Unsung Heroes : Datsun 120Y (Sunny B210)

Mark Mastrototaro casts a fond eye over one of the UK’s favourite imports during the 1970s, the Datsun 120Y. Why was it so popular? Striking British factories, waiting lists for Morrises and an increasing disillusionment with home-made products meant the Sunny’s success in the UK was something of an own goal for the Brits.

But that’s not to downplay the Sunny’s abilities as a likeable family saloon – as the buyers kept coming back to Datsun.

B210: The Rising Sun-ny

By the early to mid 1970s, the pieces were starting to fall, albeit loosely, into place for the ever-widening import market for Japanese cars.  Already achieving respectable sales for new-comers at least, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, but more noticeably Datsun, were gearing up for a ‘big-push’.

The Japanese brands must have awoken every morning not believing the hand they were being dealt by Dame Fortune in their export territories; labour issues affecting quality and quantity of vehicles; increased demand for better, more reliable cars, loaded with more kit and to top it all and an oil crisis which meant customers needed something a little more frugal.

Something for everyone

One car which seemed to typify this was the Datsun 120Y (Sunny B210). The UK 120Y range consisted of a two-door Saloon, three-door hatchback, Coupé, four-door saloon, five-door Estate and a three-door Van.

They were all powered by the same 69bhp 1171cc mated to a four-speed manual gearbox with the option of a three-speed automatic on the two- and four-door saloons.

MacPherson struts up front and rear leaf springs could give a sometimes bouncy ride, yet the quality of the oily bits was what really surprised many a would-be buyer at the test drive stage. A clutch, light by even today’s standards, crisp, precise gearbox and light (and under-geared) steering made the 120Y incredibly easy to take to.

The Brits lapped them up

Add into the fray 40mpg and impressive performance from the nippy A12 engine, it’s not hard to see how a relative unknown to the UK market shifted almost 150,000 120Y B210s between August 1973 and August 1978. Indeed, Nissan sold over two million worldwide.

The 120Y’s looks may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, the resounding memories of many people seem to focus on the two styles of wheeltrims it wore. They were the 12in items which resembled a pie dish, and the later, post-1975 13in items which – for want of a better description – had a honey-combed effect.

Styling that caught the imagination

However, its contemporary, quirky styling won many fans as did the equipment levels. Standard features included a heated rear screen, two-speed wipers, a dual-band radio and reclining seats (vinyl initially, before being replaced in late 1976-’77 by half vinyl, half cloth items).

History has, of course, shown the Achilles’ Heel of these cars to be rust – particular areas of death for the 120Y being the inner wing trumpets, but no metal part of a 120Y could really call itself unlikely to succumb. It was a shame because the mechanicals of the little Datsun would happily whirr on for many years after the body had long given up the ghost – and they were always driven to the scrapyard.

While the lack of engine choice may seem unusual today, the wide Datsun range, had something for everyone. It spanned the front-wheel-drive Cherry 100A and 120A, Sunny 120Y, Violet 140J and 160J, Bluebird 160B and 180B up into the larger executive class Laurels and Cedrics was topped off by the 260Z. Choice enough for everyone…

And it was over…

To summarise, then, it was the whole package that brought increasingly disillusioned UK motorists to, not only the 120Y, but to Japanese cars in general and a tide that in true King Canute-like fashion, we were unable to turn.

Would you have bought this or an Allegro?

Keith Adams


  1. If you want to see why the Marina struggled then look no further than here. A tidy, sensible car that unlike a Marina was well built and well equipped and where delivery didn’t depend on the unions’ not striking.

  2. A popular car Stateside as well, particularly the hatchback. With Ford offering the Pinto and GM offering the Chevrolet Vega, the B210’s appeal was the same as it was in the UK…a better-built, well-equipped car that offered more than the domestic competition. That clutch and shifter were welcomed by drivers who were new to or reacquainting themselves with shifting for themselves, too.

  3. Just a lovely little car that had all the bits as standard.
    But lets not forget Mr Octav Botnar , Who love him or hate him had the drive and the vision to market and sell these cars through a hungry dealer network that were paid excellent bonuses for achieving goals etc.
    It all seems a bit lame now the trade

  4. Indeed, you can be as ‘into’ cars as you want, the feeling of frustration and disappointment as the starter-motor just click click clicks on a winters morning, soon washes away any romance! The 120Y didn’t just do it’s job though, it did it well too.

  5. These were everywhere by the late ’70s. They had a reputation for being totally trustworthy – when British cars were anything but. Maybe it’s a pity that did so much damage to BL, but they also laid the foundations for the nissan plant at Sunderland.

  6. these cars scared the big three in the USA witless in the 70’s oil crisis and shown the uk what a right first time everytime,no if,buts or maybes or any messing around all about how to make a reliable car(although they rusted away)

  7. @malcolm danby

    There is a story that one July- just before the new registration letter- that the transporter drivers decided to hold the motor industry to ransome by striking, refusing to deliver new cars of any make to dealers and blocking the entrances to the storage compounds. Aparently rather than looking on helplessly like the executives of other manufacturers Octav Botner hired a team of contractors and his own fleet of transporters, then in the middle of the night demolished the rear wall of the compound- removed all of his cars, re-built the wall and had brand new cars ready for customers on August 1st.

    Another reason why Datsun had 6% of the market by the end of the seventies.

  8. The Cars That Time Forgot has a feature on this model.

    The high basic spec (heater & radio as standard) is mentioned as a plus, as well as being a good cold starter.

    The cons were a very plasticky interior lacking in space & poor roadholding. Long term rust isn’t mentioned.

