The 120Y was the third generation Datsun Sunny and featured an all new styling, now very distinctly Japanese looking. Initially there was little different from the previous models, as underneath the suspension and drive train were the same - even the 12" wheels were carried over. But the 120Y was a safer, stronger, more comfortable car than its predecessor. The body and interior, however, were all new. Available as a two or four door sedan, a coupe, a wagon or a panel van, called Runner there were also three door wagons available in some markets. Utilising A series engines initially of 1200cc, this was later upgraded to 1400cc. American 120Y's, known as the B210,
also came with the A13 engine.
The 120Y body was five inches longer and a couple of inches wider than the 1200, but it had the advantages of the safer cell and extra room, but carried a weight penalty of 155 lb (in the coupe) over the old 1200. And instead of using the heavier but lustier 1400 cc engine available in Japan, Nissan stuck with the 1171cc unit, willing though it was, it would always prove problematic on hills – as we can attest to travelling along Punt Road in Melbourne. But it seemed few cared that the performance did not match that of the Datsun 1200.
Over the years the 120Y developed an enviable reliability record for reliability. There were few production cars that could be driven into the ground and still thrive. Sure, it was not particularly outstanding and there were definitely some areas which should have been better – but it was an easy car to live with and, like a dog, would forgive you no matter how neglected it was. One of the best things about the 120Y was the four-speed all synchro gearbox – tight and direct it was a pleasure to use, which was a good thing because you would have to use it a lot. The synchro could not be beaten and moving through the gears was effortless and made the job of stirring the little 1200 engine along a lot more pleasant.
The engine developed 69 bhp at 6000 rpm. It revved freely, which was just as well as to maintain brisk progress the revs had to be kept up. If they did happen to drop back and the car ran out of breath it was only a matter of a quick change through the slick box to recover. But let the revs drop too far back and recovery would be slow – embarrassingly slow. You would have expected that by revving the bejesus out of the engine the fuel consumption would have taken a hammering, however it was very easy to get 34 mpg, and if you were prepared to be overtaken by pedestrians that figure could easily be improved.
Some claimed the 120Y would develop a good driving style – and not too many cars can claim that. To maintain good progress in a 120Y the driver had to be steady, smooth and always thinking well ahead. Driving skill rather than brute horses was the name of the game and it was good for the ego to be able to keep up with the heavies by merely positioning the car in the right lane at the right speed at the right time. As for the bad points, there were a few. The brakes on initial application would give a dead pedal feel and required some effort to get effect. They had the right system of discs at the front and drums at the back but lacked power assistance. You could effect an emergency stop from 70 mph in less than 200 feet – so it was not on the dangerous side – it was just that you really needed to stand on the brakes to effect the stop.
, with the leaf back springs, was as conventional as you could get. The 120Y would pitch and toss the driver excessively in the seat on undulating roads. But it did corner OK with some understeer but a lack of roll resistance which could be unnerving at speed (provided you could wind it up to a speed that would be dangerous, which would involve a strong tail wind and long downhill slope). The 120Y coupe was, to our mind, the pick of the bunch. The big rear deck lid hinged from the top of the bigger back window, and was supported on gas-filled struts that replaced the rather pokey little boot lid on the 1200 coupe. The back seat squab folded down so the coupe was, in effect, a more stylish station wagon. The entire proceeds of an attack on a supermarket, plus the troops, would all fit easily.
The spare wheel was stored beneath the cargo area and covered by very thin hard-board which was way too flimsy. Also, it was trimmed in a very light vinyl and you needed to take care to ensure you didn’t rip it while loading after it had been sitting in the hot sun. Attention has been given to vision and the coupe had two small windows in the rear quarter panel to overcome what would have been a pretty big blind-spot. The big back window allowed plenty of rearward vision but was not too easy to demisting in winter – and a demister was not listed as a option. Visibility was further enhanced by the elimination of the front quarter windows.
Inside the 120Y
The 120Y had a very efficient flow through ventilation system - the flow of air could be increased dramatically by opening the side windows which were hinged on their leading edge. Instrumentation included a speedo and tacho. Included as standard kit were reciting bucket seats, laminated screen and push-button radio, these were all expensive options on Australian-made cars. It also had carpet (of a horrible check pattern). The overall appearance inside was that of the staunch plastic car from trim to dash. Plastic it might have been, but it was done in such a way as to give a solid, quality finish. The trim colour was black, which wasn’t a good choice for a car that did not come with air conditioning – but maybe we are judging the 120Y on today’s values. Legroom in the front was plentiful but the back was not a great place to be for any length of time. The seats were comfortable and held the driver in place although there was a tendency to shuffle around a little after about an hour at the helm.
The 120Y underwent undercarriage modification in 1975
when the front suspension was changed, 13" rims fitted and the later type A12 engine with a 5 bearing crankshaft were used. Back in its day the 120Y was a good investment. It did nothing outstanding as a car, yet provided good reliable transport. It was solid, and dependable. Better still, it was very popular, and enjoyed very high resale values. It was never a glamorous car in its hey-day, but the perennial 120Y can still be seen on the highways of today. Due to its poor road manners is not particularly collectable. But, as with all cars that have been out of production for over 20 years, they are becoming more scarce and an extremely good condition vehicle could just make a good buying decision. Add to this the public's love of re-cycled kitsch and the 120Y could, just maybe, make a comeback. When released a spanking new 120Y Coupe cost $3578. Provided you hadn’t driven it much, we are confident you would get your money back today.