The President will see you now.
Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT, 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.
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, the President was a conservative, formal saloon, well suited to its task of conveying both gravitas and dignitaries – often simultaneously.
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, 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. 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.
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.
Now, in mitigation, it is on record that Jaguar’s stylistic principals felt that aspects of the car’s detail style were somewhat rushed 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, but also by severe budgetary constraints from which their Yokohama-based equivalents were most likely spared.
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.
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. 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, but a somewhat shrunken-head version of that fitted to the JDM President.
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 – 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.
In 1994, the President received a mild facelift, and in a further coincidence, became available in even more upmarket Sovereign specification. This version remained in production until 2002, when a new generation President, based on the Nissan Cima 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.
 A conjunction of the surnames of Nissan’s three founders.
 The Datsun brand was reintroduced for emerging markets in 2013.
 The President was infra dignitatem for Japan’s Emperor, who was ferried about in a series of specially commissioned Nissan Prince Royal limousines.
 The later SWB model being identical in dimension to that of the Infiniti Q45.
 Which was sold as a Nissan Infiniti in the Japanese domestic market.
 Ironic, given its lengthy gestation, but that’s another story…
 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.
 Tesla changed all that.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Nissan’s use of the Sovereign name (1977) predates that of Jaguar (1982/3), but not of Jaguar-owned Daimler – (1967).
 Production of the Nissan President ceased entirely in 2010.