    The the style of many 1970s Japanese cars seemed a little oddball, as if some of Gerry Anderson’s model makers had been moonlighting in the design depts of Datsun, Toyota, Honda etc. scaling down some American designs while adding their own touches.

    The 120Y is one car that wouldn’t have looked out of place as a background vehicle in Thunderbird or Captain Scarlet.

    • I lived in Australia from 1981 to 1985 – my first car was a hand-me-down 120Y. There was no problem with rust in frost-free Sydney, and I didn’t have any problems with roadholding in the dry. In the wet, the combination of rear-wheel drive and narrow tyres made roadholding an entirely different proposition. However, it didn’t rain that often.

  9. The remarkable kick-in-the-teeth to this story is that the engines were copies of the A-Series, not just copies, but better, no oil leaks! In fact a lot of owners of Minors and Midgets have made good use of these engines overseas as replacements for the A Series. This Datsun was the very car along with a previous Mazda 1500 Luce (1965) that turned my father from buying British to buying Japanese despite my maternal grandfather having spent 4 years in a POW camp in Changi. I learnt to drive in the 140Y, and my wife when we met had a Datsun 180U SSS (the one with twin SU-copy carbs) and went like the proverbial.

    The same engines were still in production until about three years ago in the 1400 Bakkie (Ute/Pick-Up) in South Africa.

    The 60/70s rwd Datsuns and Toyotas are great classics, far nicer imho than some of the rubbish being produced in the UK which rusted just as quickly, if not faster, and were either difficult to work on (Mini/1100) or so out of date as to be laughable.

  10. Looking with fresh eyes, the styling (steel-drum inspired wheel trims and top-heavy stance aside) is no worse than the Allegro, or anything offered up by Hillman/Chrysler (hints of Avenger there?. The interior is no worse than that of an Avenger or HC Viva, and certainly head and shoulders above a Polski-Fiat!

  11. The Sunny was a dreadful car in every way but one. It’s sole redeeming feature was reliabilty.

    When was the last time you saw one on a UK road ?

  12. @16

    The thing is reliability was (and still is) the main selling point for those people who have no real passion for cars. A rakish body and sublime handling are cold comfort when your car won’t start in the morning.

  13. My parents had 2 of the Nissan 1400 bakkies from new. Lovely little pick-up that went like stink.

    The 1400 engine could be slotted rather neatly into a Morris Minor giving it credible perfomance too.

  14. My dad had a 1975 Datsun 160B from about 1977 to 1982, just like this but in red, with the same wheeltrims.


    From what I remember, unlike the Simca 1000 we traded it in for, it never broke down, however one day in 1982 the door mirror fell off leaving a huge hole. On further inspection the entire car was rotten so it was scrapped. And it was drove there.

    I think the registration was IIA 72 which would be worth a fortune now if he had kept it probably.

  15. Exactly Mark. A lot of enthusiasts are dismissive of cars like Primeras and even stuff like the HHR diesel because it’s not “exciting”. Thing is, they sold, and sold well because you knew it would work. No-one wants to buy a new car with their money and have it turn in to a massive money-pit.

  16. Indeed these were good sellers as the B-210 in the USA/Canada. The compeated well with the Toyota Corolla and American made ‘small’ cars like the Pinto, AMC Germelin, and defintetly better than the Chevy Vega. Many were driven hard with little maintainance and rusting shortened their lives. Also most in the USA had automatic transmissions and early Japanese transmissions were junk. I believe the B-210 here were available in a 4 Dr. Sedan (Saloon), 2 dr. sedan, 3 dr Hatch and 4 dr. Station Wagon (Estate) models.

  17. Excellent article Mark. The 70s Datsuns were a relevation to the british motorist, once they got past the stigma of owning a japanese car. I wonder if history will repeat itself with Chinese cars, particuarly as now it is difficult to seperate most modern cars on reliability. Perhaps the best advert for Datsun was the bad press that firm cars tended to attract.

  18. I didn’t realise at the time how similar the saloon (and estate) styling was to the Hillman Avenger. The Datsun is rather more fussy in the detailing IMO, but they could almost have been based on the same design!

  19. I had the later B310 in the fastback estate style, was my first car. It was the post-facelift version on an X-plate, needless to say by the time I got it as a 14 year old car the paint was all that was holding it together! I think underneath the skin it was the same car, the only engineering change was to coil springs on the back.

    Have fond memories of thrashing it around the country lanes, but the lifeless steering was a liability, I put it through a hedge on an icy road, it just gave no clue when the wheels were about to give way. Yet always amazed me how smooth the engine was for a pushrod unit, it ran as sweet as a nut, until I blew the head gasket!! I didn’t shed any tears when I sent it to the scrapper……

  20. I loved the transatlantic styling when I was a kid of all the Datsuns……If only BL would have litened to Spen King when he remarked ‘we need to watch those Japanese’ [sic] The rest they say, is history. Shame about the Juke though!

  21. A shame that other than the expensive (but admittedly good) GTR / 370Z, the current Datsun/Nissan range has nothing other than SUVs and city cars.

  22. I had the later more square model 1979 I think. That was’nt just a face lift it also had coil springs on the back.
    The engine was smooth and could not be heard at idle. The rest of the car just crumbled around it!
    Served me well though

  23. @ WILL M. I belive that as major share holders in Nissan, Renault have the policy that Nissans will make SUV’s and so on, as you said, and Renault would concentrate on more run of the mill stuff. I think Reanault are also using Nissan to pioneer the electric cars too.

