“Building on a new tradition!” In this item, we have something resembling a transcript of a 1967 review by Archie Vicar. He finds much that is agreeable.
By Archibald Vicar From “Today’s Driver”, November 1967. Photographs by Wentworth Henry. Owing to excessive camera-shake affecting the original images, stock photos have been used.
Rumours abound from the Midlands, such as rumours are, that Jaguar is considering replacements for the venerable, nay, antediluvian 240, 340 (née Mark 2), S-type, 420 (née S-type) and 420G (née Mark X) with a range of motor vehicles which will essentially depend on one single body. Our sources in Coventry hint that among the pressing reasons for this change is that nobody at Brown’s Lane understands which car is which or the purpose for which any of them are intended. And that’s letting alone the matter of the by-now antique elements of which these stalwarts are mostly composed. In any case, Jaguar Ltd is now under the firm tutelage of BMC who will be shaking up Jaguar’s life of gin and tonics and setting the troubled firm on a new course to success.
Following from this is that we can expect that any and all new Jaguars may face a less than smooth arrival in the market for refined, fast and comfortable saloons. The direction from which the gusts of competition will blow strongest is south-east and I do not mean only Stuttgart or Milan but further again: Japan, from whence our test car hails.
The motor vehicle we are subjecting to an inspection is the Datsun 2000 and it embodies so many of the characteristics we come to assume signify pure-bred British motoring that in many respects it surpasses the standards set by those that defined them, barring only the redoubtable men at Filton and Crewe (for Crewe I mean Bentley and not the make-weights at Rolls Royce). By surpassing the standards that we assume place such vehicles as Humber, Jaguar and Rover apart from the lesser marques such as Triumph (right), Wolseley, Austin (second right), Hillman, Ford and Vauxhall, the Datsun also threatens Jaguar and will, at the very least, ask questions the rumoured new leaper must answer with a firm and affirmative growl.
The Datsun 2000 (bottom left) is sold in the “land of the Rising Sun” as the Nissan Cedric, a fine name evocative of Britishness if ever there was one. The first version of this car (1960) had 1.5 and 1.9 litre engines but very quickly Datsun added proper sources of power: robust and reliable devices of 2.8 litre capacity. More importantly, since the Japanese have no innate understanding of what makes a Western car look acceptable, they have turned to an Italian design house to guide the styling of the lines of the present car.
The 2000 has a smart upper body with pencil-thin pillars and a modish, flat roof as elegant as that found on Humber´s renovated Super Snipe (see “Today’s Driver”, Feb 1967 p.23-34 – Ed.). The front of the car could be directly out of BMC´s catalogue: twin headlamps set over a sweeping full width grille not very much unlike the wonderful Austin Three-Litre (not shown) which will doubtless set the cat among the pigeons in the executive sector.
The rear of the Datsun boasts a magnificent broad and deep rear window, flanked by marked fin-like ridges that stand proud of the magnificent broad and deep boot-lid. The front is magnificent and broad too, I might add. I must be very frank here and admit getting through three cigarettes simply standing in the autumn sunlight of Malvern and taking in the excellent detailing and proportions with which the Italians have graced this very imposing saloon. The simple, clean and neatly finished tail panel almost evokes Lancia’s best work.
And yet, despite its Italo-Japenese roots, the whole effect is curiously British, redolent of a fine Cheviot cloth cut by a Milanese tailor in London. One can only conclude that Datsun really have learned the lessons taught by Austin Motors all those years ago. The car has, shall we say, much that is gracious about its aspect.
Turning to interior accommodation there is a fine stretch of seating front and back, making excellent use of the ample space. Vinyl trim is used effectively and it is tremendously hard-wearing compared to the fragile coverings used at present by certain British and French firms. Wooden trim is almost absent, a detail which underlines this car’s forward-looking modernity. The windows use tinted glazing and a frequency-modulation radio is
fitted as among the very long list of standard items. Settling into the fine front chairs, one finds the steering wheel exactly where it ought to be. A commanding view down the expansive bonnet assures one of the stature of the car. There is smart ribbon speedometer and four ancillary dials logically arranged to the left and indeed to the right of it. Two cigar lighters are fitted so I bought a pack of five Montecristos to do them justice. I would rather the ashtray had been given as much space as the commodious boot but that is nearly all I can find to criticise, truth be told as told it must be!
