The 12 best Datsuns ever

Don't call them Nissans

Remember Datsun from the 'Land of the Rising Sun'?

Am I just messing with syllables or is there an actual resonance? Well, originally the name 'Datson' (yes, 'son') appeared on a new small car in 1931 from the Dat Motorcar Company - the suffix was intended to suggest 'Son of Dat'. When Nissan bought Dat Motorcar Company in 1934 (not 'that' but 'Dat' - I know, right?) it renamed it Datsun to honour the sun, represented as the red disc in the centre of the Japanese national flag known as Hinomaru, the 'circle of the sun'.

Between 1958 and 1986 Nissan badged its export vehicles as Datsuns, and that's how most of us came to know the brand. Everything reverted back to Nissan after that, until Datsun was relaunched as a budget car brand for emerging markets in 2013. However, we're going to ignore the Go — which emerged as the first modern Datsun, paying tribute to the Dat-Go (Dat's actual first automobile) — and focus instead on the dozen best Datsuns ever.

12. 1970 Cherry

Datsun’s first front-wheel drive car had a name inspired by Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees. Fittingly, it was rather adorable; small, lightweight, and that large C-pillar helping create that ‘eyeline’ side glass area that mimics the drawn eyes of Manga characters. The Cherry was succeeded by the Micra, but such was the affection for the name it was later brought back for the Datsun Pulsar in Europe.

11. 1970-1985 Datsun Sunny

Robust, rugged and reliable, the Datsun Sunny from the second generation (B110) through to the fifth generation B11 version was a staple of budget no-hassle car ownership. Those that have managed to survive corrosion, are still running around and working hard to bring sunshine to the lives motorists, especially in the developing world.

10. 1960-1980 Patrol 60

The Patrol is an off-roading icon for the Japanese firm and it’s been around since 1951. The second-generation Patrol ran for 20 years and was not only widely exported but also built in other markets, including South Africa and India (where it was called the Jonga P60). In America it was sold through Datsun dealerships and was even badged a Datsun in the Philippines. The more familiar third-generation 160 Patrol was the last one to carry Datsun badging in some markets, until 1984, although production continued till 1989.

9. 1979 Datsun Bluebird 910

The last of the rear-wheel drive Bluebirds, and the last to wear the Datsun badge, though only in the first half of its four-year run in most markets. The 910 was a handsome and solid machine with squared-off lines that gave it a similar appearance to the Ford Cortina Mark V of the same vintage, and about the same size. It wasn’t bad to drive either, thanks to its platform being shared with the second and third-generation (S130 & Z31) 280ZX and 300ZX.

8. 1980 Datsun Laurel

While the second-generation C130 Coupe (1972-77), with styling inspired by the Ford Gran Torino, looks the business and is popular with customisers, it’s actually the fourth generation C31 (1980-1984) that was a hit with both junior executives and boy racers of the day thanks to its lusty in-line sixes. There was even a turboed 2.0-litre six-cylinder.

7. 1979 Datsun Silvia S110

Also known as the Datsun 180SX and 200SX, as well as the Nissan Gazelle, and transformed into the mean-looking 240RS WRC rally car, later Nissan generations of these cars went on to become favourites with the drift community, thanks to the lively rear-wheel drive platform. Interestingly this model was originally mean to have a rotary engine but Mazda did it first with the Cosmo, and Nissan shelved the idea.

6. 1968 Datsun Bluebird 1600SSS P510

The third generation two and four-door Bluebird was launched in 1967 with a 1.3-litre engine. The styling and engineering was inspired by the BMW 02 series cars. Rear wheel drive and highly customisable, this car remains popular with tuners and restomod customisers even today. The 1600 SSS edition of 1968 with 100hp spawned a rally version that won the East-African Safari Rally in 1970 and secured it a permanent place in the affections of Nissan enthusiasts.

5. 1960 Datsun Fairlady

Known as the Datsun Sports or Datsun 1000 this little roadster was introduced in 1959 with a mere 37bhp and only 20 were made. But in 1960 the styling was tweaked to further resemble the Chevrolet Corvette (albeit scaled-down), it wore the Fairlady badge for the first time (the name was taken from the broadway musical My Fair Lady), now had 48hp and was exported to America. Nearly 300 were built.

4. 1963 Datsun Fairlady

The second generation of Datsun's small roadster was more European in styling and longer-lived. It ran till 1970 being offered first with a 1.5-litre motor producing 78hp, or 86 in later dual carburettor guise. In 1965 there followed a 1.6 with 97hp and finally a 2.0 from 1967 with 135hp. There was also a Competition packaged with performance carbs giving 150hp. Uniquely early models had a sideways third rear seat and there was a group of girls called the Miss Fairladys used to market the car.

3. 1973 Skyline 2000 GT-R C110

The 1973 C110 boasted 162hp from its straight six, but was killed off months after launch due to the '70s fuel crisis and stricter emissions standards. Sadly a fearsome looking race car concept exhibited in 1972 never saw action. Only 197 cars were built and these are often referred to as the Phantom GT-Rs. They're rare, valuable and highly sought-after so if you see one, it's probably a replica. The next GT-R would be the R32 arriving 16 years later.

2. 1969 Skyline 2000 GT-R C10

The legendary 1969 GT-R C10, or Hakosuka as it's known - the word being a portmanteau of Haku (Box) and Suka (Skyline) - is regarded as the father of the GT-R. Equipped with a 2.0-litre six-cylinder engine (S20) producing 162hp driving the rear-wheels through a limited slip differential, it was originally available as a four-door, but the coupe from 1971, is more popular with collectors. Inside were bucket racing seats, a three-spoke steering wheel and aluminium pedals. Nearly 2,000 were made and the C10 GT-R recorded over 50 race wins by 1972.

1. 1969 Datsun 240Z S30

Known as the Fairlady in Japan, to the rest of us it’s the progenitor of the Z cars, with the original 240Z being the purest and most desirable. As pretty as anything from Europe, the 240Z was cheaper, more modern and reliable making it the biggest selling sports car of its day, thanks in part to huge success in the USA. Widely considered to be instrumental in changing the image of Japanese cars globally, the 240Z is highly collectible now.


Want to show off your Datsun appreciation? Well, short of buying a car, we reckon you could do worse than this Datsun pencil case. Hey, it's a start.

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Comments (31)

  • You think Nissan corporate officers are reading this and scratching their head thinking how to turn around the company?

      1 year ago
    • Updating their cars would probably help, selling 10 year old interior. Looking especially at you 370Z.

        1 year ago
    • Absolutely. I read online they’re suppose to replace or update 70% of their vehicles in the next couple years.

        1 year ago
  • The 1979 Datsun 120Y , my mother handed down to me, will always have a place in my heart, because it was my first car. That does not stop it being rubbish. It was 5 years old when I acquired it . The bodywork was paper thin and corroded easily. It was a snail that got caned from the traffic lights, by a 1.1 Fiesta driven by a sixth form girl at my school( so zero credibility). It was not particularly reliable or cheap to maintain. In the summer heat , the pvc plastic clung to your legs If wearing shorts. The only good thing was the gear change!

      1 year ago
  • The best Datsun... 1978 160j sss /nissan violet/ 710

      1 year ago
  • In your opinion what is the best Datsun ever produced? @tribe

      1 year ago
  • What about the 120y

      1 year ago