The return of the stylish Datsun

An automotive icon of the '70s is back, decades after its parent company tried to kill it off.

By Mar 28, 2012 12:26PM

The Japanese auto giant Nissan (NSANY) is resurrecting the Datsun, the once-ubiquitous line of roadsters that had its heyday in Britain and America in the 1970s. The new Datsuns will be released in India, Russia and Indonesia as part of Nissan's push to expand in the fiercely competitive emerging markets. 

But the news is causing a buzz here, too, as nostalgic car owners recall the vehicles of their youth.

Why were Datsuns so popular? The peak of Datsun's popularity came in the 1970s as the Arab oil embargo of 1973 caused prices at the pump to spike. Datsuns stood out for being affordable and fuel-efficient and were "packed with up-to-the-minute technology" that enticed a younger crowd, says Ray Massey at Britain's The Daily Mail. Datsuns also featured a sporty look that reminded consumers of more costly BMWs (BAMXF) and Porsches (POAHY).

Why were Datsuns shelved? Nissan has owned the Datsun name since 1933, but it began fazing it out in 1981 "as part of a global strategy to strengthen the company name," says Caroline Winter at Bloomberg Businessweek. The decision "proved to be a disaster." Everyone in the West recognized Datsun, but few had heard of Nissan. The company's worldwide sales plummeted. Nissan likely lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and in the process fell behind its two main Japanese competitors, Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC).

So after all that, it's being brought back? Yes. Nissan wants to compete in cheaper markets but doesn't want to sully its current models with lower prices. So the automaker is dusting off the old brand and giving it another whirl. Nissan executives say the Datsun's reputation for being affordable is a perfect fit for emerging economies, where it plans to sell cars to consumers who are "up and coming" and "optimistic about the future." 

Will they be a hit? Datsuns still enjoy a degree of name and aesthetic recognition. And the middle class in Indonesia, India and Russia is expected to grow. But it will be hard competing with other cheap vehicles that have flooded the market, including the $3,000 Nano, which is manufactured by Indian car company Tata Motors (TTM).

Sources: Agence France-PresseThe Associated Press, Bloomberg BusinessweekThe Daily Mail

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Mar 28, 2012 4:11PM

Datsun started the small pickup demand with their bullet proof truck. Others copied and made money. Now no one makes a small 2WD truck anymore. The 'small' trucks they have today are still too big. Ford said there is no demand for a small truck but they are wrong. Their Ranger is not a small truck when compared to a 70 to mid 80s import trucks.No one is buying the Ranger as it get's the same terrible gas mileage as the F150 so they buy the bigger truck with more carry and tow as well. Flawed market research Ford. 


I still drive my new purchased 1986 Toyota X-Cab, 2WD, 2.4L engine, 5-speed truck with 395,000 miles, 34 degree original A/C, 120 degree heat, real world 25mpg mixed/ 32 mpg highway at 60-65 mph (beats any 2012 truck mpg). Every year I get people walking up offering to buy it and the last was a 20's kid looking for a small truck.

Bring back a real small truck Datsun and it will sell.


Mar 29, 2012 11:31AM
Nissan made war equipment used against the USA in World War II.  After the war they used the Datsun name because Nissan was tainted in America.  Nissan decided they had waited long enough and killed off the name returning to Nissan as the primary brand name.  Mitsubishi was in similar situation.

Don't be afraid to post the real reasons, MSN.
Mar 28, 2012 8:03PM
In the 70's the Japanese cars had alot better quality than American. Detroit had gotten lazy. When the foriegn cars sold like crazy, Detroit woke up and started making better cars. Competition always brings out the best in all of us. I will always buy American when I can, but not crappy products just because they are made in the USA.
Mar 28, 2012 4:14PM

I believe there are alot of americans that would buy a well made economical no frills car. The problem is that , for example the once low cost Corolla has been upgraded beyond what was once the Cressida in trim level and options. Low cost no more! Supposedly having all the options was just enough for americans in the minds of many car makers. Some of us do not care what it says on the badge as long as it rolls us to work and back. I know I cant be the only voice on this one.

Mar 29, 2012 12:18PM
My very first car when I turned 16 was a Datsun B 210.  I loved that little blue car.  When I hear the name Datsun, it brings back good memories from younger days!  I would love to see Datsun again!
Mar 28, 2012 2:57PM
The Dastun 510 sedan was a great car!
Mar 28, 2012 9:41PM
I work in a GM Dealership, our parts we replace from GM are from Mexico, China, Singapore. Our American cars are built with overseas parts..even the Chevy Bowtie emblem has made in China on it...
Mar 29, 2012 1:39AM
Owned a 1973 240Z and a 1974 260Z. Loved both cars. Put duel hi performance Weber carbs on th 240. I currently own a 2007 Nissan 350Z. Faster than both my earlier Z's but I really liked the style of the Datsun Z's. To be honest I've always loved the Z's and always will own one. Would absolutely love to get my hands on an old 240 again.
Mar 29, 2012 12:08AM
I've got a 1971 240Z, all original except for a 5-speed 280Z transmission. It has some problems but can still be referred to as "the poor man's Ferrari". I rode in a new 240Z back in the '70's that was greased lightning. Mine, although far from new with over 150,000 miles and on it, will still take off and corners like it is on rails. I owned 3 Triumphs when I was much younger, a TR2, TR4 and a TR250, all of which I loved. It is a real shame that more sports cars, as they were defined in the '60's and 70's are not longer manufactured for us to drive and enjoy on winding country roads. No experience compares to a great handling car, with the top down, blasting through tight curves at maximum safe speed. Ah, the good old days!
Mar 28, 2012 9:58PM
I have owned 2 new Datsuns.  I purchased a 1978 280Z (the last year of the 1st generation ) and then traded it for a 1983 Datsun 280ZX (the last year of the 2nd generation Z.  I still have the 280ZX.  It is all original including the paint and has 117K miles.

