Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The Datsun 180B
was replaced in October of 1977
with the 200B, the car that Nissan hoped would continue the great sales success that its predecessor had enjoyed since its introduction in 1976
, and spearhead the company’s move to become a fully fledged Australian manufacturer.
Continuing with the Japanese styling, the first 200B’s were all fully imported in Sedan, Wagon and Coupe, the latter retaining the SSS badge. In January 1978
local assembly began for the sedan, followed shortly by the wagon. The sedan trim levels were GL and GX, while the coupe remained as a hardtop, however unlike the previous model, Datsun
added an "Opera" window in the rear pillar. Unfortunately the coupe was discontinued in Australia in 1979
Australia's Top Selling Four
Almost immediately the 200B became Australia’s top selling four-cylinder car, a position it held until it was displaced by the Sigma
. Its popularity however remained strong right through the production run, family buyers appreciative of the plentiful interior room and standard features. It may have been somewhat conservatively styled, but the effort Nissan had put into the engineering of the car made it reliable and tough, qualities most Australians rated higher than a more advanced design.
The engine for the 200B was a larger version of the L series engine from the 180B
, dubbed the L20B its capacity was increased to 1952cc, making it good for 72 kW. Only the early fully imported 200B sedans and coupes retained the independent rear suspension
from the 180B
, locally assembled 200B sedans instead switching to coil springs with trailing arms, while the wagon had a live rear axle with leaf springs.
Undoubtedly a giant step backwards, the reason for the change was certainly not a cost cutting measure, but simply the need for Nissan to reach an 85 per cent local content quota that the then Federal Government demanded of Australian car manufacturers. The biggest downside to the 200B was the noise the driver would have to endure.
The 2 litre overhead cam engine could be very loud when pushed up through the rev range, and to make matters worse there was always plenty of drive line vibration. These issues prompted an exhaustive correction programme to be undertaken by the parent company in Japan, and thankfully later models were somewhat improved - see below for a more comprehensive review of the 200B update.
The 200B SX
The first significant change for the 200B came in October 1977
, with the introduction of the NAPS-Z (Nissan Anti Pollution System) engines, and a change to large bumpers with rubber end caps. In 1978
the range was updated with new dual rectangular headlights and a new grille - although this update did not appear in all markets. A sportier version of the 200B sedan was also released in (June) 1978
, the 200B SX, which featured a revised grille, front spoiler, alloy wheels
, revised door and seat trim (striped seat inserts) and tachometer, while the suspension
was altered to improve handling.
The colours available for the SX were simply blue, white or red, and the only transmission
available was a 4-speed floor shift. Significantly the SX was a unique model to Australia, the added input from Nissan’s Australian design engineers signified a step away from just assembling cars. This in turn led to the locally built Datsun’s, and later Nissans, being re-engineered to better suit Australian conditions, with many components being sourced locally – a tradition that would continue right up until 1991
, when Nissan ceased local manufacture.
20 More Problems than the 180B
After 18 months on the market, the 200B was getting plenty of bad press. There was a saying going around that the 200B was so named because it had 20 more faults than the 180B. That was probably a little harsh, but many thought it equally true. Nissan were obviously listening to the criticism, and in October 1979
they release an updated 200B, identified by a new grille, bumpers, seats, trim and dashboard. The seats were a unique Australian design for the locally built cars. Cosmetics aside, the updated 200B was so much better than the original. Finally, it was the equal of the competition, in the way it performed, handled and rode.
Then Deputy General Manager of Nissan Howard Hewson was quoted as saying, "Frankly the Sigma
caught us napping," and, "It would be fair to say that our own product and Toyota's current product have given the Sigma
an easy run." Managing Director of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Lloyd Beck said, "At times we didn't like the criticism being levelled at us, but being progressive and prepared to take that criticism, it did in fact cause our organisation to move a little faster and implement the improvements that were suggested as being necessary." Vibration was one of the biggest problems, this being transmitted through the car's structure from the engine compartment, and being further worsened by the intrusion of road noise into the cabin.
