Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père

The President will see you now.

Nissan President. Image: Topspeed

Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT[1], the Nissan Motor Company has traded under its latterday identity since 1933. Introduced into Western markets under the Datsun nameplate; from 1981, this by then well-established brand name would no longer feature on the carmaker’s products.[2]

The fact that Nissan chose to make this sweeping change in spite of the sales success enjoyed by brand-Datsun across global markets can be viewed two ways; an attempt to create a unified, instantly recognisable brand name, à la Toyota, or alternatively, to allow the carmaker to distance itself from a perception which had developed for producing somewhat cheap and unsophisticated products.

The 1965 Nissan President however, was neither of those things. Nor was it to suffer the indignity of Datsun badging – not even from the outset. Introduced as the company flagship and sold predominantly (much like the Mitsubishi Debonair featured here recently) to captains of domestic industry and government officials,[3] the President was a conservative, formal saloon, well suited to its task of conveying both gravitas and dignitaries – often simultaneously.

Nissan President. Image: Favcars

Designed in the house style of the era, the President carried a slight American inflection to its lines, although one would struggle to pinpoint any glaring similarities. Resolutely conventional in technical layout, it arrived with a choice of an in-line six or a V8. Development (again somewhat akin to the Debonair) took place at glacial speed, with a facelifted version debuting in 1971, but when the car finally ceased production in 1990, it really did resemble a product from another age.

Faced with the necessity to replace the President and take the fight to Toyota City (the upcoming Lexus being an open secret), Nissan executives chose to develop one car which could be purposed according to the needs of both the domestic chauffeur-driven market and the one Nishi-Ku were concurrently scheming under the Infiniti brand.

Produced in two wheelbases,[4] the JHG50-series President made its debut in LWB form at the 1989 Tokyo Motor show. New from the ground-up, it featured the same 4.5 litre V8 power unit which would be shared by the Q45.[5] Nissan not only wanted to position the President as a technological leader in the JDM plutocrat class, but also to ensure its new upmarket US brand received the big-hitting, BMW-baiting hardware it would require.

1985 Nissan CUE-X concept car. Image: Motor1

Several years before, Nissan displayed a superbly realised luxury saloon concept, dubbed CUE-X – a vehicle which probably better expressed a platonic ideal of how a North American market, BMW/ Jaguar-rivalling product should look, but expedience, feasibility (and budgetary concerns) seems to have elicited a change of focus. Hence, instead of a lithe, athletic, low-roofed and pared back aesthetic, the President gained a more upright (better for passenger accommodation) canopy and a distinctly formal nose (and tail) treatment.

It has been noted, both here and elsewhere that the frontal aspect of the JHG50 President resembles that of Jaguar’s 1986 XJ40, and to these eyes a resemblance is quite evident. Whether this was intentional or incidental is (and probably will remain) unclear, but given the timelines, the former remains a plausible assertion. But perhaps more interesting than inspiration is execution, and in this instance, it can be stated that Nissan’s stylists did a tidier job than their Coventry counterparts.

Image: Favcars

Now, in mitigation, it is on record that Jaguar’s stylistic principals felt that aspects of the car’s detail style were somewhat rushed[6] and certainly, the Jaguar’s frontal treatment is one that even its most ardent proponents have never felt wholly satisfied with. Certainly, it is possible to view the face of the Nissan – especially the manner in which the grille and headlamps have been integrated – as being a good example of how XJ40’s nose ought to have been fashioned.

Of course, Jaguar’s stylists were hampered, not only by the necessity to allow for US-specification headlamps in addition to the rectangular units that were the stylistically favoured solution,[7] but also by severe budgetary constraints from which their Yokohama-based equivalents were most likely spared.

Image: minkara.carview.jp

Certainly, any similarity between the two cars was not picked up at the time, largely because the President was almost entirely a Japanese domestic market offering, receiving little contemporary European (or US) press coverage. However, the motor press did report widely upon the closely related Infiniti Q45, and it must be added – from a purely stylistic context – not in a wholly eulogistic manner either.

1989 Infiniti Q45. Image: automobile

It is probably relatively safe to suggest that in 1990, the car buying public in the United States was not ready to embrace a high-end luxury saloon shorn of an imposing grille up front.[8] Toyota had grasped this nostrum and its LS 400 was thus-equipped. When Nissan realised its error and introduced a facelifted version of the Q45 in 1994, its traditional looking grille was not only slightly incongruous,[9] but a somewhat shrunken-head version of that fitted to the JDM President.[10]

Half-hearted: 1994 facelifted Infiniti Q45. Image: Edmunds

Is it simplistic to suggest that a more traditionally composed front-end might have aided the Q45’s sales-case? Probably, since the reasons for its relative lack of market penetration are a little more nuanced and varied than simple aesthetics[11] – however, it does underline just how important it is for any pathfinder product to be pitched to the very last screed and iota.