These are great cars with a iron horse in-line 6 engine.  Mine is a 5 speed and I still enjoy taking it out for a spin every week or so.  It will be 30 years old next year.

I usually get some staring eyes when I take her out.  

This was back when I purchased new autos.  I have not purchased a new auto since 1988, but I am glad I purchased this car and that I have taken good care of it!!!  
Mar 28, 2012 8:49PM
Having worked in the automotive field from the 70s into 2000, I've seen and heard a lot of biased crap about who builds the best cars and trucks - much like I read in the assorted comments posted here. Buy American? Sure, the majority of Americans would love to buy American if: 1) we truly knew and understood how that phrase applied to the automotive world; and 2) if Detroit built the kind of reliable cars and trucks other countries have been building for years. Can you honestly buy a TRULY American car? Sorry folks, that hasn't happened for a LONG time. Hell, I can remember cars from the 50s with bumpers stamped with MADE IN CANADA. To my knowledge Canada, although a neighbor of ours, doesn't qualify as the Good Ol' USA. All auto manufacturers have been and still do use parts built in other countries to assemble their American cars. Another thing to think about is all the "foreign" auto assembly plants located in the USA - that continue to employ American workers. As to the reliability aspects, since 1972 I've owned an American car and a Datsun/Nissan pickup. I've liked them both, but from a purely mechanical perspective, I've had better luck and seen better quality workmanship with the "Jap Crap" as some of the more sterling folks posting here have referred to them. By the way, my '86 Nissan was not only assembled in the USA, it was also designed here. But Detroit has paid attention lately and their product lines are far improved compared to the 70s, 80s & 90s. I would have no problem recommending American autos and trucks to anyone, but I'll most likely continue my buying trend. 
Mar 28, 2012 5:13PM
I had a 69 Datsun pu, 1970 Datsun pu, 73 Datsun pu, 74 Datsun pu, and a 72 Datsun 1200 sedan, a72 toyota pu and a 70 toyota Corona sedan. and numerous other vehicles. The older Datsuns and toyotas were cheap and a lot easier for any DIY mechanic to keep them running. Unlike the cars today, They cost a fortune to buy and have repaired. You can't hardly find good cheap used cars anymore.
Mar 28, 2012 4:14PM
I never understood why they changed the name in the first place. Hopefully for them they can recapture some sales that have been lost. You don't hear much about them anymore. As far as being better than American cars? I would never say that. I have had Nissans with many trouble-free miles, but more Fords with many more trouble free miles. Try 540,000 on a 1978 F150, still running strong. Currently 285,000 on an original 1995 Thunderbird daily driver, and I have a list of more Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns that were all great. I know my 2008 Lincoln will go the distance too.  I will only buy American from now on, because our economy has been driven to this point by foreign car buyers. Even the bicycle I just bought for under $3000 is American, out of all the big names out there I could have bought. No matter where some components are assembled and by whom, profits go to where the company is based. Remember that. Get America back in business.
Mar 28, 2012 2:10PM
But we all know as reported on here not more than a couple weeks ago that the NANO is failing miserably because the Indian people don't want to waste their money on as cheap a product as this when they could buy better for a little more money.
Mar 29, 2012 12:16PM
I currently own a 73 240Z with an 86 corvette v8 and I also was givin a 83 280ZX and Ive known the owner of this ZX for years we met in same Z car club. Well after owning this ZX since 84 he was 2nd owner ZX had like 1500 miles well he decided it was time to buy another car so he bought a corvette Z06 and he just gave me the Z. Well the reason for this comment is this ZX had OVER 430,000 miles. This Z never had anything done to it other than faithful oil changes and Shell gas,of course it had brakes done and clutch replaced normal maint.All of this is DOCUMENTED miles. Well I just sold it to a family friend who"s kid had to have her and It was his first car and last I heard he just took her to Wyoming from here in Cali.and still runs like a swiss watch.
Mar 28, 2012 2:57PM
I love it.... Sure wish the would bring back the Datsun P/U. Great mileage and ran FOREVER ! 
Mar 28, 2012 2:42PM
CITIZEN HOUSTON.!  What do you mean ? American car quality has surpassed all others. What do you drive  A  VW. 
Mar 29, 2012 12:24PM
That was one of the coolest cars I have ever owned!
Mar 28, 2012 2:53PM
The Nano is $3,000?  Seriously?  You can't even buy a four wheeler in America for $3,000. 
Mar 28, 2012 2:46PM

"Fazing" it out?  Maybe it would look better if you referred to "phasing".  Faze and phase mean two completely different ideas.


That aside, it looks like the Nissan executives are on the way to outsmarting themselves again with their choice of market push. 

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