The 2000 has a 1970 cc in-line six cylinder engine, with overhead valves, a unit of Datsun’s own design. It seems to suggest tunability and much potential for development. And this aspect must be kept uppermost for six-cylinder engines are the heartland of upper-market motoring in these modern times. Hitachi provide the carburettor and it is undoubtedly among the best of its type.
Datsun are having no truck with the front-wheel drive fad and have also avoided using disc brakes, sticking to tried-and-tested drums which are power-assisted at the front. They do a very good job of stopping the car when it´s driven as its character demands (and it demands!). To provide the smoothest of springing and damping the 2000 has independent front suspension with coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar to help the car resist rolling during cornering. To my satisfaction, the rear suspension is made up of a live-axle and semi-elliptic leaf-springs with telescopic dampers. This arrangement is very tolerant of the poor roads of some parts of rural England and, indeed, some districts of the Capital too. But when set up well (as here) it is extremely well suited to providing well-controlled ride and bump-suppression.
Moving off, one notes an engine that pulls without fuss and with little noise or drama. It is an arrangement that will be a benchmark for Jaguar and Rover and, perhaps even Peugeot. Mercedes won’t pay attention though well they should, while some time in the next decade Citroen will find a method involving creme brulee that will be nearly as good.
I drove the car over a variety of road surfaces during a five day test, part of which involved a fine lunch at Malvern’s Foley Arms with Datsun’s head of sales. He explained Datsun were planning to attract customers who wanted the best of British comfort at a fairer price. The sales chap argued that the super-smooth syncromesh gearbox was superior to those offered by Vauxhall and even Mercedes and that most customers would be happy with an easy-to-use column shift if it meant more room for legs and parcels in the front compartment.
We had a smashing lunch, by the way: the Foley Arms cook a very good galantine and the oxtail soup makes a visit more than worthwhile. Two bottles of port later, I was appreciative of the 2000’s surefooted handling as I navigated the landscape of the Midlands and East Midlands. The 2000 demonstrates roadability of an advanced kind yet treats its driver and passenger with dignity. On the motorway, cantering south to the Capital, I found the car’s high cruising speed allowed a very relaxed trip with little or no engine noise or wind-noise of which to speak. Keeping up with the faster, newer imported cars from Germany and Italy was not difficult and, I note, we passed many Jaguars on our way south. So, the 2000 has pace.
The large boot held my month’s supplies of cigars, Craven “A” cigarettes and brandy. Datsun’s elegant saloon looked very much at home parked outside Swayne Adeney’s. And when I drove a little further to Lock & Co to get a winter hat, I found I had no difficulty wearing my new purchase while motoring back to the North West, arriving some five hours later as relaxed and comfortable as I had been when setting off.
The Datsun returned 22 mpg, though careful drivers might attain 23.
To round off where we began: the Datsun 2000 has pace, space and grace in equal measures yet costs just £1400. One wonders how much more than this sum buyers will spend to attain the standards of speed, refinement and comfort this fine car provides. Jaguar especially, with its aging and confusing range of cars, will need to do certain things to meet and surpass Datsun’s challenge.
Chief among this are to provide plenty of room for their driver and rear passenger; they need switch-gear as clear and logical as Datsun’s; a commodious boot for touring; a refined but efficient engine and, finally, copper-bottomed reliability. With those targets achieved, Jaguar can meet the challenge of the 70s without fear.
But if they don’t rise to this summons then one can expect Datsun to be attracting a lot more British buyers in the future! In these increasingly competitive times, none can afford to rest on tradition! One must build on it!