Nevertheless, for Nissan, adopting the President’s facade may not have been a viable solution either; firstly because it would have undermined the JDM model (which was pitched into a more rarefied sector of the market), and secondly, because the world and their mother would not have paused for breath in deriding Yokohama for copying Browns Lane’s homework.

For added confusion, another (smaller and less effective) derivation of the Nissan President grille. Image: Montu Motors

In 1994, the President received a mild facelift, and in a further coincidence, became available in even more upmarket Sovereign specification.[12] This version remained in production until 2002, when a new generation President, based on the Nissan Cima[13] was introduced. By this time, brand-Infiniti were on their third distinct iteration of the Q45 nameplate, and still seeking that elusive elixir of success.

A final observation: In January 2020, former Jaguar Chairman, Sir John Egan told a journalist for Jaguar World magazine that he regretted not trying harder to find a safe berth for the company before Ford made an offer the shareholders couldn’t refuse. Citing both Toyota and PSA as preferred partners, he then revealed that he had been subsequently informed that Nissan had been open to doing a deal at the time; “they were struggling with Infiniti“, he added.

Of course, everyone is a genius in hindsight and after all, given what later befell the Yokohama-based carmaker, and its shotgun wedding with Nicole, would Jaguar have been in any better a position now – especially once Mr. Ghosn had finished wielding the blade?

After all, when a President becomes a Sovereign, it is more commonly referred to as a coup.

[1] A conjunction of the surnames of Nissan’s three founders.

[2] The Datsun brand was reintroduced for emerging markets in 2013.

[3] The President was infra dignitatem for Japan’s Emperor, who was ferried about in a series of specially commissioned Nissan Prince Royal limousines.

[4] The later SWB model being identical in dimension to that of the Infiniti Q45.

[5] Which was sold as a Nissan Infiniti in the Japanese domestic market.

[6] Ironic, given its lengthy gestation, but that’s another story

[7] During its stylistic gestation, XJ40 gained wrap-around headlamp/ indicator units, à la Rolls Royce Silver Spirit, but these were abandoned late in the day for a simpler (and probably cheaper) solution.

[8] Tesla changed all that.

[9] The problem here was not exactly the grille, but the relationship between them and the headlamp units, which was wholly incongruent. The President did it better.

[10] Confusingly, there were at least two different grille designs fitted to the President. The smaller, less ornate (and less convincing) version being fitted to the SWB version. 

[11] As told in considerable detail by a fellow DTW scribe, in marked contrast to a somewhat lightweight piece highlighted on The Truth About Cars by a BTL commenter recently.

[12] Nissan’s use of the Sovereign name (1977) predates that of Jaguar (1982/3), but not of Jaguar-owned Daimler – (1967).

[13] Production of the Nissan President ceased entirely in 2010.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”

  1. The CUE-X concept would later influence the design of the third generation Maxima (J30), the most appealing of all, in my opinion.

  2. What an interesting essay on an interesting topic to find on returning to visit DTW. Thank you for providing it.

    Re the first Lexus. Does anyone remember how it was that LS400 car came to possess the grille it featured? There were three versions of the front end design prepared for the LS400. Those involved was pleased with the rest of the car but they could not decide conclusively how the front end ought to be resolved. Of the three front end designs prepared for the LS400, one was favoured by one group in the company, a second by a second group and the third was not backed by many at all (save a few of the guys who drew it up- intended for a different model originally). The two popular designs were each backed by a similar number of people who happened to be of equivalent seniority. This led to a stalemate. Finally two senior executive level managers, one backing one of the popular designs and one backing the other, sat down to sort the matter out.

    At first no solution was found. Various means to make a decision and “break the tie” were considered. Advice was sought, votes were taken and some other approaches were deployed. The deadlock persisted until the two executives determined that both sides needed to make suitable compromise. The least favoured design was therefore selected. Both groups were not as happy as they would have preferred, but the compromise preserved unity overall. So the third best front end treatment is the design LS400 got. It did get a slight tidy up and was refined a little, but number three it was!

    Now here is the rub…. one of the two favoured designs had no grille.

    1. That’s a fascinating story, J T. It’s an interesting resolution to an intractable disagreement, where both protagonists ‘lose equally’ but not one that would ever be contemplated in the West, I suspect.

