Something Rotten in Denmark : Datsun 100A

It might not look dangerous but this car wiped out the dinosaurs.

1975 Datsun 100-A
What is significant about this car is not merely that it exists at all but that it inspired an unheard-of level of loyalty with its customers. Just as it was becoming apparent that buying European was not a guarantee of quality, the Japanese makers were beginning their exploration of exportation.

Their new customers were pleased.  Among those asked if they would replace their car with the a vehicle from the same brand, 73% of Datsun 100A owners said they would.  This figure was the highest recorded until that point, in 1973. What were they pleased with? Conceivably it was the unusual styling. It might seem humorously overworked but I suspect that forty years ago buyers were much less visually aware than they are now which in some way was good.

The 100-A was sold in four-door, two-door (making it a kind of coupé, I suppose) and 3-door hatchback format;  it came with a 1-litre engine and a four speed gearbox. Compared to its European peers the number of features was generous, and included a radio which in those days would be the equivalent of a full mobile ‘phone connectivity, ten speakers and having a 10,000 album memory somewhere in the dashboard.

About the only modern aspect of the 100A’s design was that it was front wheel drive. It weighed 670 kg and this gave it a competitive turn of speed. Classic Motoring have actually written a bit about this car and for them I am thankful for some insight on the mechanical layout: There were struts at the front and an independent rear with coil springs. The brakes were all drums on the lowest spec models but this soon changed to discs. Most importantly the car was £10 cheaper than a Mini.

The car has given rise to seven or eight generations of small Datsun or Nissan and presumably we can view the Micra as its descendent. None of these cars, barring the Micra (2002-2010) are endowed with a tremendously distinct personality and as such are rather hard to write about. But the 100A and its followers were arguably the real reason that firms like Chrysler/Talbot and the BMC Empire dissolved in the decade following the 100A’s appearance.

It would be more satisfying if the 100A had been imbued with a striking technical feature but it was, like the Korean cars now gaining more and more customers, just quite good for a quite good price. I can imagine that relief from cars that wouldn’t start on damp days was more than sufficient to attract buyers most of whom never left the fold. Design can lead the way but marketing and sales can often be the more decisive factor. It’s a pity there isn’t a record of the sales pitch that came with the car as the machine itself is mute as this is where the real interest in this car lies.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “Something Rotten in Denmark : Datsun 100A”

  1. I can attempt to speak as a voice from that past, since I remember these cars when they were new, but of course my opinion won’t be that objective. I remember finding the 100A offensive and its cousin, the ridiculous 120A Coupe, even more so. Datsun’s use of costly IRS bemused, since no-one actually spoke well of their road behaviour. If asked to remember one particular feature, my mind zooms in on the hubcaps. But were people that visually naive then? To some degree maybe, but I think it might have been tempered by the expectations that contemporary production techniques allowed us. Even people who knew about design realised that only certain things were technically and economically possible, so expectations were low. But looking at this now, my offense pales compared to some of today’s incoherent and visually decadent bloaters, developed at great expense and aimed at a supposedly visually savvy clientele.

  2. As to Datsun’s success – it’s probably simple enough. The Japanese marques satisfied the non-discerning (majority) customer. They provided a semblance of style, lots of standard equipment – which came as costly extras elsewhere, an impressive standard of finish and near-bulletproof reliability – with easy terms. Whether the dealers were any good or not was largely immaterial when the car’s hardly ever darkened their door. Most Datsuns belched out blue smoke within a few years and rotted with an enthusiasm that would have made an Alfasud blush, but those engines just ran and ran. Yes, it was an odd looking little blob at the time and it remains one now. It seems inconceivable that there would be any kind of old-car following for such a car apart from the tearful nostalgia brigade, but maybe the 100A wasn’t all that bad? Unlike its FII replacement…

  3. To answer Richard’s question, Datsun advertised the 100A on price and specification. The proposition was that the Cherry was a small car that comes with everything you’d expect in a bigger car, at a price you can afford. The copy is by today’s standards a little eccentric, at one point describing rival small cars as “looking like vultures had been at them”, so sparsely were they equipped. To this copywriter’s eyes, the agency got the proposition about right. No dancing girls, no fancy backdrops or distracting locations. just the cars, photographed clearly and the facts. Straightforward and easy to decode – a bit like the car itself really.

  4. Apparently the factory used to produce the Nissan Cherry was previously used to develop a Kei Car called the Cony 360, with plans for the latter to even be sold under the Nissan badged at one point. –

    It is strange though Nissan AFAIK never considered developing their own Kei Cars below the Nissan Micra (and Nissan Cherry) apart from the Suzuki-based Nissan Pixo or even considered approaching BMC to build a localized 2-cylinder Kei Car adapted version of the Mini (aka Mini-Mini).

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