  24. My Aunt had one from new, a three door P reg in black to which she later had some gold stripes added a-la JPS Lotus F1 – my Unles was and still is an F1 nut. As kids we loved riding in it as it looked great, had a US style (we thought!) interior and that strangely attractive typical Datsun warble from the engine. It soldiered on for years until in the mid 80s the floor rusted out and the garage persuaded her to scrap it. She replaced it with a rather soul-less Audi.
    Happy days.

  25. BSD

    All the things that all og you described in the above replies happened here in Israel in the late 60′-eary to late 70′-of course in a smaller scale.

    The only japanese car company that did not fear from the arab boycott was Subaru,and as such,it dominated the roads of Israel until Daihatsu arrived in 1983Mitsubishi in 1988,and all the rest companies in the early 90’s!

    In the late 60′ the subaru 360 begun selling in Israel,then came the FF1 in saloon&estate,and in the early 70’s arived the Rex and the Leone 1400&1600 in sedan,coupe and estate with 4&5sp. manual and 3sp. auto.

    Not to mention the 4X4 estate…

    and after the facelift of 1976 or 1977 (if i recall) the brat (pickup) arrived.

    And it dominated the roads from the same reasons you all describe-total reliability,lost of standars equipment,it always started-even in winter cold-and it did not rust-even in the humid weather of Tel-aviv etc!!!

    Until Mitsubishi arrived with the Lancer&Jalant in 1988,most cars in Israel were Subarus-private owners,taxis,driving school vehicles,wherever you looked you saw a Subaru!

    I remember that in 1987 i took driving lessons,and the car was a 1986 Subaru Leone 1600 Manual.

    A very easy car to adjust to and drive.

    and maybe because of that it sold so many cars here,becaise the average Mr.Israeli wanted a reliable car that will start at any time,will see the garage only when needing the annual maitenance,will not consume a lot of fuel-and that will not rust!!!

    Many old Subarus-even from the late 70′ onwards (meaning Leone,Brat,Justy,E10 and later E12 [Micro vans] and even the Rex 600&700 of the early 80’s) are still in everyday use-unbeliveable!

  26. 5 speed boxes were in the later B310 series from 78 onwards (mainly the coupé with A14 engine then later A15)

  27. My (less than fond) memories of the 120y

    a) Eye watering ugliness pustulated with a vomitous colour palette
    b) Vinyl seats that smelt like wet dog in winter and that you literally had to peel yourself off in summer.
    c) rusty bits of them falling off going over speed humps
    d) Comedy size pea shooter exhaust pipe
    e) They all emitted tonnes of blue smoke

    At least the Marinas were still in one piece after 10 years in NZ. The Datsuns literally fell apart. Truly horrid cars and one I would not shed a tear for. Ever.

  28. Haha, no. They were just a really horrible car.

    In NZ we do not salt our roads, so the Brit cars like the Marina, Allegro, Princes, Triumph 2000 while being somewhat dodgy in the mechanicals dept actually held together very well. – The fact so many good and not very rusty examples left even now is a testament to this fact. The early Datsuns (and Toyotas) on the other hand literally fell to bits with rust.

    In fact, I am 100% telling the truth when I say that in the early 1980’s both Toyota and Datsun made national headlines because some of their cars were failing Warrant Of Fitness tests at 2 years old due to rust! And back then to fail, you pretty much had to have the bottom falling out of your car…

  29. Mark #24 – actually, they all had rev’ counters, but the saloons and estates hid theirs under a blank plastic cover, in case the grannies (target customers) got confused!

  30. I heard a rumour recently that nissan we planning to revive the Datsun brand as a budget brand – any one else heard the same? My Dad had a white 120Y estate and loathed it, blaming poor road manners. A few years later he bought a Datsun 240KGT Skyline coupe – he was really cautious given his 120Y experience – but the 240 soon became his all time favourite car

  31. I was a Nissan salesman in the 70’s and sold hundreds and hundreds of thses cars made a fortune money that I still get the benefit from today. I also still get the odd person who stops me in the street and tells me that the Datsun I sold them was the most reliable car they ever owned.

  32. @Ken Strachan – Ha, the 3 saloons I had that had a clock there instead then must have been a one-off (or 3 off), seriously though, the rev counters from coupes are now a common retro-fitment to the surviving ones.

  33. In the U.S. it was simply called the B-210. We only got the two and four door sedans along with the hatchback coupe. In the beginning the basic two door was marketed as the B-210 Honey Bee which basically amounted to racing stripes and the Honey Bee Logo. It was similar to how American car companies would take a basic compact and dress it up like a muscle car (i.e. the Plymouth Duster Twister which looked like the Duster 340 but had a six cylinder engine).

    To my recollection the typical Honey Bee was yellow or orange. The rest of the line up was somewhat more deluxe relatively speaking. Here is a Honey Bee I found on Japan Nostalgia Car:


  34. One of my Uncles had a coupe in a random bogey green colour, I recall me my brother and two cousins being squeezed in the back of it. He replaced it with a maroon landcrab 1800… A much older (but bigger!) car.

  35. I learned to drive in one – I have no firm memories other than it being an utterly joyless experience to climb inside. The all black plastic interior and tiny rear windows, weird smell – it was much like I imagine being buried alive would feel. I seem to think the gearshift was pretty good though. Its really another piece ironic 1970s crap memorabilia – a bit liking have orange and brown curtains and listening to Bohemian Rhapsody on an 8 track stereo (or having a russet brown Allegro to be honest)

  36. fabulous cars. Don’t remember last time I saw one in the UK, but saw a pristine red 3-door estate in Lagos, Portugal, last week (quite a few decent old Japanese cars if you keep your eyes open)

  37. Did these have a funny whining first gear? Rather like it had a straight cut first gear..
    My neighbour had one, and someone stole and crashed a brown one into the house a few doors up from my parents back in the 80s.