  3. Good morning Eóin. The comparison between the front end execution on the President and XJ40 is certainly an instructive one:

    In fairness to Jaguar, the XJ40’s front end was conceptually fine but, as you say, the execution betrays Jaguar’s limited resources. Instead of the President’s beautifully integrated treatment, the Jaguar instead had to make do with fussy brightwork fillets surrounding the headlamps. Had Jaguar been able to incorporate the grille into the leading edge of the bonnet (as on earlier XJ6 models, ironically) and separate it more clearly from the headlamps, the result would have been much more satisfying. The President’s body-coloured fully integrated bumpers (which only became widely used after the XJ40’s launch) also look much neater. The grille on the SWB President, although still beautifully integrated looks a bit weedy by comparison, as you say.

    1. Hello Eòin and Daniel- the similarity with the XJ40 is indeed hard to miss. And maybe it’s just me, but I also see a flatter and more rounded / featureless likeness (although to a lesser extent than that with XJ40) to the 1980s Bentley Mulsanne:

    2. Thanks Christopher. I went looking for this car while I was researching the piece, but got lost in Continentals and gave up the search. We’ll add that to the lexicon. Town Car: I’ve written it down, and WILL remember.

    3. For the sake of completeness let us not forget the Allegro-based Vanden Plas and the Aston Lagonda.

      I’m not certain why Jaguar insisted on a front-hinged bonnet, it seems to have further limited their options regarding fit and finish once they decided to avoid a multi-piece lead-loaded construction.

      Here are the W126 and W140 bonnets, clearly a source of inspiration for the President. it seems like the skin of W126 may have been stamped as a single piece, not sure about W140, if so that is impressive for its day.

    4. Even the artisans of Crewe and Newport Pagnell did not go to this extent to conceal a shut line.

  4. I always liked the Cue-X. Simple forms, the proportions are good, flush windows and concealed wipers. There’s hardly any clutter or noise to the clean shape. The President was a good deal more traditional, not a bad looking car I think, but a lot less distinctive than the Cue-X.

  5. For me it’s interesting that the XJ40’s gestation is considered somewhat rushed regarding the time it took them to get there.

    1. I’ll take this opportunity to answer a number of points raised in the comments above, if I may.

      Dave: It did indeed take some considerable time. The ’40 was initiated in 1972. However, it took until 1978 for a consensus to be arrived at as regards to the styling theme, primarily because what Jaguar wanted and what successive BL senior management dictated were diametrically opposed. The definitive XJ40 execution was arrived at in 1979, and while both Bob Knight and Jim Randle were quoted as saying that they would have preferred to have refined the extremities further, at a Spring 1980 styling review with BL’s Sir Micheal Edwardes and Ray Horrocks, the proposed style was green-lit as was, with instructions for it to be in production by 1983. So yes, it was a bit rushed in the end, largely because of the time, effort and money wasted in the intervening years.

      Bruno: You are correct in drawing comparison to the Spirit/ Mulsanne. It has always been clear to me that both RR and Jaguar were (in isolation) thinking along similar lines (and the timelines seem to bear this out). I had originally mentioned this aspect in the text, but since I was already in trouble with word counts I elected to place it as a footnote. I do wonder if part of the rationale for Jaguar abandoning this approach was rooted in fears of it appearing too similar to that of RR?

      Daniel: In addition to the points you make, one must also bear in mind that Jaguar were attempting to tread a fine line between modernity and efficiency (both in performance and build) while on the other hand not alienating the Series III owner, for whom grace and elegance of line was very important. Hence, matters like integrated bumpers (which were explored) were deemed a step too far.

      JT: Thanks for a fascinating insight into the LS 400. I imagine such ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ decisions are not as rare (or confined to Japanese culture) as we might imagine. Very often the decision makers are not the best qualified for the job. Just because one is a CEO, doesn’t entail one has any worthwhile aesthetic discernment.

      I would also posit the view that the Nissan CUE-X was a masterpiece. Someone must know who designed it?

    2. It’s hard to find out who was / were responsible for the Cue-X. Some early drawings appear to be signed ‘Yam’. Toshio Yamashita? He was still around at that time.

      Nissan CUE-X early drawings

  6. A Nissan takeover is Jaguar as mentioned by Sir John Egan is an interesting idea, based on the similarities between the President and XJ40 with Nissan even developing an (albeit motorsport focused) V12 engine.

    OTOH they could have also done well with partnering up with or even eventually taking over BLARG in place of Honda.

  7. Thanks for the article, Eóin. Just out of curiosity, have you got production figures for the President and Q45?

    Yesterday I came across a pre-facelift Q45 for sale (it was never officially imported to Brazil) for about 3k pounds, and I’m not sure how hard would be sourcing parts for it.

