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