History of Datsun

The Kwaishinsha Jidosha Kojo company was founded by an American trained engineer by the name of Masujiro Hashimoto way back in 1911 in Tokyo’s Azaboo-Hiroo district. Three years later in March 1914 that the first proper car appeared, the Type 31. The Type 31 was fitted with a 2000cc four cylinder engine and could carry five people.

Hashimoto had found three business partners to help fund the venture and produce this car. Kenjiro Den had initially helped Hashimoto to start the company and Rokuro Aoyama was a childhood friend. Both contributed money to help create the first car as did Meitaro Takeuchi, a cousin of the former Prime Minister, Yoshida.

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The initials of the three surnames, Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi were used to give the new car it's name ...DAT. The name DAT also was transcribed in Japanese as "Datto", which translated as "a hare in flight" or "running hare". This DAT began it’s production life in 1916. The production model became known as a Type 41, a five seater sedan powered by a 15hp, 2300cc four cylinder engine. Virtually all components of these cars were made in Japan with the exception of the wheels and tyres and the magnetos. These cars were hand made and somewhat of a luxury in Japan. There was no great demand for cars at that time due to the very poor nature of Japan's roads and the public transport was perfectly adequate for most people’s needs. In fact, the road system was so poor that cars were generally confined to the major city areas.

Masujiro HashimotoHashimoto and his workers stand by their first car, the type 31

It was not long before Kwaishinsha company was facing great financial problems and was bought out by it’s own sales agency in 1917. Production of the Type 41 continued under the new company name of the Dat Motor Vehicle Co. Then in 1918 the Japanese army realised the importance of road transport from its experiences in the First World War and offered subsidies to companies prepared to produce trucks for military use. Seizing the opportunity, the DAT Company converted its DAT model and improved its engine for military use.

A new model arrived in 1923. This was the Type 51, a slightly larger open topped tourer which was available in a couple of different body styles. Production was suddenly interrupted by the earthquake of that year. The earthquake was massive and not only killed thousands of people but severely damaged Japans infrastructure. In the aftermath of this disaster the demand for vehicles increased dramatically due to the almost total destruction of the rail networks, which Japan had depended on. DAT motors was at this time the greatest producer of trucks in Japan.In 1925 The Kwaishinsha Company merged with the Jitsuyo Jidosha company to form the DAT Jidosha Seizo Company. Jitsuyo Jidosha had started in 1919 and manufactured three wheeled vehicles designed by William Gorham. The new company based in Osaka continued to produce the Type 41 and a Jitsuyo Jidosha model, the Lila. The company name was changed again to the DAT Automobile Manufacturing Company. DAT finally won a subsidy from the government for its truck production in 1929 and in 1930 a new model, the Type 91 was introduced. The following year the company was absorbed into the Tobata Imono Company, a large industrial business to form Jidosha Seizo Kabushiki Kaisha ("Automobile Manufacturing Company Limited." in English). Tobata Imono’s president, Yoshisuke Ayukawa wanted to mass-produce cars to compete with American imported cars. Takashi Doto became chief designer in place of Hashimoto and Ayukawa's dream became reality when Doto produced a new small car, the Type 10. The car was named Datson, which literally meant "son of DAT" This name was changed to Datsun, because “son” sounded like the Japanese word for "ruin" or "loss" ...which not the best name to give to a new car! Production of the new Datsun began in 1932 with three body styles, roadster, tourer and sedan. This model was equipped with a 495cc engine that produced 10hp, giving them a top speed of 35mph! (56km/h). The first Datsun had arrived!

The Dat Factory in 1921Datson 10 advertisment from 1931

On the 1st of June 1934 the company changed its name once again, but this time it was permanent. The company joined forces with Nihon Sangyo, another automobile manufacturer and the Nissan Motor Company was founded. The name Nissan, incidentally was taken from the first parts of the name Nihon Sangyo. The new Nissan and Datsun logo was made from a red circle symbolizing the rising sun and success on a blue background symbolising the sky and sincerity. Yoshuki Aikawa was to be the first President of Nissan.

The early thirties saw annual changes to the Datsun. Most were cosmetic as technically the cars still used worm drive axles, side valve four cylinder engines and beam front axles. The first new car to be produced under the name of Nissan was the Type 70 of 1936. Nissan had struck a deal with the ailing Graham-Paige Motor Company from America and had purchased the plans and tooling to produce one of their old cars from 1935. (this may have been called the model 8) The Type 70 was available as a luxury six cylinder sedan or open topped tourer.

Datsun production line in 1936The NL race cars from 1936

An interesting diversion came in the mid thirties with what must have been Datsuns first foray into the field of motor sport with the NL series race cars, one of which feature a double overhead cam engine. These tiny race cars proved successful and one won the Japan Motor Vehicle competition run at the Tamagawa race circuit in 1936.

Nissan's Yokohama plant production reached 10,000 (all Japanese built) cars in 1937. An incredible achievement when you consider that this meant production had increased ten-fold within three years. By the end of the thirties Nissan employed 3,785 people, a figure which had doubled from the previous year such was their rapid expansion.

Between 1937 and 1941, the war between Japan and China led the Japanese government to buy as many as forty thousand vehicles a year from Nissan. The extra business was welcome and Nissan found they were able to expand their factory.