    I’m currently looking for an underrated luxobarge and this Q45 ticks all boxes to me. And the Infiniti has a slightly better chance of being more reliable than the Peugeots 605 and 607 I was looking for until I found this Q.

  8. In terms of American styling influence, the original generation President reminds me of the 1964 Rambler Classic/Ambassador. Their wheelbases and length/width footprint are similar as well.

    Wheelbase: President 112.2″ Classic/Ambassador 112″
    Length: President 198.6″ Classic/Ambassador 190″
    Width: President 70.7″ Classic/Ambassador 71.3″

  9. On the subject of the XJ40 executed on the budget of the President, how about this? Firstly, the production XJ40:

    Then with the integrated bumper from the X300 and headlamps inset properly into bodywork:

    Alternatively, with shallower headlamps:

    Thinking about this further, Jaguar could have retained the production XJ40 bonnet and front wings and simply fabricated a body-coloured front panel to separate the headlamps, grille and bumper. A short horizontal shut-line between the upper inboard corners of the headlamps and the grille and a short vertical panel-gap below the lower outboard corners of the headlamps would have been perfectly tidy. It makes the production model’s compromises all the more difficult to understand.

    1. There are two other possibilities to try and they might well work out.

      For the first. Why not move the headlamps inwards until they are all but touching the grille? Keep the headlight size as it is (was). Make the chrome surround the same (narrow) width all the way around the periphery of the headlights and eliminate the awkward gap that needed to be filled one way or another. Do not inset the headlights though.

      Now this is going to demand the front fender panels are altered to curve inwards so that we don’t end up with an awkward gap outboard of the headlights (which would be a case of swapping one problem for another). The very front of the car gets squeezed inwards a little. The crease on the peak of the fender would need to arc inwards as well as downwards to the top corner of the headlamp, but the narrowing should not occur until nearly at the front of the car (well forward of the top of the front wheel). The bonnet shut-line may need subtle amendment to allow this to work out.

      The second possibility is something similar to BMW. Simply put four individual headlights behind a clear panel where the the headlight is. Make the outboard lights of slightly larger diameter to the inboard ones. Get rid of the chrome surround altogether.

    2. Hi J T. I’m not sure that moving the existing rectangular headlamps inboard so they almost touch the grille wouldn’t just end up making the front if the car look a bit pinched, but your suggestion raises the question of why Jaguar didn’t simply make headlamps wider, eliminating the need for the fillet.

      Your second suggestion, BMW-style twin round headlamps behind a clear polycarbonate panel would not look very different to the twin-headlamp production XJ40 (minus the larger outer lamp, of course):

      That arrangement actually looks very smart in dark colours, where the panel-gaps and bonnet shut-line around the headlamp nascelles cannot be seen clearly. It’s a bit less successful in other colours where these gaps are more obvious:

      Note the Allegro-tribute ‘Quartic’ chromed headlamp surrounds, an attempt literally ‘to square the circle’ of putting round headlamps into a rectangular nacelle.

    3. I always found the quad headlamp XJ40s much more attractive and I could never understand why the cheap versions got the attractive solution and the expensive ones got the glass bricks.

  10. I’m very surprised to be the first commenter to note the resemblances between the President (and especially the Cue-X) with various Cadillac designs of approximately the same vintage. In particular I can see a lot of similarity with the Allante, the Seville III and the Seville IV. Please forgive the fact that I never learned to embed photos in WordPress, but I have provided a few URLs below (hope I don’t get spam flagged!)

    Seville III:
    Seville IV: (compare with Cue-X)


    The Allante (from which this era of GM styling was descended) was a Pininfarina creation IIRC: could there have been some carrozzerie cross-pollination at work here, or was the Nissan a totally in-house effort?

    Or perhaps all this is just in my mind? It wouldn’t be the first time!

    1. Andrew: I’m afraid this comment did fall into the spam folder. Carrying out my daily trudge through the nonsense and insanity therein just now, I discovered it. I can see your point as regards the nose treatment of both the Seville III and Allanté, but any similarity to CUE-X in either case rather eludes me, I’m afraid. The timelines on the 1992 Seville however would allow some influence to have percolated through; former GM designer, Dick Ruzzin (who was I believe, involved in the ’92 Seville’s design) was a visitor to these pages fairly recently, so if he is still about, perhaps can cast some light on this…

    2. Dear Eoin,

      No worries, the gods flip a coin whenever a WordPress comment is submitted!