  38. My brother owned two Cherry’s in the mid 70s, then a Sunny 140Y coupe in 1978. His experiences influenced me to buy a Cherry N10 hatchback in 1979, then my Dad bought a Cherry 1.2 Coupe (also N10 series) in 1980. That was fitted with the same 1171cc engine as the B210 Sunny and produced 52bhp (not 69bhp as stated above)

  39. @29 The Juke (Puke? Joke?) seems to be a continuation of the woefully weird styling all Datsuns had in the early 70s – maybe it’s a heritage car. We keep threatening to order the new guy at work a Juke, in brown, for his company car…….

  40. Reliable and well equipped, but while there are plenty of owners clubs for the supposedly inferior British cars of the times, does one exist for the Datsun Sunny? Early ones had rust issues as bad as a Vauxhall Victor, but once the rust problem was sorted, the Japanese cars beat their European competitors hands down on equipment, pricing and reliability.

  41. Yep, especially with hindsight, it’s hard not to see the huge advantage the 120Y offered over BL and many other European offerings – great reliability, high equipment levels, smooth & easy to drive…. However, I remember being mortified, when a young lad, at my grandfather’s interest in these characterless machines.

  42. @Colm – yep they did have a strange whine on the over-run and a very characteristic smell inside, like a cross between petrol and plastic. I remember getting mine in 2003 when i collected it and it instantly triggered a ‘smell memory’ from my grandads old one back in the 80s

  43. @Mark. Despite my profound hatred for the 120Y, if any of you want to see this car glorified on the silver screen, go hire ‘Under the mountain’ on DVD It is a New Zealand film based on a book of the same name by Maurice Gee. I imagine most of you will never heard of it, but it is actually quite a good flick that is in the same genre as Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings etc

    It features a sick green 120Y that even manages to tow a boat!

  44. living in asia, it’s not rare to see them still running around.

    not a regular occorance, but every few months.

    still see lots of 80’s jap cars goign strong, never see a british car though!

  45. The people who used to drive these (and the Sunny->Almera lineage) now driving round in Nissan Qashqows.
    (A car that is increasingly usually badly driven in my opinion. Perhaps the sheer bulk of it gives the driver an impression of invincibility?)

  46. This brings back some horrid memories! I remember travelling from Johannesburg to Swaziland in a Datsun 140Y (we did have the choice of a bigger engine in SA). The one thing it needed and didn’t have for Africa was a suspension! I will never forget crashing from one pothole to the next for 600km!
    It was a truly uncomfortable beast!

  47. The SA one’s were a bit of a strange thing though; L14 engine (as seen in the 140J over here) which was a tad heavier, yet the next model – B310 – had A14 power! strange

  48. I remember selling several of these back in 1980, one to a young 18 year old squaddie who had fell in love with a bright red saloon with the dreadfull black pvc trim!.
    Never a problem engine ran like clockwork but the front wings rotted away all along the top. Another was a bathroom turquoise blue and another in a horrible dark ochre type yellow, i think the engines were blue in colour if memory serves me?

  49. While the early Datsuns rusted badly, I do believe the Japanese cured this problem quickly and were the first to offer a six year rust protection warranty. Also by the early 80s cars like the Mitsubishi Galant and Honda Accord were making inroads into the Cortina and Princess market as they were so good. My dad had a Galant 1800 and it drove like a big six Rover and was as well equipped as a Jaguar. In the four years he owned it nothing rusted, dropped off or snapped and it never failed to start. He said the Japanese by the mid eighties were light years ahead of European manufacturers for quality and reliability and the rusty Datsun image was fading away,.

    • Both my Cherry’s were treated to Cadulac rustproofing when new. The Cherry 1.3 coupe was kept for 4 years and rust wasn’t a problem.

  50. The hatchback & coupe were the same thing surely? My Uncle had a P-reg 120Y estate in about 1985 and when it was having its MOT, the tester stopped the test and marked the car down as a death trap. The reason he gave was that the engine was about to drop out of the car, due to the vast corrosion. My Uncle’s response:- “We went down to London in it last week…” Priceless!

  51. The Sunny went on to become a driving instructors fave, simply because of the ease of driving, and the reliability.

  52. Datsuns were reliable and they had good brakes, other than that they were horrendous, the chassis dynamics were awful – not in the same league as even some BL stuff in this respect.

    Value and reliability are obviously important, but these cars were not great cars – just reliable cars. Today you have the likes of Hyundai/KIA knocking out good value cars which are as nice to drive and as capable handling and ride-wise as the competition – the Japanese must be shaking in their boots now. The South Koreans have sensibly hired many European engineers and designers, so you get Japanese-like reliability with European chassis dynamics and classy interiors. Honda should have bought Rover – the result would have been the same – assuming they would have let the Rover engineers do their stuff. The vast majority of Hondas today still have poorly developed chassis dynamics – there’s no excuse for it other than stubborn engineers who do what they do because it’s the Honda way.

  53. Glenn Aylett, I think you’ll find the Nissan Bluebirds (Stanzas) were still merrily rusting away in the early 90s. They certainly had not cured the problem by the mid 80s. Of course the early 90s saw the arrival of the original Nissan Primera – one of the best handling front wheel drive chassis ever made – the press ignored it and its sophisticated suspension because it has the “wrong” badge. The later Primera had simpler suspension fitted because the early cars were not getting the credit or sales they deserved, so Nissan thought “why should we bother fitting expensive suspension if the press ignore it?” the Primera became yet another mediocre Japanese saloon. The Mondeo got all the credit for transforming the sector when the Primera was the car that actually broke the mould. Ironically Mondeo was going to be the new Mazda 626 until Ford nicked it and forced Mazda to soldier on with their old car!

