Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
In Australia we knew it as the Stanza, but in other markets it was variously known as the "Violet", "Auster", "510", and "160J". Available locally in either GL or better equipped GX form, the Stanza was a revival of the shape and specification of the original highly successful Datsun 1600, which to our mind was the first really good Japanese car to be marketed overseas.
Nissan were obviously convinced they were on a winner, as they didn’t bother importing a batch to see how they might be accepted in Oz, instead moving the car straight into Clayton (Vic) production and thereby adding a third entry in their 85% local content plan. A major factor in the decision to add the Stanza to Nissan's local content operation was that the company's then new engine plant was in full swing – and Nissan management proclaimed that automation had reached the stage of a "little Tokyo", to the extent that actual capacity of the plant was 100,000 engines a year.
Not that Nissan were operating at anything like that level. Un-machined blocks came from Chrysler's then new South Australian facility to be finished and then built up at Clayton. The blocks for the 200B
and Stanza were identical save for cubic capacity. Many other parts were virtually interchangeable between the 200B
and the Stanza too, so the economies of scale to be achieved as a result helped to keep major costs down.
The Stanza was actually designed some twelve months after the 200B
, and used a shorter wheelbase at 2400mm, compared with the "B's" 2500mm, but slightly longer overall length, plus revised suspension, which added up to a far stiffer unit that was far less prone to the transmission of mechanical noise. At the same time, it used the "L" series engine, but in 1600cc form rather than the 200B's 2000cc. Owing to the necessities of local content, only a four speed gearbox was available with a Borg Warner 3 speed automatic, optional. Respective final drive ratios were 3.7:1 and 3.8:1.
The front suspension
was the same as the larger capacity car, but at the rear the shock absorbers were mounted behind the coil springs rather than forming struts by passing down through their centre. This latter feature allowed a lower waist line in the styling, as the upper mounting points for the coil and shocker could be much lower than on the strut type rear end of the 200B
. The live axle of the Stanza was located by the usual four link system. Mounting the shocker on a small extension behind the axle casing also added to the location of the axle to a small degree. Far squarer styling allowed for better packaging of the interior, and although there was not quite as much passenger room inside as with the 200B, it was still pretty good.
Inside the Stanza
Interior design was generally the as-you-would-expect Japanese plastic look, but everything felt far more "together" than in previous efforts. Perhaps the most important feature of the car was its weight. It weighed in at 235 kilograms less than the 200B, but with engine power little less despite the smaller capacity, it added up to much improved fuel consumption – and fuel economy was one of the main reasons that prompted Nissan to introduce the Stanza in the first place.
Nissan tried to re-capture the excellence of the Datsun 1600
. According to the Australian General Manager of Sales and Marketing at the time, Alan Handberg, Nissan had been constantly receiving "fan mail" concerning the old 1600. It was a driver's car par excellence in its day, so care was taken to ensure that the Stanza would retain that same image. Fitting in at a price roughly half way between the 120Y
and the 200B, the Stanza completed what was a pretty good range of sub 2000cc cars. It was enough to get the Unique Cars and Parts editors wife behind the wheel of a 120Y
Behind the Wheel
The Stanza was fitted with what seemed like an overly large steering wheel – but the seats, while very plain and simple, did the job well enough. Engine and transmission noise were reasonably quiet – and the Stanza had a really solid feel about it on the road. Though it was a relatively small vehicle, the Stanza gave the impression of being far larger in terms of ride harshness suppression and stability. The way it changed direction and held the road would let you know that it was a light weight. On gravel and on bitumen it could be controlled accurately and easily. Only the steering feel in the straight ahead position gave any cause for criticism.
As you are no doubt aware if you have read Japanese car reviews here on Unique Cars and Parts
, for too long the Nippon chose to stick to a recirculating ball system. It was good in its day – but the problem was its “day” was in the 1950’s. This type of steering
, no matter how good, suffered from too much play when in the on centre position. The Stanza was not alone in this regard – but it was a point that spoilt an otherwise reasonably good setup. The Stanza’s competition here in Australia was the Holden Gemini
and Ford Escort
– and both of these have solid followings to this day so we will not be drawn on which was better. Australia never got a Stanza wagon, although it existed in the USA and in Japan - so the Gemini scored there.
