There Is A Reason, Embers Cold

Perhaps this is overdoing it, another Nissan article. Even still, I feel the burning need for DTW to have the USP of being the “go-to” place for information on the Datsun 280C.

1980 Datsun 280C: source

Following an encounter with a real, live diesel Laurel recently, I have been trying to find out some more about how these cars were viewed at the time. To that end, I got a hold of a copy of Motor from September 1980. I planned to extract the choicest bits of text and discuss their implications so we could all be a little wiser about these fine cars.

Some picture research had to be done and the first thing out of that was this image which made me sit up and stare. This was because I had not really understood side profile of the car; the article’s photos are so poor they might even be from the Archie Vicar archive. So, this image revealed things I had not seen properly before.

Annotated Datsun 280C

The side view must have been the elevation the Datsun designers focused on, since it reveals remarkable interest. The proportions are rather forceful: there is a long oblong underlying the lower body and a rather smaller one, set well back from the front axle, which underlies the upper body. It is on the verge of being dramatic, heading towards Jaguar territory, dare I say it. The one detail that unsettles is the way the d-pillar rests beyond the line of the back axle. It is the trailing edge of the DLO that rests over the axle line.

See what I mean?

The second marked-up photo shows the entire C-pillar outlined in red. The base of that trapezoid is positioned over the rear axle. However, the DLO cuts into that so you don’t see the geometrical base but an optical base, set a bit rearward. It made me think of the 1977 Chevrolet Caprice. And I was wrong because the Chevrolet doesn’t have a third side glass:

1977 Chevrole Caprice Classic.

What would the Datsun look like with a conventional treatment?  Here’s the 280C without the third side window:

It’s still not a Caprice, even with the plain C-pillar. It has a heavier feeling, maybe suggesting an Opel Admiral. I tried to move the whole C-pillar forward over the rear axle and that looked wrong; as ever a car design is often the result of a balance of factors and you can’t change one thing without affecting the rest. This mash-up is just for an impression, don’t look too close:

Impression of C-pillar moved forward

That imbalance of the C-pillar might not be a mistake (which is something inadvertent) so much as a deliberate subversion of expectations, adding a degree of spice to an otherwise classically proportioned car. The effect is even stronger when you see the rearview.

That is a very pleasing big rear windscreen, going the full width. The tail-lamps are far more successful than the front lamps. I think you are supposed to read them as one unit, framed by chrome edging. It doesn’t entirely succeed because there is visual noise from the small slivers of brightwork within the light units. And again, I am not that bothered by this.

OMG: source

We turn now to the front and if this was a guided tour around a museum we’d be reminding the group that coffee and biscuits are available for purchase in the museum shop. Can we find anything? There’s a chamfer on the leading edge of the bonnet; a small bonnet mascot; the indicators protrude a bit and the grille itself is not a rectangle but is slightly wider a the top than the bottom which makes the car lean forward visually. Are there just too many slats on that grille? It’s almost like corduroy.

The bumper could be from any number of similar cars; below the line of the lamps the designers were on autopilot.

1980 Datsun 280C front view: source

The secret to a front end-like that is not to look directly at it. You need what I have termed Japanese looking. Horizontal, horizontal, horizontal with subtle articulations for the top of the grill and those inclined lines next to the lamps. As we have said here before, Japanese design is home to remarkable subtlety and as I write that I am aware a car like this would have screamed transatlatlanticism or even America. So, find an American car that is really like this.

Marked up

I’d intended to go through the Motor review and cherry pick some choice bits but instead have ruminated on the styling, something Motor sums as “impressive rather than stylish“. They went on to say “The opera windows forward of the rear pillar, in particular, indicate that the styling is still influenced by the fads of the American market: few of our testers found it attractive to look at.”

I’ll have to return to the rest of the car at another time.

