50 years old this year, the Datsun 100A takes a bow.
Here on the pages of Driven to Write, we have spent a good deal of the recent past discussing aspects of the Toyota marque and its associated brands. Not so however with regard to its once great rival and commercial antagonist, Nissan.
Upon its introduction to European (and US) shores, Nissan cars were sold under the Datsun brand name, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, but probably pertain to marketing considerations. For Datsun, then an almost entirely unknown brand, their breakthrough motor car arrived in the envelope of the 100A Cherry, a compact front-wheel-drive supermini.
It’s probably fair to suggest that Autobianchi first planted that particular flag, in particular with its A112 of 1969, so by comparison, the 100A was a curious amalgam, looking a little fat-rumped and somewhat ornate for European tastes – not that this prevented it from selling in sizeable quantities once its virtues became apparent.
Like most of its contemporary or forthcoming rivals (the big name Euro-supermini contingent arrived one or two years later), the 100A was a booted saloon, available in two or four-door format. A hatchback estate (of sorts) was later offered, as was the most stylish in the range – a rather extraordinary looking coupé.
Although I would have to admit never particularly caring for the styling of any of the four 100A derivations (although the four-door does retrospectively appear better balanced to these eyes), as a youngster, I recall marvelling at the sheer fecundity of the range, but especially the wilful oddness of the coupé – which the Republic of Ireland market was, you may be unsurprised to learn, denied.
Appearance-wise, the Cherry Coupé, whose styling resembled something from Richard Teague’s AMC studios of the time, appeared as though it was in receipt of an inexpensive cut and shut with a contemporary Lotus Europa. And we think massive rear three-quarter blind spots are a recent phenomenon? To say nothing of rising DLO outlines.
The versions shown above are clearly JDM models, the X1L seemingly aimed at the sportier-minded driver, while the GL was lent a more sybaritic mien. It isn’t without its own slightly perverse appeal, and in a sense would not look out of place on 2020 roads amid today’s overstyled contrivances. And let’s not forget, Datsun’s bodystyles at the time were not exactly known for their visual restraint. It’s one way of getting noticed, I imagine.
UK weekly, Motor (week ending Feb 3 1973), featured concurrent 12,000 mile reports on both a 100A, and a Fiat 127. Motor, usually the more critical of the two British weeklies, gave the 100A high praise, but criticised its ride and excessive road induced noise. On balance they declared a draw between the Datsun and the Fiat. Motor’s Deputy Editor, the esteemed Roger Bell apparently bought a 100A for his wife, describing it as “a pleasant little car”.
That about sums it up really. Nothing particularly novel, overtly contentious (assuming one accepted its appearance) or particularly challenging, but more importantly still, one that started on demand, hail, rain or shine. Admittedly, it rusted with perhaps even greater abandon to that of doomed Pio’s 1972 opus, but in finish, equipment and durability terms, the Europeans could have learned much from the 100A, but chose instead to furrow their own courses, to greater or lesser success. But we ought to remember the Cherry as one of the very first genuine FWD superminis. How you choose to remember the Coupé however will remain a matter entirely for yourselves.
By way of companion, this linked piece, first published in February 2014, authored by DTW’s R. Herriott, covers the subject with a little more detail and some alternate insights. You can view it here.