Datsun History

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Datsun History


Datsun Nissan

 1933 - 1984 (end Datsun)
COMPARED WITH THE European car manufacturers, the main Japanese firms are very young. By the mid 1970's Nissan-Datsun had become the fourth largest car manufacturer in the world, despite only being able to trace its ancestry back to the early 1930s, when three Japanese financiers - Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi - formed a car company called Kai Shinsha Motors.

The cars it made took their name from the initials of the three backers: D.A.T. The idea was to promote the car as the son of the three gentlemen - hence DATSON. But 'son' is also the Japanese for 'loss', and the result was a hasty change to DATSUN.

In 1933, the company was established on a new basis with a public shareholding; the change of name to Nissan Motor Company followed in 1934. By 1935, it had set up a Ford-type production line and was already exporting. Among its first products was a car owing a good deal to the Austin Seven.

Although set for apparent growth, Nissan fell under the shadow of the approaching war. By 1938, passenger-car production was restricted and the Yokohama factory was concentrating on building army trucks. At the end of the war, in common with most of Japanese industry, Nissan lay in ruins.

The occupation forces took over the factories and, in the immediate post-war period, production consisted entirely of trucks for their use. In 1947, though, car production was resumed on a modest scale. The first models were again British-based, derived from the then-current Austin models, and this was to set the pattern right through to the early 1950s.

By this time, Nissan's cars closely resembled the Austin Devon and Somerset, but the firm was busy on designs of its own. By 1955, they were ready to go into production. In that same year, the occupation forces finally relinquished their hold on all Nissan's factories, enabling the Japanese to organise production properly.

The Datsun 110 saloon and 120 pickup truck (derived from it) began to appear in some numbers. The 110 started a long line of development which can be traced right through to the 1976 Bluebirds though, at that time, the name had not been adopted. By 1958, standards were high enough, and production large enough, for Nissan to enter the American market, concentrating on California where the cars were first shown.

Before long, a nation-wide sales network had been set up. In 1959, it was able to offer Americans the new Datsun 310, now named Bluebird and, in the following year, the first Datsun 2000 (also to find an unbroken line of successors) appeared. Production and exports continued to grow, based largely on the Bluebird. In 1961, Nissan became Japan's top car exporter, and was planning great increases in production capacity as well as new models.

The Oppama Plant and Rapid Expansion

The purpose-built Oppama plant, on the edge of Tokyo bay, south of Yokohama, went into operation in 1962. Next year, two notable landmarks were passed - the Bluebird topped 200,000 units, and exports reached 100,000. From this point on, expansion was very rapid. The 1964 production rate for the Bluebird exceeded 10,000 cars a month; the first time a Japanese manufacturer had built a single model at such a high rate. The Oppama plant was proving its worth, and the next project - the Zama plant, west of Tokyo - was rising from green fields. Intended at first as a truck factory, it was soon turned over to car production as demand increased.

Nissan was now definitely heading for a place in the 'big league'. Its model range was riot wide enough, so it produced the big President, a genuine prestige car, still, in 1976, sold only in Japan, and replaced the 2000 with a new model. At the same time, the firm began to build up a fleet of specialised car carriers, primarily to take cars to America.

Datsun 113 sedan
A 25hp Datsun 113 sedan, powered by a 850cc engine, this was one of the first Datsun's to be exported.

Datsun 1600SSS
Australians love the Datsun 1600SSS, and for good reason. It was the dogs bollocks in toughness, as evidenced by its win in the 1970 East African Rally.

Datsun 1200
The Datsun 1200 is not well rembered as a rally hero, but it did acquit itself very well.

Datsun 180B SSS
The 180B was extremely popular, particularly in SSS mode.

Datsun 200LThe Datsun 200L is regarded by most at the makers first entry into the mid (to large) class, excluding the luxury models from previous years.

Datsun Cherry FII Coupe
The Datsun Cherry FII Coupe, successor to the 120A.