    • The first UK built Bluebirds were actually sold as MK2 Stanza’s in other countries inc Japan. There was already a “boxy” Bluebird beforehand in the UK up to 1986

      Perhaps Nissan thought the name Bluebird was more known in the UK than Stanza?

      • Nissan did some odd marketeering around the same time, calling the one car known as the Pulsar in many markets the Sunny here, but there was another model called the Sunny sold elsewhere.

  54. I recall a quote from in’Wheels’ (Australian car mag) saying ” one can only feel sorry for the steel being formed
    into that shape” Or words to that effect. At least here in Aus we were spared the horror of those HORRID wheel trims.

    They were a gutless, soulless POS.Shed no tears for the 120Y.

  55. My mum had one and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Until she wrote it off on the M6. Our unsecured sheepdog Judy was propelled into the front footwell but luckily suffered no harm.

    I lived in Australia quite recently and was heartened to see quite a few still chugging about the sun-soaked streets of Adelaide.

  56. What on earth is this doing on a site dedicated to celebrating British cars? Unsung hero? This was the enemy!

    I’m all in favour of anyone enjoying any odd, unloved cars they like but the uniqueness of this site lies in it being the one source that records a balanced and well-informed history of BLMCARG. What’s next? Protons? SEATs? Cadillacs?

    As for Datsuns, the reason they sold was because they were cheap (Japanese exports were subsidised by a tax on domestic sales), generally bought as an alternative to the likes of Lada or a secondhand Ford. They were well-equipped to compensate for being sub-standard dynamically.

    Until the late 90s, very few Japanese cars were much cop at all in terms of design or ability.

  57. A bitter epilogue Auntie Ian. Bitter 😆 You will notice it is in the section called ‘The Rivals’ 😉

  58. Not sure where bitterness comes into it Mark? Just pointing out the silliness of this type of article headlining on the front page of the site dedicated to British cars.

    It’s a bit like seeing David Beckham on the front cover of Motorsport because he owns a Bentley – irrelevant. Or are there Datsun sites out there stuffed with articles celebrating British motors?

    As I said, this site was the one resource of accurate, balanced and well-informed info about BL.

    You may not like it, but the truth is the Japanese bought market share by selling cars on the value-for-money ticket to people who, for the most part,couldn’t stretch to a new reg. and why not?

    If reliability was the big issue with car buyers, there would be no French motor industry.

    Instead, it’s Renault who control Nissan these days…

    (sorry, I can’t operate those smiley winking things!)

  59. great pictures but you can see why it all went so wrong for bl, Strikes, quality control was shody and internal bickering with the management and unions. BL took their eye off the ball and in came the japanese and the british car market has never been quite the same again. All for the better i say,as the employees and the unions ruined everything.Now the new invaders are the koreans and possibly the indians!!!!….

  60. as of today, the 120y still looks good thanks to the manufuctres. Looking to see more of this vehicle.

  61. Bought one way back when for Fourty rock solid Dutch Guilders, $ 20, because I was restoring a Jaaaag XJ6 series II and an Italian Innocenti Cooper 1300.
    Drove it for over one and a half year.
    It was called Dirk the Datsun or Dirk
    Looked like a wreck, salt had eaten the lower part of the frontwings and door panel, so it looked like a falddering chicken doing 120 kilometers on the motorway.
    Always started, always in a good mood, everybody ran around in Dirk, in winterime had to jumpstart Dad’s Princess 2200, our neighbours Princess 1800 and the Rover SD1 across the street and the odd NSU or VW.
    We hated Japanese cars, mates and me always drove British, but through Dirk we started to appreciate them, Dirk never needed oil, no sparkplugs or leads, Dirk just did his job.

    After Dirk died ( he was driven through a brick wall by a mate) I was very sad.
    Dirk was completely covered in stickers by neighbourhood kids and had a body so dented that even the most severe taxi driver would back off and give way to you.

    In hinsight it is completely understandable why Japan took over the world.
    They simply made what people wanted, cheap, reliable transportation that simply did its job.

    I miss Dirk.

  62. I agree, although they rusted the refinement and interior quality was unheard of in any european car,Citreon had its quirkiness and engineering answers to engineering questions no-one asked and Peugeot built almost bombproof cars.

    BL just built poor quality cars compromised by strikes,engineering and packaging.
    Every Datsun had a radio had refined torquey engines and did not break down, even the Cherry 100A was an excellent example on how to build a mini,with the clutch a twenty minute replacement job.
    The Bluebird 180B was way better than a E21 3 series,in terms of equipment and the 200L was as smooth as silk.
    And how cool this 120Y looks now!

  63. On/Off topic:
    Funny to see some “Aha; I did NOT know that” facts about the motor industry.
    – The engines of the Datsun 120A being copies of the BL a-series
    – The Mondeo was to be a Mazda 626.
    – Heard somewhere that a particular Aston Martin should’ve been a Jaguar. Or the other way around. (I googled it; AM DB7 used to be a Jaguar F-type/XJS, thanks to Ford).

    Are there more of these interesting facts? I love those!

  64. @Paul the Van

    Nissan started off building the Austin 7 under licence.
    The seed planted by the then mighty British car industry is now the company producing big sellers like the marmite Qashqai.

    Jag and AM had a good bit of crossover under Ford, I thought the original XK was part AM too?

