering utilized a worm gear design. The hood badge said “Datsun” in individual letters, the rear badge said “Datsun 1600”, and the side badges said “Fairlady” (Japanese market) or “Datsun 1600” (export market). The SP311 continued in production through April 1970.
The first Nissan Silvia coupe shared the SP311’s platform. The CSP311 Silvia had an R16 engine developing 96 hp and used a modified Fairlady chassis. The Silvia was the first car fitted with Nissan’s new R engine. The R engine was a further development of the 1,488 cc G engine.
Early in 1968 the 1600, just as the bigger 2000, was updated to meet new safety legislation. Toggle switches, a padded dashboard and padded center of the steering wheel were new inside. The door handles were flush fit lifting units, while the windshield was taller with a top mounted internal rear view mirror.
|Also called||Datsun 2000|
|Production||March 1967–April 1970|
|Engine||2.0 L U20 I4|
|Wheelbase||2,280 mm (89.8 in)|
|Length||3,955 mm (155.7 in)|
|Width||1,495 mm (58.9 in)|
|Height||1,325 mm (52.2 in)|
|Curb weight||950 kg (2,094 lb)|
The introduction of the 1967 SR311 and SRL311 saw a major update. Produced from March 1967 – 1970, the SR311 used a 2.0 L (1,982 cc) U20 engine and offered a five-speed manual transmission, somewhat unexpected for a production car at the time. The first-year cars (known as “half year” cars) are sought as there were fewer than 1,000 produced which are unencumbered with the 1968 model year emissions and safety changes. The in-line, four cylinder U20 engine had a cast iron block and aluminum alloy head. The new SOHC engine produced 135 PS (99 kW; 133 hp). An optional Competition package included dual Mikuni/Solex carburetors; a special “B” model camshaft for 150 PS (110 kW; 150 hp); higher limit gauges; and a license plate surround. In Australia there were no emission restrictions and all 2.0 litre cars were fitted with the Competition package as standard.
Due to the 2.0 litre engine, Japanese versions were regarded as expensive, specialized, sports cars due to the annual road tax obligation.
The Datsun 2000 was lauded as a bargain sports car. It was raced by John Morton, Bob Sharp and others. Its sticker price was lowest in its class, but it won its class in C Production (Mikuni-Solex carburetors) and D-Production (Hitachi-SU carburetors), in SCCA racing on a consistent basis even after production stopped.
For the 1968 model year the entire line was updated with a new body featuring a taller integrated windshield with an integrated rear-view mirror, a padded dashboard with non-toggle switches, built-in headrests, and lifting door handles. This version was first shown at the 14th Tokyo Motor Show in October 1967 and was developed to meet the new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. In the US the engines were also fitted with new emissions controls, and the lesser 1600 continued as a companion model through the end of production. Australia had no such emission controls.