Of more fundamental concern might be to do with the way this design dodges the failing of the Talbot Tagora. Despite the plain lines and strong parallelism, the 280C looks quite distinctive. Where’s the character hiding?  The Tagora is similarly rectilinear and ends up as a generic kind of shape, very non-specific: all the tropes of the period and nothing of its own. I think it’s because the 280C has a bit of inflection, a few angles at key locations that it distinguishes itself.

Details: Datsun 280C.  1980-1984. Engine: in-line six, 2753 cc. Bore/stroke: 86/79mm. Cast iron block, alloy head; sohc, twin-chain cam drive; max power 125 bhp at 4800 rpm; three-speed automatic; unitary steel body; suspension front is independent by double-wishbones and coil springs. Anti roll bar; rear suspension is live axle (hooray!) located by four trailing links, Panhard rod, coil springs. Recirculating ball steering; 1372 kg;

Author: richard herriott

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

57 thoughts on “There Is A Reason, Embers Cold”

    1. Lumpers and splitters: the world is divided into two classes of people. Some like to aggregate and generalise and some like to distinguish and parse. Actually, we do both and the real choice is do I lump or do I split?
      Today I am a splitter and while agreeing that the two cars are similar, they differ on the level I am interested in. It´s great you show this image. All of a sudden I can see how auster the Opel is and I am almost as a loss to express the “eye-feeling” I get from this car compared to the Datun. I don´t believe an Opel customer would have accepted the Datsun. Why, because they differ because of the sum of the details. And, gosh, that Opel is handsome and crisp and austere.

    2. Good morning, Richard. A great analysis, thank you. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the C/D-pillar extending aft of the rear axle line is even more pronounced on the Senator, evident in Dave’s photo above. The effect is more pronounced because of the large rear quarter light. Does this make the tail of the car look slightly small and lacking in visual “weight” compared to the nose? I’m not sure.

    3. Visual weight: this terms appears now and again – I use it myself – without having any solid basis that I know of. I don´t think it´s a concept unmoored in reality. What I don´t know is how it operates.
      The Opel´s visual weight is ambiguous: which trapezoid does one read?
      You won´t hear me complain about this car, of course. It´s easily as neatly executed as a contemporary Audi. What the Ruesselsheim people made of the Detroit work at the time is anybody´s guess.

  1. Hi,

    Thank you Richard, it’s a really good article, it has lots of meat. Iam practising my ‘Japanese looking” and I will report back later maybe.

    1. Ah, the Tercel. An interesting car, Toyota’s first FWD model, but with a longitudinal engine and gearbox installation, like the Renault 12. It looked rather unusual, particularly the three-door hatch, with just an opening rear window like the Chrysler Sunbeam, rather than a proper hatchback:

  2. Nothing to do with Richard’s post above, here is today’s teaser:

    What highly unusual (possibly unique) and expensive design decision connects the Opel Kadett B and the Ford Granada Mk1?

    1. Could it possibly be the groove for the finger on the fuel filler cap ? Iam not sure how common or uncommon were these.

    2. Richard – That’s pretty much what I’ve just asked.
      A bit light on the praising last night btw, more praises needed on Aisle 4 Richard, I repeat, more praises on Aisle 4.

    3. Based off your clue to Richard, were there two distinct coupe versions?

    1. Does it concerns all variants of the Kadett B (2/4 doors, sedan, coupé, caravan) or just the main sedan ?

    1. I second that Richard. How are we supposed to work with incomplete data ? This is almost fraudulent.
      Oh how the mighty has fallen now that it is deprived of life-giving praises……

    2. Oh, come on guys! It’s not that hard, put some effort in!

  3. Got some chores to do, back later. I’m sure someone will get the right answer in the meantime.

  4. The coupes received major facelifts in the middle of the model runs. The Kadett lost its visible air extractors whereas the Granada gained them.

    1. Well done, Gooddog ! I was already surprised you could type on the keyboard with your little paws but now I’am truly impressed.

  5. …and Gooddog sneaks up on the rails to take the win!

