We once again ponder while taking a sideways look at cars which once littered the streets of the UK. This one was solid, dependable, reliable and the favoured choice of many a cab driver – made in Blighty too!
Ladies and gentlemen… Its the Nissan Bluebird.
The not-so Trojan Horse
If ever a poll was taken as to which car you have most likely been sick in the back of, then I wonder how many of us would confess to being taken ill after a night on the town in the rear of a Nissan Bluebird – the chosen car for the average taxi driver. I know I have a few times, and looking back, my heartfelt and profound apoligies go out to the driving staff of Anglia Cars in Northampton or Check Taxis of Bedford.
They were the choice of Taxi for what seemed years, capable of being double shifted around the clock seven days a week – the Bluebird never seemed to fail its master. I have personally seen these things lumber into the arena on banger night at independent auctions showing over 200,000 miles and never failing to attract another owner. To this day, I know one gentleman who runs a G-plate 2.0 SLX which has now passed 250,000 clicks still running on it’s original clutch, effortlessly eating up a 120 mile a day commute from Cambridgeshire to London bought three years ago for just £200.
When the UK plant of Nissan started producing cars in 1986, the T12/T72-series Bluebird was the single model (in saloon and hatchback form) produced at what has now become England’s most efficient and largest car plant. The Bluebird offered reliability and satisfaction to its owners who would have sadly never experienced this level of quality owning any other UK built volume car from Austin, Ford or Vauxhall.
Our very own Austin Rover assembled the Acclaim and latterly, the 213 from kit form, but this new Nissan factory was much different. UK workers were not only assembling the car but also building the engines, pressing the panels and sourcing parts from English suppliers. Right from the outset some unique ideas and practices were draughted into the Nissan UK blueprint business plan – and it was this UK-production and Euro-focus that upset a number of rival manufacturers. The Italians and French, especially, described these cars as locally built ‘Trojan Horses’; a means of getting Japanese cars into Europe, and circumventing voluntary sales quotas.
But then, most buyers didn’t care about the politics – they just wanted a well-priced, reliable product that they didn’t have to wait for. And Nissan proved rather adept at supplying this from its Washington/Sunderland factory. In the 26 years (is it really that long ago?) since the first car left the Tyneside car plant, not one single day has been lost to industrial action, its quality control matches or exceeds those of Japan while this year also marked the six millionth car to be produced in Sunderland.
But what of the Bluebird itself? The name first appeared on Japanese market cars in 1958, and followed on with a succession of well-equipped and engineered saloons that sold in bucketloads in their homeland. As the Japanese car industry became stronger and more confident going from the 1960s and into the ’70s, Nissan spearheaded the export drive into Europe – and by the time it really became established in the UK in 1973, BL, Vauxhall and Chrysler were in sharp decline, and the door was opened.
The Bluebird 610 and 810-series (sold as the 160 and 180B here) became big-sellers almost overnight throughout the 1970s, and were followed on by the Cortina-clone 910-series of 1980, and the FWD U10 of 1984. It’s here that the story gets interesting, and did have contemporary commentators confused – why launch another brand new Bluebird in 1985, a mere 18 months after the previous all-new model was rolled out a mere two years previous?
But the new car – and the one UK buyers would become so familiar with – wasn’t a Bluebird at all. It was the second-generation Stanza (as we knew it) or Auster. Viewed in that way, the evolution and genealogy of the first UK-built Nissan becomes a whole lot simpler.
Being a UK-built product, the Bluebird range was devised very much with fleet car managers in mind. So it was possible to buy in a wide variety of trim levels and 1.6- and 2.0-litre petrol form and with the minicabber’s favourite 2.0-litre diesel. All were capable and competitive in the power and economy stakes, as was the 1.8-litre turbo that found its way into the ZX and Executive variations. Dynamic and ergonomic masterpieces they weren’t though – and when pitched against the class-leading Ford Sierra, Vauxhall Cavalier, Montego and Peugeot 405, the Bluebird was found wanting.
Of course, none of that mattered. The Bluebird was rugged and reliable, and proved that us Brits could screw cars together just as well as our Japanese or German counterparts, given the right product and factory. And for a huge number of buyers, the dull as ditch-water Bluebird was more than capable enough – and sales success surely followed. The Bluebird’s big sales and profit paved the way for Nissan’s huge expansion into the UK, with its Technical Centre at Cranfield subsequently proving responsible for the chassis tuning of the brilliant Primera.
Now, its UK centre of excellence is fully responsible for the Qashqai – of which over a million have been built here. A true case of success borne from small beginnings. Just ask any 100,000-mile a year minicabber…