1978 Datsun Sunny Road Test

“Datsun leaps ahead!” Archie Vicar has a look at the exciting new 1978 Datsun Sunny in what appears to be a verbatim transcript of a period review.

1978 Datsun Sunny saloon: source

The article first appeared in the South Caledonian News Inquirer, October 31, 1978. Douglas Land-Wimdermere [sic] took the original photos. Owing to the poor quality of the archive material stock photos have been used.

The Japanese marques don’t appear to give the impression of ever looking like they rest on their laurels (which, funnily, we also find in the Nissan range) so naturally enough, before we became accustomed to the old Sunny, a new Sunny has come along. And a jolly good thing too, I hear you say. For the old one had many good qualities and these have been built-upon in the new model.

Since 1975 many customers have bought the reliably-selling 120Y, making it Britain’s most popular import by a broad margin. The new Sunny takes on a refreshed guise, sporting a simpler and even more tasteful appearance. In its dark yellow paint, blacked-out front grille and its dapper wheel covers, it stood out against the dull concrete background of Worthing where Datsun have their head offices. It certainly will grace many a driveway for sure.

Being such an important car, the editor needed little persuasion when I suggested a full continental road test – and only that – would suffice to explore the merits, advantages and good points of Datsun’s sterling saloon. So, off I set with snapper Land-Windermere in the direction of autumnal Burgundy where, in the course of five days I put the car through its paces on a combination of urban, town and built-up areas.

1978 Datsun Sunny/120Y: source

The Sunny handled the cross-Britain part of the journey in its stride. Foremost one firstly notes the supple and well-damped ride, even with a dormant photographer on the back seat and an empty (but sizeable boot). Credit for this excellence goes to the new coil-sprung, four-link located live axle at the back (Austin and Citroen take note). Datsun have opted for soft springing and gentle damping. At the front one finds McPherson struts which do a fine fist of securing the wheels to the road. Unlike, say, Citroen’s new Visa, the Sunny comes across as a car with real character and competence.

After a steady drive from Lothian to Folkestone and several more hours on the way to Dijon, it became apparent nothing more would be revealed by motorway driving. Simply put, the Sunny demonstrates the capacity to put many hundreds of miles under its front and rear wheels without bluster, complaint or – to coin a phrase – wringing its toes.

Parking up at the well-regarded Hotel du Palais with its friendly and accommodating staff, I noted the Sunny’s very light steering which puts the treacle-like tillers of Peugeot and Renault into sharp focus. Put that down to a recirculating ball system. The ladies will surely appreciate the ease of driving that the Sunny demonstrates. In order to provide a relaxed and roadable ride, the steering demonstrates very great refinement and can muffle and suppress almost one hundred percent of the unwanted feedback that mars many modern family cars such as the “Golf” from VW. Only Jaguar have steering that insulates and isolates road irregularities as well as the Sunny. Did I say the Sunny has British roots?

From the excellent bar, I could look out and see a car which actually demonstrates many of the fine British qualities that characterised the cars Datsun used to build under license from Austin: the appearance has a very British style to it, especially the proud line of the bonnet and the particular cut of the roof. It also makes Chrysler’s recently announced Sunbeam look like rather bad value for money too.

While many will name Lancia and Alfa Romeo for the quality of their gear-changes, no-one should forget Datsun. Quite simply, to change among the four speeds in the Sunny resembles nothing so much as engaging a well-lubricated switch. Citroen should take note – their new Visa shows very little competence in this regard, for example – as well as having a smaller boot. By the same token, the clutch and throttle provide no difficulty whatsoever either. While some may very well like and indeed relish idiosyncracies in their motor cars, the Sunny driver most certainly does not.

Some cars can be so troublesome that one hesitates to have a second beer during lunch in case the controls turn out to be too demanding if one ends up slightly too well oiled. With the Sunny I realised that a fourth cognac in the Le Palais could be enjoyed before finally emerging to carry out the afternoon’s testing. And lo – the car could be steered and controlled as easily after a long and jolly lunch as before. Perhaps the only demerit lies in the somewhat thin foam of the rear seat. Land-Windermere refused to sit in the car for this reason and instead flew back to Blighty.

We had an excellent and informative tour of Dijon’s environs nonetheless. The rear-wheel drive does little to cramp the rear, thin foam notwithstanding so Datsun UK may want to review the slightly parsimonious upholstering. That said, one must praise Kapwood of Nottingham who have supplied the superlative nylon velour which resisted the odd cigar burn and showed no sign of ash even after several bouts of enthusiastic driving. The Datsun’s ashtray worked very well throughout the test with room for both the driver and passenger’s cigarette waste.

Finally, the details: two-stalk switch gear (sensible), commendable heating and cooling. Plus the car comes well-equipped unlike the rather bare offerings from Ford and Vauxhall and much better made than recent efforts from Chrysler. From an engineering front, the body boasts more rigidity than before which means a quiet ride and better crash protection. Further, the wheel-arches have plastic liners – something that the gentlemen at Brown’s Lane may want to consider given the alarming urge of those cars to dissolve.

1978 Vauxhall Viva: source

Over the course of the tour around the lovely city centre of Dijon, I recorded 30 mpg. More careful drivers will certainly achieve 31 mpg on two-star. The most interesting thing about the Sunny must be in the way that the Japanese have challenged the French on their home turf and – irony of ironies- have built upon the sterling qualities of the first Austins they manufactured. Thus explains the light and insulating steering that challenges Jaguar and the smart and conservative lines that could easily be those of any number of British motor cars.

We had only five days in Burgundy to enjoy the Datsun’s comfort, refinement, economy and thrift. Any customer who drives away with one of these will certainly have many years of smooth and reliable driving ahead of them.

Author: richard herriott

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

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