    Where is the source for the Mondeo to be a 626?
    Ford did a bit of sharing with their subsidiary Mazda, the 121 for a while was a blatant Fiesta, the Probe and MX-6 shared a lot, in the US the Festiva was an old 121 and in Australasia/SA/S.America they had rebadged Mazdas as Fords.

    I originally incorrectly thought years ago, given the Nissan tie up with the Terrano / Maverick, that the Mondeo shared much with the Primera. Utterly untrue, but the Nissan was an underrated car. (Similarly I thought the last gen Transit shared something with the Iveco Daily given similar styling and the buyout of Ford’s truck/heavy van division. Again, unfounded and untrue.)

  65. Used to own a 78 120Y coupe. Bought it for £500 back in 1983.
    I would have been 19 back then and my mates in their 1.3L Escorts laughed when I appeared home with it – especially as it was a “lovely” metallic brown colour. But then It did have tinted glass, a heated rear window, front headrests, a rev counter, half cloth seats, a clock, 2 speed fan, carpeted boot…. I could go on.
    Some of them even had to swallow their pride when I had to jump start their cars in winter, must admit the Datsun never let me down.
    Kept it for the best part of two trouble free years and traded it for a Capri 2.0 S…..Bodie from The Professionals has a lot to answer for !!

  66. The Sunny’s trick was to price itself, there was only one trim option at the time, just below a basic Escort, but have the same level of equipment as an Escort Ghia, which cost a lot more. Jeff M is probably right about his Sunny, it was light years ahead of an Escort 1.3L in equipment terms, and also was more economical and better made. I think as well by the second generation the bodies were protected by rust as a few seemed to last well into the nineties.

  67. I bought one of these in 1974. I wanted to buy british and looked at the opposition and to be honest it was a no contest. The british cars of the time had little style, were poorly equipped, very poorly finished and gave very poor fuel economy. After my first long run I took the car back as it returned just over 50mpg to be told to my astonishement “nothing wrong with it, they do that”. My previous car(British Marina) gave about 28mpg. The fuel saving was enough to almost pay for the car so a no brainer. I found just three areas the were not great. The tyres fitted had no grip but the car was great when fitted with Dunlops, the jap bulbs kept blowing and had to be changed and the front seats became very uncomfortable on a long journey. This was probably the best all round car I have owned, and I think would sell well if reintroduced. When I changed it I bought British and what a mistake to make.

  68. I think Dacia are the modern answer to Datsun, even the name sounds vaguely similar. Price your cars lower than anyone else and offer a car that can seat four adults and their luggage for a price £ 500 lower than a city car, use proven Renault engines that deliver economy and reasonable peformance and are fairly reliable, and keep things simple( the basic model Sandero lacking electric windows and central locking, less to go wrong). Also while the basic £ 5995 Sandero Access is rather spartan, the next trim level up is as well equipped as its rivals and is still as cheap as city car like a Suzuki Celerio.

  69. My second car was a 120y. Having started with an Escorts 1.3 pop plus, with vinyl roof, the reliability of the Datsun was a revelation. I had travelled around in it for a couple of years when my mate had it, so when he inherited his mum’s Polo, I took the Datsun. It was 16 years old with 24k on the clock in white. Other than the brake callipers sticking and an occasional where the brake fluid ran out it never let me down. At its Mot I had to replace the bonnet with a brown replacement and later the nearside wing rusted so I fitted a high vis orange one, which gave it character.
    The hatchback at least was horribly perched and anything above 45 led to shaking. The seats offered minimal support, very thin with peel yourself off plastic. Still it did its job until I could afford to move up to a Maestro.

  70. I worked as a junior salesman in a Datsun dealers for a couple of years. They were utterly dependable and the build quality was streets ahead of the UK products. That little 1171 cc engine used to run like a Swiss watch. It was not unusual for somebody to try to start it when it was already running. Tin worm was the only problem and rustproofing was vital, particularly as we had proper winters back then and used huge amounts of salt on the roads. The original tyres were nothing special, I recall them being nylon and grip wasn’t the best. After a couple of years our head office decided to move the Datsun franchise to another branch which had been under performing with Renault. We got Talbot! Alpines and Horizons sounding the engines had the death rattle and bits of fluff/bugs under the new paintwork. Needless to say, I lost the repeat custom I had built up and decided to move on. A B210 model would be my first choice of classic car to enjoy in my retirement. The other branch closed, despite having the Datsun franchise. Some folks criticise this generation of Datsuns, but the next model was a very refined car and showed that the Japanese were adapting well to European market expectations. As for the present generation of Nissans, they leave me cold.

  71. @ Bill Scott, modern Nissans, while good to drive and stylish, are overpriced for what they are, and reliability surveys suggest the once invincible reputation these cars had is fading. ( Some people are blaming the link with Renault, whose cars aren’t known for their reliability). I had a K13 Micra, which while the engine and electrics were trouble free, needed a new clutch at 19,000 miles, apparently a common fault on these cars and something you shouldn’t expect until the car has done at least 50,000 miles.

  72. @Glenn Aylett My brother in law worked at Nissan Sunderland for 30+ years, right from day one of production. At first, their quality controls on component suppliers were incredibly stringent. He reckoned that changed with the tie up to Renault. 19k on a clutch is down to one of two things… quality issues or riding the clutch, I expect the former applies in your case. our family runabout has done 147000 miles and has the original clutch. (2007 fiat Panda 1.2) Sorry to say, none of the current line up floats my boat.

