Datsun 180B SSS
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The 180 B SSS hardtop was a punchy, willing performer, but the main emphasis was on luxury and exclusivity. Unlike the 180B sedan
, it was fully imported from Japan and the 45 per cent tariff burden precluded any chance of a saturation sales campaign. Notwithstanding, for 1973
its basic, manual-transmission price of A$3395 assured a competitive footing in the small prestige coupe market. Its main rivals in Australia were the Toyota Celica, which retailed at just over A$3400 and the Fiat 128 coupe, which sold for A$3800.
Strangely, the Datsun's Achilles Heel was the fact that it was based on 180B sedan
mechanicals. Although that car's value was undisputed when judged in the context of its selling price, some of its faults were not what you would have been at all happy with for a car at that price point. The main criticisms of the hardtop centred around the noisy engine and the slightly "tinny' feeling of the body structure - the former was inherited directly from the sedan model, while the latter was largely brought about by the pillarless window design.
The sohc Datsun engine was never renowned for smooth, silent running - although its efficiency and durability were unquestioned - and in the SSS these characteristics seemed to be further emphasised. The SSS used twin SU-style "Aisan" carburettors and a raised compression ratio to produce 115 bhp at 6000 rpm - 10 bhp more than the 180B sedan
. Torque was up marginally, from 108.5 to 112 ft./lbs., and was developed at a higher 4000 rpm which caused the car to suffer slightly where low-speed flexibility was concerned.
Behind the Wheel
When you sat behind the wheel of the SSS you were confronted by a 7000 rpm tachometer redline which suggested plenty of high-rev. excursions, but although the engine would pull close to this mark, it began to roar and vibrate disconcertingly at anything over 6000. In practice, there most drivers claimed there was no point in taking it past 5400 rpm. This produced intermediate gear maximums of 32, 50 and 74 mph - a very reasonable spread which could be extended if the occasion demanded to the point where better than 90 mph was available in third. Of course this would only be needed on long, steep climbs where the high-ratio 3.7 final drive would erode top gear's hanging-on ability.
Given a long run-in on a flat stretch of bitumen, the 1770cc powerplant would haul the speedometer around to an indicated 112 mph with the tachometer resting on a relaxed 5000 rpm. This setting up of gearbox and final drive ratios to produce high road speeds at relatively low rpm figures contributed greatly to the car's highway cruising ability and helped to nullify the engine's noise. The only real disadvantage was a slight loss of smoothness and tractability at around-town speeds, which was partly compensated for by the great spread of the lower gears and the fast, but slightly heavy baulk-ring synchromesh that was exclusive to the SSS.
Otherwise, the hardtop came across as a more heavily garnished version of the 180B sedan. The instrument panel design was basically the same, but was slightly changed to incorporate additional gauges such as the tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. The latter was mounted in the centre of a trio of small instruments contained in deeply recessed housings to the left of the main display. Because of their angle from the driver's line of sight the fuel gauge and oil pressure gauges were not all that easy to read, while the temperature gauge was prone to be obscured by your hands.
The steering wheel was a mock wood-rim affair that co-ordinated with a stick-on woodgrain vinyl wrap applied on the instrument panels central console. The seats had nylon cloth facings but were generally regarded as not being as comfortable as those fitted to the locally built 180B sedans
. They needed to be different in design to ensure sufficient headroom given the different roof space the SSS afforded with the coupe body style. Sitting a little lower did not help visibility, which was never a strong point in the 180B sedan. The rear quarter panes kicked-up the window-line on a car that already had a high waistline. But against the not ideal visibility, inside the SSS was a comforting place to be, cosy and you would feel well closeted. You would only curse the visibility when it came time to park in tight situations.
On the Road
On the open highway the SSS was noticeably better that the stock 180B
. The difference was evident in the effortless gait, that was assisted by a fine balance of ride and handling
. The rear suspension
differed from that of the sedan too - nitrogen gas shock absorbers were used which improved the roadholding while reducing the noise transmitted from the otherwise standard rear end. The 180B sedan handled particularly well when judged against cars of the era – provided it was running on relatively smooth bitumen – but it was hampered by vague steering
which tended to wander at high speeds, while tending to become rather “twitchy" and unpredictable. The somewhat minor modifications to the SSS improved things considerably, such that on much rougher surfaces the suspension seemed to swallow up the impact while maintaining a reasonable degree of stability and directional accuracy. Only when pressed hard would the SSS start to become unpredictable.
The general overall standard of road manners was right up to the requirements of the 115 bhp engine - the ride was generally well-controlled and the car was less easily upset than the sedan version on rough roads. The braking, through the use of a load proportioning valve that helped prevent rear lock up ,thereby sending all the initial effort through to the front wheels, was very stable. The 180B SSS did have some shortcomings, but it also had plenty in its favour, with safety-orientated features like energy-absorbing body design, out-of-the-way fuel tank location a laminated windscreen, anti-glare rear vision mirror, electric rear window demister and standard equipment radial ply tyres.
But it also had some of the sedan's hangups, like the noisy engine and an impression of flimsiness that, although it was probably more illusory than real, didn’t help the car to project a quality image. It all boiled down to the fact that while some things were acceptable in an economy family car, but they were not acceptable in a "personal" two-door luxury coupe. It really should have been a cut above the 180B sedan
– and sadly it wasn’t. For that reason, we feel we can only award a 2 star collectability ranking.