Datsun 120Y
The 120Y featured different front end styling depending on which market it was being exported to. This design was destined for European markets.

Nissan Merge With Prince

In 1966, the model range was expanded in the other direction with the introduction of the Datsun 1000. This small, modern four-seater set a new pattern, offering a chance of 'proper' motoring to the not-so-well-off Japanese, who had previously been offered only a choice of several 360 cc minicars.

While this was a move in the Japanese domestic market, Nissan also launched a campaign for world-wide recognition by entering the world of motor sport. The result was a dramatic success on the East African Safari Rally. To round off 1966, there came a massive merger. Nissan joined forces with Prince Motors, makers of the Skyline range, and thus inherited not only an extra model line but also a splendid factory and test track at Murayama near Tokyo.

At the time, the new combine was Japan's largest car manufacturer, although a subsequent series of mergers resulted in Toyota being larger still. These moves set the final pattern of the Japanese industry, dominated by the two major firms: Nissan-Datsun centred on Tokyo, and Toyota with their factories grouped around Nagoya.

The next years saw steady expansion of production and exports, and the introduction of more new models. Of these, perhaps the most important was the 510 Bluebird, a car which appeared shortly after the Mark 2 Ford Cortina, and was almost exactly the same size (and shape, some thought).

However, the Bluebird had an overhead-camshaft engine - in a choice of sizes, 1300 cc and 1600 cc - and independent rear suspension by semi-trailing arms. The same units were used in the 1600 Sport, a two-seater version of which was sent to America in search of a slice of the MGB market.

The new Bluebird formula was repeated in 1968, the following year, with the larger 1800 Laurel. This was the year in which Datsun, having spent some time building itself up in Europe, finally entered the British market with a range of four cars, the 1000, the Bluebird 1300 and 1600, and the 2000.

The Car Aimed Squarely At The US Market

If the 510 Bluebird proved Nissan's designers capable of modern thinking, the car which dramatically confirmed it was the 240Z. Produced at a time when other manufacturers were saying a new sports car could not be designed because sales would never be enough to pay for the development costs, Nissan aimed the 240Z squarely at the American market, and it was an instant success.

Very soon, it was the world's biggest-selling sports car. Though advanced in many ways, the 240Z was still a sensible and practical design. Its engine was in effect one-and-a-half Bluebird engines - six cylinders instead of four.

Like the Bluebird, the 240Z used MacPherson strut suspension at the front (but, unlike the saloon, had strut suspension at the back, too). Work immediately started on developing the 240Z as a rally car, a programme eventually to result in two more outright wins in the East African Safari.

The development of more mundane cars was not neglected. First, the 1000 was replaced by the 1200, larger, more powerful, and, in some ways (as in the front suspension design), more advanced also. Into the gap beneath the 1200, Nissan introduced the 100A Cherry, a little car which broke new ground in adopting the transverse-engine, front-drive layout pioneered by Alec Issigonis.

Strangely, perhaps, the Cherry was not a great success in Japan, but managed to find ready acceptance in more sophisticated export markets, most of all in Europe. Having strengthened the bottom end of the range, Nissan next replaced the ageing 2000 with an entirely new and much improved car, the 240C - which rapidly grew into the 260C.

Its engine was a detuned version of that used in the 240Z, and the enlargement of its capacity (by lengthening the stroke rather than boring-out) hinted at developments to come.

In the meantime, even more work was going on to give a new look to the middle of the range, and three more new cars appeared. First and largest was the 200L Laurel, in effect a replacement for the old 1800 and, like it, built at Murayama. The Laurel has an engine derived from the original Prince Motors G- series overhead-camshaft power unit, which was also retained when, later in the same year, the Skyline range was completely overhauled.