    • @ Bill Scott, it failed 6 months after I bought the car, but I did check on Honest John’s website and premature clutch failure was common on 11 plate Micras. Also there are reports of EGR failures on diesel Nissans( Renault engines) and transmission problems. A shame as Nissans in the eighties and nineties were bombproof, it wasn’t unknown for Bluebirds used as taxis to rack up 200,000 miles with no problems and the second generation, Sunnderland built Micra is still a common sight now.

  73. I still have good memories of both my Datsun Cherry’s & Sunny B11 Coupe. I liked the whole Datsun range back then, inc the Violet & Bluebirds… and of course the 280ZX as a 24 year old lad! I agree the current Nissan range doesn’t excite me either. A shame, as I don’t doubt their build quality.

    • The 280 ZX was Nissan’s grand tourer. Purists moaned that it was a softened version of the 240 Z, but the 280 ZX was more practical, luxurious, and the 2.8 six made it a quiet and powerful long distance cruiser. I’d have had one over a Capri just to be different.

      • Right Glenn, I still have the 1979 280ZX brochure. As you say, many preferred the original 240Z but the 280 was more refined. I travelled in a 280C Estate car in Iraq in 1981 and think that had the similar 2.8 six engine (140bhp) It also sounded smooth & powerful on the long Iraqi roads…

        • The 2.8 six was the biggest Datsun engine at the time and was used for the 280ZX and 280C. It wasn’t intended for brute power, more for cruising long distances at high speed.

          • Exactly Glenn. Hence my comments about the 280C cruising 300 miles north from Baghdad to Mosul on the long desert type roads

  74. My Dad has had a Nissan Qashqai for 6 years & it’s hardly had anything wrong with it. After years of mostly Vauxhalls for company cars, & a nearly new Ford Mondeo it was the first car he had brought from new.

    The dealership couldn’t have been more helpful & good aftersales care as well.

    My nearly new Micra has managed 18 months with nothing going wrong at all.

    • Good to hear. Most people would be surprised that in modern Nissans there are quite a lot of platform shared with Renault, when a lot of people say they would never think of buying a French car.

      A work colleague got a new Micra and it’s quite big, can see why they would axe the Pulsar when this more or less covers the B and C segments.

      • Nissan already axed the Note in Europe as their mid range cars were overlapping & to free up a production at Sunderland for more Jukes to be made.

      • Back in 1979 the “Datsun Cherry” in the UK was named Nissan Pulsar in Japan. The current Pulsar is obviously bigger – like the Micra is… and just about every car in that segment.

      • I think it’s more that the Pulsar was a sales flop. Renault after all still produce both the Clio and Megane.

  75. I remember being in one in Malaysia in the early 1980s and the plasticky seats. Later on I rode in one in Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s, which was assembled twenty years earlier when it was Rhodesia – Ford, GM and BMC had pulled out after sanctions were imposed and the Japanese, along with the French, Germans and Italians, moved in.

  76. Read quite a number of MG Midgets and Austin-Healey Sprites received both engines and gearboxes (particularly the 5-speed) from the RWD Nissan Sunny models over the years, being a pretty common conversion.

    Despite the small sportscar being under threat at the time due to US legislation, it is a shame Datsun/Nissan never developed its own Sunny-based equivalent of the Midget/Sprite below the Datsun Sports and Z-Cars. By virtue of its history one would have expected Nissan to step up to the plate in spearheading a revival of the small sportscar, picking up the baton dropped by the aging Midget/Sprite rather than Mazda later on with the Lotus Elan-inspired Mazda MX-5.

    What am particularly interested to know is whether the Sunny B210 / 120Y up to the B310 used the same long-running Nissan S platform (or a derivative of it) as the larger Silvia, which remained in production until 2002? Since a shortened lightened platform would have been very useful for a small Nissan sportscar in the same way the first two generations of the Mazda MX-5 platform was said to be loosely derived from the first two generations of the Mazda RX-7..

  77. As previous commentators have noted it became the driving instructors car of choice because of its reliability – previously many like me learned to drive on a BMC 1100. Back then a number of those who weren’t into cars bought the car they learned to drive on so each sale to an instructor probably generated another 5-10 (?) sales. What we’d now call the influencer effect.

    The other thing, also previously noted, was the factory-fit radio. “But people want to be free to choose their own” was the folk wisdom. No: most people just wanted to listen to Radio 1/2/3/4/Capital etc and didn’t want the hassle of organising an aftermarket fit.

  78. Interesting historical perspective. Personally, I would take an Allegro every time or better still a Viva HC [obviously]. I remember the Sunny 120Y very well and it was clever marketing that was its main achievement in the UK. Much was made of the standard equipment which really centred on having a radio as standard [very rare at the time] what wasn’t made clear was it was the cheapest AM only piece of junk that was no better than a crystal set in a plastic box! In the trade the joke was it was so well equipped it came with a dustpan & brush to sweep-up the rust, this wasn’t just caused by having no corrosion protection but because the body metal was so thin it was almost transparent, Mechanically they were certainly reliable but if anything did go wrong the parts prices were normally at least 3-times those of domestic products and also accounted for the much higher insurance costs, aftermarket pattern parts were almost non-existent at the time. The Sunny was also an utter dog to drive, seat padding was measured in microns and room front & rear was cramped even for midgets, on the road its ride & handling made a Marina seem taut and well-sorted. Like the rest of the Datsun range [except perhaps the 240Z] it was a turd on wheels and in Europe it was mainly very gullible Brits that bought it so whilst its nice to look back for nostalgia sake its always best to keep one’s feet planted firmly on the ground.