But on paper at least, the Stanza put up a reasonable argument. On a power to weight ratio the Gemini
registered at 15.4 kg per kW, Escort 1600 at 21.2 (13.8 for the 2 litre) compared with 14.4 for the Stanza. In weight alone, the Datsun came in at 905 kg compared with 944 kg for the Gemini, and 988 for the Escort. Perhaps the Stanza was more "tinny". And maybe the challenge was really happening in the Datsun showroom - and not against Holden and Ford, with Nissans own 200B having to justify the premium.
Theoretically the 200B was seen as the type of vehicle perfect for anyone downsizing from a six cylinder in the interests of economy without sacrificing too much interior space, and still retaining the viability of an automatic transmission and air-conditioning
, without too much trade off in performance. But to our mind the two were too closely related. And worse, both were primitive in their technology. Unfortunately the Stanza was not as good as the Datsun 1600. Nowhere near as good...which was such a shame. Except for the SSS. In 1979
, 120 2-door coupe models were assembled in Australia, apparently due to a mix-up with Nissan Australia's kit ordering system.
5 Speed Stanza SSS
Datsun released the Stanza SSS, a worthwhile revision of the original package. Although it appeared to many to merely be a dress-up deal with front air dam and striking paint finish, the SSS actually went a great deal further than that. For a start, there was a five speed gearbox. This is the first time a locally manufactured Datsun had been fitted with such a transmission
. The transmission
itself was a fully imported unit featuring a .852 overdrive top. First, second and third gear ratios were lowered to provide a bit more pep from standstill. The final drive ratio was dropped from 3.7 to 3.889 as well, so the SSS was definitely a far more sporty proposition than before.
Transmission apart, the engine
was the same 1600cc unit as fitted to the ordinary GL and GX Stanzas. Suspension
changes improved both ride and handling
. The Datsun 200B
variable ratio recirculating ball steering
box replaced the old linear ratio type. The whole car was lowered slightly to improve road holding, and the front sway bar was increased in diameter. At the rear, variable rate coil springs
were fitted together with a sway bar. Shock absorbers front and rear were uprated to complement the alterations of course.
Making as much as possible out of all these changes, Datsun included a new design of alloy wheel in the SSS's standard specification. These were made by ROH and they sure looked the goods. For practical purposes, these lighter wheels also added their bit to the Stanza's improved road holding and handling. External colours for the Stanza SSS were silver sheen, signal yellow, white and red. The bottom part of the body in each case was black, while the side striping varied according to the colour chosen. Starting a trend which continued with future models - until ultimately the Datsun brand left Australian shores - there were no Datsun badges on the car, "Stanza SSS" being picked out in block letters on the tail, with "SSS" motifs down either flank.
Inside the original design of locally made seat was retained, but the cloth facing had the "SSS" motif incorporated into it in a fine subtle manner. Certainly it was a good deal less garish than the red white and blue of the 200B SX
. Full instrumentation included a tachometer
for the first time on a Stanza. Also included were intermittent wipers, a laminated windscreen, and ram air ventilation. Air-conditioning
was available as an optional extra. On the road motoring journalists found the Stanza SSS would handle in a very predictable manner, with the suspension
well controlled under the most arduous of conditions. Although final understeer was still the main steering
characteristic, initial response had been improved tremendously. The transition from throttle-on, to throttle-off oversteer was very gentle making the SSS a pretty safe vehicle for even the most adventurous "mug lair."
One of the major criticisms levelled at the Stanza SSS was concerning the gearshift, which was exactly the same as the Pulsar in layout. First was to the left and back, leaving the normal first gear slot for reverse. This incorporated the same annoying bleeper which annoyed so many Pulsar owners. Launch pricing on the Stanza SSS in Australia was $6950. This compared well with the GL's $6149 and the GX at $6439.