      In a misguided attempt at brevity, I think that I did not explain myself properly: the nose treatment is a similarity between Seville III and Allante and the production President, as you have rightly observed. It is purely the profile of the Cue-X and the Seville IV that I was comparing. I’ve put them in a single image side-by-side here to illustrate my point, though perhaps as I say the resemblance is not as striking to others as it is to me.

    3. Andrew, the 1992 Seville descends from a proposal called “LaScala” created during the gestation of the first generation car.

  11. I like Pininfarina’s idea(s) from 1973 though it is very unrefined such as with the mismatched fit of the grille with the bonnet contours.

    I’d also thicken the grille’s perimeter like on the E32 7 series . It’s questionable whether this bumper shape would meet the US corner impact regulations even after they were relaxed for 1982, perhaps a main reason that Jaguar didn’t pursue this modern theme.

    Here’s an also-ran proposal dated 1979 which also leans a bit toward the Munich school, and perhaps coincidentally (or not) both the 1980 Silver Spirit and Mulsanne.

  12. That 1979 proposal is also very close to the 1970 De Tomaso Modena / Deauville which anticipated both the Series 3 and XJ40. The boot seems to sag like a 504’s. It’s probably a blessing that golf-bat carrying capacity prevailed over that idea.

    I do wonder how much Tjaarda’s 1970 design affected Jaguar’s designers. When the Modena appeared at Turin it was dismissed as a shameless and unimaginative XJ copy. Tom Tjaarda was far too talented for that, and effortlessly showed Jaguar the way ahead, should they choose to accept it.

  13. Hello Daniel

    Re the first possibility.

    Pinching in the front of the car inwards slightly is the idea. As an analogy look at the rear of the XJ4. In this design the car narrows slightly after the rear wheel arch. The top creases head inwards as you go further and further aft. Viewed from the rear notice how far inboard the tail lamps are in reference to the cabin (C-pillar base).

    What I was thinking was to squeeze the front of XJ40 slightly but not by as much as what occurs at the rear of XJ4 (there is much less distance from the wheel arch to the very front of the car so there isn’t the room to go quite as far inwards without the whole show looking way too aggressively pinched).

    Re the second.

    Yes, you are quite right. It would be close to what Jaguar actually did with the four lamp design (apart from the headlight diameters). I think the clear panel approach could have been better aesthetically though, especially for the lighter shades (mine was white and so the panel gaps and shuts really irked).

    Putting round headlamps into rectangular nacelles isn’t the offence though. It has to be the chroming of the surrounds that is the real sin. Why ever were the surrounds subjected to chroming of all the things to do? Fake. Plastic chrome on the Jaguar! Ugh-worthy.

    Kill the chrome. Keep it all body colour and place the assembly behind a nice clear cover for cleaner aero and less likelihood of losing lights to those dreadful bits of road rock that trucks (and errant BMWs) seem to throw up at you on the motorway.

    That dark Jaguar looks really quite nice. Appealing. You’d have to be happy to have something like that parked in the garage ready to go.


    1. Good morning J T. I agree about that dark-coloured quad headlamp XJ40. It really is a handsome car. Regarding Dave’s point about the cheaper models getting the quad headlamp front, that was certainly a reversal of the traditional rules of model hierarchy. (Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk3 and Mk4, Cortina Mk3, Hillman Avenger and Hunter etc.)

      I can only assume that Jaguar wanted to break away from the XJ6’s traditional front end and instead do something that was clearly ‘modern’, hence the rectangular headlamps that were the XJ40’s ‘signature’. The US NHTSA headlamp regulations changed in 1983 to allow for custom headlights with replaceable bulbs, so that doesn’t explain the quad-headlamp front end. Were four off-the-shelf 5 3/4″ round headlamps and their bezels still cheaper than a pair of custom-made large rectangular units?

  14. I’ve been reflecting on the BTL response to Eóin’s excellent piece on the Nissan President. It’s striking that the majority of comments (including mine) were not about the subject of the piece at all, but the Jaguar XJ40. I think, for all its strengths and qualities, the President lacks much (anything?) in the way of emotion. It’s like a Miele domestic appliance: the perfectly designed for its intended purpose, beautifully engineered and built, but essentially soulless. It’s a car that commands respect and admiration, but not love. In contrast, the XJ40, for all its flaws, still has the capacity to make an emotional connection with those who love cars. Fascinating.

    1. I think it has more to do with the fact that probably none of us has even been in close proximity to a President.

      I really like it, and think it has a lot of personality, though it does have an air of dishonesty about it, due to its traditional face plastered on a modern and swoopy looking body.

      Besides, Jaguars are just fun to discuss, so people often bring them up here on DTW, regardless of subject.

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