    • @ Vauxpedia, your Chevette was a better car, particularly in three door form or as an estate. Yes the Sunny was reliable. but early ones were rotboxes and not very exciting to drive. A three door Chevette looked the part, had trusted Viva mechanicals underneath. drove well and seemed to resist rust quite well, N reg ones still being seen in the late eighties. Always a myth when people say all British cars from the seventies were unreliable and badly made.
      Also better Japanese cars existed. I always found Toyotas had a better finish and resisted rust better and the original Honda Accord was an excellent car.

    • The 1983 Sunny finally moved over to fwd and was a much better car to drive than its predecessors and the rust problem had been beaten by then. Also the change to Nissan instead of Datsun seemed to herald a new era for the company as they launched the successful Micra supermini and planning permission was granted to build a new factory in Sunderland. Yet until the nineties with the second generation Micra and the Primera, which really moved Nissan forward, the cars were seen as reliable but rather naff and not as good to drive as European or some Japanese rivals.

  79. My 1983 Sunny B11 coupe was 7 years old when I sold it but still in good condition bodily & mechanically. It remained that way when I saw it around town for 2 – 3 years later.

    • @ Hilton D, by 1983 Nissan Datsun were making cars that were more European in feel and they seemed far more rust resistant, after the lack of driving flair, the main criticism of seventies Datsuns. Also the 1983 Toyota Corolla came along that had fwd and a five speed transmission and was seen as a big rival to the Sunny and was considered almost unbreakable.

  80. In some respects Nissan/Datsun (along with Peugeot to a lesser extent) gives a vague idea as to how BMC/BL (if the latter happens) could have gone down an altogether different yet fairly feasible trajectory from the 1960-1970s and beyond for both its conventional RWD and transverse FWD models.

    Sure, the B110 / B210 was said to be inferior in other aspects against even the Marina. However it is roughly approximate to the original brief for the Marina as an Escort-sized 1100-1500cc car powered by A-Series and E-Series 4-cylinder engines (and envisaged with more sophisticated front suspension) before it grew into a belated cost-cut challenger to the mk2 Cortina prior to the launch of the mk3.

  81. The Sunny also spawned the Sunny Truck and Nissan 1400 B140 Bakkie as well as the Sunny Cab later the Nissan Vanette (not idea if the original Serena C23 is a possible heavily rebodied distant relation based on its mid/front-engined RWD layout), it is fascinating to see how much mileage Nissan got out of the RWD Sunny over many decades.

  82. That whole early 1970s range of Datsun cars were great. A relative owned a Datsun dealer and he said all that you needed to do for a PDI was clean ’em and check the levels. The only note of caution was that mechanically the were bullet proof, the bodywork was a different story. Many mechanically perfect cars were driven to the scrapyard following the early onset of the tinworm. I have fond memories of the 100A, 120Y and 240Z.

    • Yes it took a while for Datsun & the other Japanese manufacturers to improve their rust proofing, certainly by the 1980s it was a lot better.

  83. It seemed every Japanese manufacturer, even with the import limits, was targetting the British market by the early eighties and finding their niche. Subaru developed a small but loyal following in rural areas for their four wheel drive family cars and pick up trucks that were ideal for bad weather and off road use, but were cheaper and much nicer to drive than Land Rovers. Then there was Mitsubishi with their sporting saloons and coupes who were aiming their cars at more affluent buyers who wanted fully loaded cars with plenty of performance( a bit like a Japanese BMW). Also there were bit players like Daihatsu and Suzuki whose cars were sold on price, but because they were Japanese and reliable, dealers always managed to sell them to their local market.

  84. Datsun certainly offered some interesting cars in the 70s, a neighbour had a nice new metallic blue 200, not sure if it was a Violet or Bluebird, it had a two litre engine with a pair of SU-lookalike carbs, a 5 speed gearbox and IRS/PAS, all for the same sort of money as you would pay for a Marina.

    They kept it for a couple of years and then traded it for a two litre Mazda, which went rather well. The Mazda was considered to be a sort of Japanese BMW back then.

  85. The Japanese were tailoring their cars to different sectors of the market after starting with small family cars. Mazda used to make a 2 litre coupe version of the 626( a Cortina sized car) that looked very nice and could go quite quickly, and the Toyota Celica was winning sales in the Capri market.
    Only thing the Japanese, until the Lexus was introduced, could never do right was larger executive cars in the V6 class. The Toyota Crown, Nissan Datsun 280C and Mazda 929 looked like American police cars, were poor to drive and sold in penny numbers. No doubt the huge list of standard equipment, lower prices than European rivals and strong reliability might have tempted over the odd buyer wanting a V6 barge, but the cars were no match for a BMW or Mercedes and would have encouraged sniggers from owners of German luxury cars.

    • I remember most larger Japanese cars in the 1980s looked very American, with lots of chrome trim after it stopped being fashionable in Europe. The estates had a niche with larger families as they often had a 3rd row of seats in the boot.

      Suzuki seem to have gained a larger profile in the last decade or so, before then my local dealer was at semi-rural garage that also fitted tyres.

    • My Dad owned a Mazda RX4 (coupe) from 1973-78. The 929 saloon & coupe were the same body and trim, except having conventional 4 cylinder engines. IMHO the coupe was the nicer car.

      Agree with Glenn that the bigger Jap saloons looked very American copies. Not many sold in UK.

      • Mazda fitted a rotary engine into most of their range at one stage, then eventually the RX7 was the only one not with a conventional engine.

        Around 30 years ago I used to often see a 929 in the car park of my local library, even then it was a rare car, looking like a scaled up 626.

  86. Looking at the pics of the B210 Sunny also reminds me of my Father’s 1978 Toyota Corolla (especially the interior) of its time…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.