Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
When the Datsun 1600 hit Australian dealerships, the car was nothing short of a revelation. Sure, there was competition, but to come anywhere near the potential you needed to fork out (in those days) around A$3000. You could shop around, and get near the quality and performance with a little over $2500 in your back pocket. But in either case, you would be peeing the proverbial against the wall, with the Datsun 1600 coming in at a stunningly low $2050.
The list price back in 1968 for a stock Fiat 1500 was $2694, the admittedly very good Cortina GT was priced at $2530, the Mazda 1500 weighed in at $2395, and Toyota's Corona 1600S was $2698. And so on upward in the price stakes - the further you went the better the Datsun proposition was.
The body styling was typical of the era, and as contemporary as any of the then current crop of medium sized cars. We do wonder if the Nissan designers borrowed from the styling of the Hillman Hunter, and in profile (admittedly at a distance) it could be mistaken for a Ford Cortina. But Datsun aficionados will likely be reminde3d of the Prince, particularly at the front, and thanks to the use of four headlights.
The engine was slightly inclined in the engine compartment to provide a lower bonnet line, and under the hood it was clean and uncluttered. For those that liked to tinker with their cars, there was plenty of working area to either side. Carburetion was through a double barrel downdraft Hitachi and the exhaust
system was of a particularly clean style with twin pipes running into a common expansion box - the exhaust
note is sporting while not becoming raucous.
The engine, although running only a moderate 8.5:1 compression ratio, developed the excellent output figure of 96 bhp while the maximum torque reading was 99.8 ft. lbs at 3600 rpm. A slightly hotter version, although it was not available in Australia at launch, employed twin SU carbs, a 9.5:1 compression ratio and develops 109 bhp. What was evident to anyone with even a casual interest in performance was that the 1600 had potential - plenty of potential - and once out of the warranty period many owners went down the modification path.
The Best 4-On-The-Floor Around
Coupled to this smooth power-plant was one of the best 'four on the floor' gearboxes then going. It was all synchromesh and changes could be made at maximum driver speed without beating the action. Travel between first and second was relatively short and, although the distance from second to third was slightly longer than ideal, changes could still be snapped through very quickly. Final drive gear was 3.700 and this figure provided a top gear speed of 17.1 mph per 1000 revs.
Nissan's maximum speed claim was 100 mph but to be honest we think that this was a shade optimistic - leastwise in "off-the-showroom-floor" stock guise. Most road testers of the time had trouble bettering 95 mph, although these figures were soon improved upon as minor tweaking took place. But, for the time, 95 mph was nothing to complain about in a 1600cc powered car. Acceleration was excellent and the Datsun had the ability to shame Cortina GT drivers given a suitable run-in period. The time from zero to 40 mph was a quick 5.9 seconds while zero to 60mph took 12.8 seconds. The standing quarter mile was covered in just 19.5 seconds and this, while not world shattering, was still pretty rapid.
On the Road
While the times were impressive, it was the way the car went about it that endeared it to many. Unlike some, that required you to ring the neck out of the engine to extract every last ounce of power, the 1600 got straight down to the job in hand with minimal engine noise and an almost complete absence of bother. The clutch was smooth in operation, there was no axle tramp or wheel hop - only a squeal from the tyres under initial acceleration and a squeak on the change into second.
The braking system, nine inch discs at the front and similar sized drums at the rear, was adequate for the car's performance but constant use left the discs squealing badly until given the chance to cool down. No power assistance was used with the system but pedal pressure remained relatively light for such effective results.
, of the recirculating ball type, was firm but responsive and the 3.2 turns lock to lock and provided excellent control. On well surfaced roads the all-round independent suspension was in keeping with the cars sporting characteristics. It was firm, yet comfortable, and provided a high level of stickiness through the tightest of corners. The handling remained neutral and even under maximum cornering speed the slight tendency towards oversteer could be quickly and easily controlled.
Rough and unsealed roads however needed a little more care and the 1600 was not at ease over corrugated surfaces. Tail end hop became apparent and the rear also tended to swing about over loosely surfaced roads. At lower speeds the ride was quite comfortable and the suspension ironed out potholes with a complete air of indifference. Ironic that with a few suspension tweaks, these issues could be easily overcome - and so we can only assume the launch versions were not properly tuned for Australian conditions.
Behind the Wheel
Occupants were well catered for with individual, non-reclining, front seats and a rear bench seat capable of accommodating two in comfort and three if absolutely necessary. With the forward seats on their rearmost adjustment there was only limited leg room in the rear but the situation was certainly no worse than opposition makes of similar dimensions. As had become the 'norm' in the better class Japanese cars of the time, the interior was given the full black treatment with the seats being covered in a soft, and attractive, vinyl material.
Pedal placement was less than perfect, however, and a heel and toe driver would need to adapt to being more an ankle and toe arrangement - but practice made perfect - or so we are told. The flow-through ventilation operated via dashboard mounted 'fish-eye' vents; the forward windows however, of large area due to the lack of quarter vents, rattled quite considerably when in the half-open position - due possibly to the rather large amount of unsupported glass.
Instrumentation consisted primarily of an 0 - 120 mph speedometer
, clock, fuel gauge, water temp gauge
, and assorted warning lights. The de luxe version came with a steering lock, although this was optional on the standard model. One point where the 1600 was behind the competition was in boot space (or the lack of it). The space was quite deep but relatively short, most of it being devoted to the accommodation of a 9.9 gallon fuel tank (tucked away behind a cardboard partition). The spare wheel was located beneath the boot floor level along with a reasonably equipped tool-kit and firmly mounted wheel jack.
The 1600 gave excellent fuel consumption, at around 30 mpg. Datsun claimed something between 32-35 mpg and, in this instance, they were spot on. On the features checklist, the 1600 had most of the standard Japanese kit that Europeans had as options. This included reversing lights, fuel tank lock, glove compartment lock, parking brake warning light, two sun visors, padded facia panel, door courtesy lights and child proof door locks, dual horns, windscreen wiper blades which remained on the screen at speed, service requirements which only needed a 30,000 mile lubrication and 3000 mile engine oil change - and no greasing points.
In summary, the Datsun 1600 was arguably the best small to medium sized car going in the late 1960s. It had pretty much everything in its favour - it was attractive, had performance, handling and comfort - and it only cost $2050. In the case of the Datsun 1600, the old adage, "you get what you pay for", was not true. You got a whole lot more.