Phase Matched Wheels
Datsun fitted a mass damper to the front cross member, this consisting of a steel mass supported by rubber springs which were tuned to absorb engine vibration. The rear engine mounting was also redesigned to minimise transmission noise and vibration. The rear cross member was insulated from the body structure by means of special compound rubber pads, placed above and below it. Finally, the wheels and tyres
on all Datsun 200B models were "Phase Matched." This latter process involved fitting the tyres
so that any variations in casing thickness coincided with the slightly out-of-round wheel rims that were unavoidable in the roiling process during manufacture. In this manner, the stiffest section of the tyre
was matched with the section of the wheel that had the minimum rolling radius. The result was greatly reduced vibration - but we wonder how many tyre
stores went to that kind of trouble when it was time for replacements.
The variable rate rear coils springs and revised rear shock absorbers improved axle control remarkably, and thus ride, as well as handling. At the front the roll couple was reduced by 8% through changes to the sway bar. This in conjunction with revised shock absorber settings cut out the violent initial understeer and replaced it with something far milder. Further enhancing the steering characteristics was the completely new variable ratio recirculating ball steering gear. Although still not as good as a rack and pinion set-up, it definitely improved the overall feel of the car. When running on centre the steering effort was far higher than when increased lock was used. On centre the ratio was 18:1, while at 26 degrees left or right it was 20.5:1, so that the effort required in low speed parking manoeuvres was acceptable.
Through sweeping bends the 200B could be steered with great confidence, and without the driver having to resort to the "throw and catch" technique that the original car required. Pronounced understeer only set in at high cornering speeds, well above those which the orindary 200B driver was likely to reach, but still within the range where an inadvertently arrived at situation could be sorted out reasonably quickly. Even though the brakes
were one of the few items not criticised, Nissan modified them anyway, the front discs incorporating slimline colette sliding head callipers. This allowed the use of materials which were 10% lighter than before, helping to reduce unsprung weight. They had better heat dissipation, and thus remained effective far longer. They were more effective too, assisted by a modified brake servo which provided smoother application and less effort than before.
Improvements on the Inside
There have been a number of worthwhile changes to the 200B's interior too. The seats, locally designed and built, were far better suited to the Australian build. Better springing, good lumbar support and a lower squab featured, the latter allowing for a 15mm increase in front headroom. The infinitely variable adjustment seat backs were recessed to improve rear passenger knee room. The rear seat squab was changed from sprung frame construction to a moulded high resilience foam pad, to improve ride isolation and headroom. The use of foam also helped in the reduction of noise transmission. This noise factor was a great deal lower than before, the sound package, using flexible sound deadening, having been increased in its extent. One piece carpets replaced the two piece type, further improving sound insulation.
Cloth was the standard covering material for the seats, although vinyl was available on request as an option on GL models. Crushed velour was an option on the GX. All cars featured a simulated stitched leather soft feel steering wheel rim, complete with a thickly padded centre boss. Rear window demisting, ignition key illumination and a trip-metre were standard on all models, while the GX also featured a 7 second delay intermittent windshield wiper mode. The instrumentation now used an anti-glare and anti-reflective surfacing throughout. On the outside the difference between the original and update were harder to find, but the latter did use locally developed plated steel bumper bars which offered considerable cost savings per car, and which facilitated higher levels of equipment elsewhere without equal hikes in overall vehicle cost.
Thankfully the Japanese market wing mount mirror hole blanks were also a thing of the past. The front guards on the 200B update were new for Australia, getting rid of unnecessary, unsightly leftovers. The update also featured a laminated windshield. The sporty looking SX was retained in the new line-up. By far the best looking of all Datsuns, it had a blacked out grille, and below that was a steel reinforced air dam. This was made of ABS plastic and moulded with the bumper, no longer having that tacked-on look. The striped seats in the old SX were garrish to say the least, but on the update the stripes were narrowed and looked a little more tasteful.
a limited edition 200B Aspen GL sedan was released, it featuring distinctive shadow tone paint available in green, blue or grey. Both the 180B
and 200B models were extremely popular with Australian motorists, although it is rare to see one on the roads today. The time is fast approaching when 1970's nostalgia buffs will lust for a good clean example, only to find there are none. Obviously we would recommend getting a 1980
model, which was so much better sorted than the initial version.