    Actually, the Kadett B and Granada Mk1 coupés both received exactly the opposite of a facelift during their model run. The front and rear facias remained the same, but there was a major revision to the DLO, requiring a complete re-engineering of the body-in-white.

    The original Kadett B coupe looked like this:

    It was replaced by this:

    1. Here’s the full range of versions:

      The two coupés were not directly related to the saloons and were launched at different times. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the two Coupe versions:

      “Opel also offered a two-door Kadett coupé with reduced headroom for the passengers in the rear. The coupé body introduced in 1965 included a thick C-pillar with reduced side-windows between the C-pillar and the B-pillar. The thick C-pillar incorporated three prominent air extractor slots reminiscent of the gills on a fish, as a result of which this coupé acquired the soubriquet “Kiemencoupé”(gills coupé). A coupé body with larger side windows for the passengers in the back appeared in 1967 identified as the “Coupé F”, initially only on the more lavishly equipped cars, but from 1971 all Kadett B coupés used the newer body. The newer Coupé, with an increased quantity of glass, was slightly heavier than the “gills-coupé” as well as being less aerodynamically efficient, leading to a small reduction in claimed top speed.”

  6. To confuse matters further in the case of the Kadett B, there was also a “fastback” saloon version sold in four-door and two-door form. Here’s the two-door:

    Which looks pretty much like a coupé to me!

    I’ve no idea what prompted such a major change in the coupé version midway through its life. It’s a moot point as to which of the three versions above looks best.

    The Granada coupé story is more straightforward, and will follow in a moment.

  7. This was the original (and rare) Granada Mk1 coupé:

    It was replaced early in the model’s life by this:

    As I said, the reason for this was more straightforward. As I understand it, Ford decided shortly after approving the original coupé that the “coke bottle” waist was passé and lacking in elegance for their flagship car, hence the hasty and expensive redesign. The coke-bottle models are relatively rare compared with the revised model.

    It’s a shame the coupé didn’t survive to become a Mk2 Granada, which was a heavy reskin of the Mk1 model. The Mk2 Granada front and rear ends would have suited the revised Mk1 coupé rather well and given Ford an Opel Monza competitor at relatively low cost.

  8. Who needs Photoshop when some enterprising person has done a Granada Mk2 Coupé for real? Here it is:

    I think the tail end is original, crudely photoshopped here:

    1. I paid you back…erm…. I graciously added a list of links to interesting stuff about Datsuns but it didn’t go through.
      I’ll try again, even though I lost all the links now…

    2. Yes, well done NRJ for, er, not getting it right. Prizes for everyone!

      Sorry for hijacking your piece (again!) Richard. Wasn’t it about the 280C (Cedric) not the Laurel?

    1. NRJ: I just found one in the spam folder. I have no idea how it got there. The other I deleted earlier since the link didn’t work.

    2. Thanks Eoin. They seemed to have gone through because they appeared on screen, even the comments count went down from 43 to 41 earlier.

    3. Since I posted that comment, I found another bunch of them in spam. There are more, but I’m not clear as to what might be duplicates. If there’s anything still missing, let me know and I’ll reinstate them.

  9. The 280C has some visual similarity to the Cedric; most intriguing is the nod to the 1980 car´s predecessor in the form of the very slight kink in the waist line.

  10. Good morning, Richard. By way of atonement for hijacking your piece yesterday, I have placed with the 280C to see if an extension to the wheelbase would result in a better balanced profile. Here’s the original, followed by my LWB version:


    What do you think?

    1. Plausible. I have to look at the original to see the difference. What isn´t happening is that my eye does not “buzz” which is happens when a detail is changed to unbalance a design. The design is not unbalanced by the wheel base extension.

    2. I like that wheelbase extension. Long wheelbases are always good, and this rear overhang on the original car is way too long for my taste! (Look at that mile-long black bumper!). With Richard’s shortened pillar it even becomes more noticeable.

  11. Opera windows, courderoy grilles and at least eight versions of one car; somewhat vaudevillian but damn well interesting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.