The Bluebird U

Almost simultaneously, the Oppama factory began to build the series 610, known as the Bluebird 'U' to the Japanese, to distinguish it from the 510, which they kept in production. The 610, though designed along the same lines as the 510 and in effect a progressive development of it, was bigger and more expensive; the 510 had to wait another year for a direct replacement in the form of the series 710 Violet. Towards the end of 1974, a new version of the Cherry, the FII, came off the assembly lines of a new Nissan factory at Tochigi, 100 miles north of Tokyo.

Replacing the 100A, the FIl's bodywork was completely restyled, but to minimise service and spare parts problems, the car retained virtually unchanged the front wheel drive mechanical layout of its predecessor. There followed restyled versions of the six-cylinder 260C, while the 260Z became the 280Z, with fuel injection and its engine bored out to 2753 cc-but for the US market only.

For the next five years, the Z would remain the world's best-selling sports car. In both 1974 and 1975, the Datsun/Sunny 120Y, the successor to the Datsun 1200, was the second largest production model in the world. In 1975 alone, 532,000 Sunnys were built and, by mid 1976, Nissan had built more than 4,500,000 Sunny engines for use in the 1200, 120Y and other Datsun models.

Nissan production in 1975, of cars and commercials, totalled 2.07 million vehicles. In 1976, the full range of Datsun passenger cars consisted of 28 models, from the Cherry FII to the V8 Nissan President limousine though, of course, not all of these were necessarily sold in individual export markets. That Datsun, starting afresh from the ashes of World War 2 ,became a world force in just over 30 years, was nothing short of a miracle.

But it was during these halcyon days that Nissan management began to show an 'official' company bias against use of the name “Datsun”. At the time, Kawamata was a veteran of Nissan, in the last year of his presidency, a powerful figure whose experience in the firm exceeded two decades. His rise to its leadership position occurred in 1957 in part because of his handling of the critical Nissan workers' strike that began May 25, 1953, and ran for 100 days.

Dumping The Datsun Moniker

During his tenure as Nissan President, Kawamata stated that he "regretted that his company did not imprint its corporate name on cars, the way Toyota does. ‘Looking back, we wish we had started using Nissan on all of our cars,’ he says. ‘But Datsun was a pet name for the cars when we started exporting.’ ”

The decision was made to stop using the brand name Datsun worldwide, in order to strengthen the company name Nissan. Quoting a press release at the time...“The decision to change the name Datsun to Nissan in the U.S. was announced in the fall of 1981. The rationale was that the name change would help the pursuit of a global strategy. A single name worldwide would increase the possibility that advertising campaigns, brochures, and promotional materials could be used across countries and simplify product design and manufacturing. Further, potential buyers would be exposed to the name and product when traveling to other countries."

Industry observers, however, speculated that the most important motivation was that a name change would help Nissan market stocks and bonds in the U.S. They also presumed substantial ego involvement, since the absence of the Nissan name in the U.S. surely rankled Nissan executives who had seen Toyota and Honda become household words.

Ultimately, the name change campaign lasted for a three year period from 1982 to 1984 (Datsun badged vehicles had been progressively fitted with small "Nissan" and "Datsun by Nissan" badges from the late 1970s onward) until the Nissan name was given prominence in 1983 - although in some export markets vehicles continued to wear both the Datsun and Nissan badges until 1986. The name change had cost Nissan a figure in the region of US$500 million.

Operational costs included the changing of signs at 1,100 Datsun dealerships, and amounted to US$30 million. Another US$200 million were spent during the 1982 to 1986 advertising campaigns, where the “Datsun, We Are Driven!” campaign yielded to “The Name is Nissan” campaign. (“The Name is Nissan” campaign was used for some years beyond 1985). Another US$50 million was spent on Datsun advertisements that were paid for but stopped or never used. Five years after the name change program was over, Datsun still remained more familiar than Nissan. But the company persevered, and today when we think of Datsun, we think of rare Japanese quailty classic sheet metal.

Also see: Datsun Car Reviews | Nissan Car Reviews | Nissan-Datsun Colour Codes | Datsun/Nissan Production 1934 - 1979
Datsun 240Z Rally
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