In my pursuit of further information on all things 1980 Datsun Laurel (C31), I have obtained a copy of a review of the Laurel published in Autocar.
Alas, the review is of a late-in-cycle iteration of the earlier Datsun Laurel (C-230), 1977-1980.
Among the upsides of my small mishap is that it affords us yet another chance to learn some very obscure product codes. Everyone knows SD1, CDW27, KA-1 and W-126. Only the truly knowledgeable can rub their chins and say, “You know, Monica… the reaaall problem with the Datsun C231-generation Laurel waaaaaaas that it had … rather woolly steering – and -… an unexceptional power-to-weight ratio.”
More interesting are some of the between-the-line gleanings in the article. I will get to them in a moment.
First, some context. The C230/C231 had a shortish run, from 1977 to 1980 and it was only in December 1979 that Autocar got to review what was sold in the United Kingdom as the Datsun 2.4 Laurel Six. Isn’t that odd? They can only have sold this car for a short year before the replacement C31 appeared.
That cumbersome name, 2.4 Laurel Six, tells you Datsun weren’t sure how to sell this car: shall we spell out the engine capacity, the cylinder number or will we give it a nice friendly name? All of the above. Even in 1979 naming a car after its cylinder count must have seemed a bit passé**.
For convenience we’ll call this car the Datsun Laurel 2.4. At this time Datsun was known better for its smaller cars and sports cars. Autocar made this point clear at the start of their review. This indicates that, for most readers in 1979, the Laurel must have been something of an obscurity.
Thank Beano for these old magazines. We can be reasonably confident of the specifications. Datsun’s Laurel measured 4625 mm tail to nose, extended 1689 mm from side to side and could pass under a 1401 mm high crossbarrier. Autocar rated the Datsun six motor very highly, this engine distinguishing the 2.4 from the less torquey and less efficient 2.0 six -cylinder version*.
Said Autocar, the six had “proven to be this most rugged OHC straight six cylinder unit”. It produced 113 bhp, 129 lb/ft of torque and had (I love this detail) a single Hitachi twin-choke carburettor.
The essence of this car is the torque rather than bhp per tonnne. Autocar described a car tuned for good pick-up from stationary and to be happy pootling around at about 60 mph, getting a decent 25 mpg at that speed. At 80 it got noisy, both enginewise and due to A-pillar turbulence. Further underlining the laid back character of the car, it had a super-low steering ratio: 4.5 to 1, a powered recirculating ball system.
For suspension, the Laurel had McPherson struts and coils up front; at the rear a live axle, four link arrangement with coils and telescopic dampers. It’s wonderfully old-school and resulted in a car that didn’t ride too well (not badly though) at medium speed but which had neutral handling on the limit and tricky-to-judge steering (that low ratio) and little body-roll.
Autocar compared the Laurel favourably to the Ford Cortina in relation to its resistance to understeer: “it is capable of cornering quite quickly. The rear wheels stay firmly glued to the road”. But “for a luxury car the suspension settings are surprisingly firm, something that contributed to the car’s essentially predictable handling.” I really would like to take this car and the benchmark Benz W-123 out for a face-to-face contest.
The Laurel did not like rough surfaces at lower-speeds but going faster the suspension seemed to be able to smother irregularities. This is probably not the way to go about it, especially for urban drivers who spend most time between stand-still and 45 mph; but I interpret the test to mean that if you wanted to blat across country at 65-70 mph the car would be okay.
Finally, those between the lines bits. Talking about the Laurel 2.0 4-cylinder, Autocar declared the car’s performance to be less than you’d expect from a car “built to compete with the likes of Audi, Ford or BMW”. Isn’t it interesting that a) the Datsun is compared to those three and b) that Ford sits equal with Audi and BMW.
At the back section of the road-test (six closely-printed pages), we find the Laurel compared to the Audi 100 GL 5S, the Citroen CX 2400 Pallas, the Ford Granada 2.3 GL, the Austin Princes 220 HLS and Volvo 244 GL. I note that the Volvo 244 cost the most, a heady £7,400. The Granada cost the second most and the CX was the third priciest. Something odd happened to cars’ prices in the last 40 years.
Autocar’s verdict deserves quoting: “On price, mid-range performance, the level of equipment and overall fuel consumption, the Laurel is hard to beat. However, would-be owners with any kind of feel for ride and steering quality, or wind noise will be less than happy behind the wheel. Looking at it another way, the others, even the stodgy-imaged Princess, have varying degrees of driver appeal. The latest four-cylinder Volvos are surprisingly ‘sporting’ and succesfully combine good ride, taut handling, good ventilation and rugged finish …. We would suggest that the Datsun Laurel 2.4 Six has some way to go before becoming a serious competitor in the lower ‘executive class’ – that is for anyone who still enjoys driving.”
It is also interesting that I am transcribing those words in the week Infiniti (a descendent of Datsun) gave up the fight in the lower executive class in Europe. The particular reasons for the lack of success are different but the overall problem was the same: inconsistency.
*that two-litre six puts the Datsun Laurel in that special class of cars with small in-line sixes.
**The Alfa Six appeared in 1979! Question: which was the last mainstream car in Europe to have a name indicative of its cylinder count and only its cylinder count?