As the second world war approached production of passenger cars slowed and almost stopped entirely when the Japanese Government started to give subsidies to companies producing trucks for military use. Eventually the Japanese government would entirely ban the production of passenger cars during the war. Nissan produced both heavy and light trucks for the war effort as well as constructing a new factory at Yoshiwara for the manufacture of aircraft engines. During World War two Nissan's heavy truck manufacture concentrated on the model 80, and later in 1941 the 180, both of which were well built and very rugged although a little underpowered for their size. Nissan also produced buses after the war based on the model 80 truck that could run on charcoal, for use in Japan while fuel was in short supply. The war had a devastating effect on Japan and it's motor manufacturers. Even though Nissan's Yokahama plant had escaped destruction during the wartime air raids it wasn't until 1948 that passenger car production resumed and even then most production was at the Yoshiwara plant. For nearly ten years after the war over half of the Yokahama plant was in use by occupying forces, preventing a return to mass production there.

The 10,000th datsun rolls off the line in 1937DB models in production in the early fifties.

Nissan brought out new models through this period but most were very dated and there were no real technical advances with the possible exception of the four wheel drive Nissan Patrol. The Japanese army had requested an off road vehicle and Nissan launched a research program to develop such a vehicle. The end result of which was the Patrol, a four wheel drive off road vehicle, very similar in appearance to the American Willys Jeep used by the United Sates Army during the war. In 1951 the Bank of Japan gave Nissan financial assistance to aid their post war recovery which gave them the capital to get the Patrol into production as well as improve working conditions and renew some parts of the plants. The Patrol was another huge success and was even used by the Japanese Ministry of Security and by numerous Fire Brigades.

Nissans first proper sports car, the Datsun DC-3, was launched in 1952. The DC-3 looked like something from the thirties rather than the fifties as did the similar looking 5147 pickup truck which was available at the same time.

There was unrest at the factory in the early fifties. The workers took part in a one hundred day strike in 1953 that almost brought down the company. Fortunately a resolution was achieved, such that the relations between management and workers has remained pretty harmonious ever since. The strike gave birth to the All Nissan Motor Workers Union and a philosophy of mutual trust between both management and workers.

It was around this time that Nissan took an important step that was to be a big help in their post war recovery. They signed a deal with Austin of England to produce the Austin A40 Somerset under licence in Japan using CKD kits shipped from England. These were sold alongside Nissans other post war models, most of which were still mechanically somewhat pre-war. The Austin A40 was followed by the A50 Cambridge in 1955. By the end of the A50's production it was being built almost entirely from Japanese made parts. This gave Nissan valuable time and experience with which to design their own new car, the Datsun 110 or Convar as it was named. This was entirely Nissan's own design and led to the similar looking 210 models that were to form the basis of Nissan's export drive from 1958 onwards.

Nissan provided capital along with Minsei Diesel engineering in 1955 to form the Nissan-Minsei Diesel Sales Company to encourage growth of their diesel truck market. Nissans large model 380 truck had previously been built as a Minsei TS22 in the early fifties but was fitted with Minsei’s own diesel engine in place of the Mitsubishi unit that Nissan used at the time.

Between 1955 and 1957 the Japanese economy went through a boom period, spurred on by the lifting of American restrictions imposed after the war. This allowed for rapid industrial expansion and opened the way for the beginning of worldwide exports. Katsuji Kawamata became the new President of Nissan in 1957 replacing Genshichi Asahara.

An event that truly brought the Datsun name to the for-front was the 1958 Mobilgas Round Australia Trial. This event covered some 10,000 miles mostly on unmade dirt roads through some pretty harsh terrain. Yutaka Katayama heard of the event and suggested to the Nissan executive that they enter it as it could help to prove the Datsuns reliability and durability. It was agreed and two Datsun 210's along with Katayama and four drivers went off to Australia. The result couldn't have been better, as Datsun won the under 1000cc class despite colliding with a wallaby! This was Nissan's first international sporting success and was to be the first of many.

Nissan Type 70 tourer in use around 1939The victorious 1958 Mobilgas trial 210's

By 1959 Takashi Ishihara was the new President and the first exports had made their way to the all important American market. The 210, although a little small by American standards was a ruggedly built little car and it did find a few buyers. The most significant new car came the following year, the Datsun 310 Bluebird. It was launched in July 1959 at the Prince of Takanawa Hotel in Tokyo in front of two thousand representatives from all over the world. It was a success right from the start, in fact Nissan couldn't keep up with the demand in the first few months. The 310 was a much better car, especially for the US market as it not only had a more powerful engine but it had a bigger body and the styling was much more in keeping with small European cars of the day. The 310 found it's way to some European countries too including Norway and Greece. Alongside the 310 was the 320, a small utility vehicle. There had been small trucks before with the 220 models but the 320 provided a really useful and rugged small truck, one which sold well in America, where small pickup trucks at that time were not common.

The 310 was replaced by the Pininfarina styled 410 in 1963 and quickly became the biggest selling car in Japan. Nissan sold 50,000 in the first six months in Japan alone.

Nissan's Yokahama factory in 1959G31 Nissan Cedrics on the production line in around 1962

Nissan also began its first overseas manufacturing in 1959 with the assembly of Datsuns in Taiwan by the Yulon Motor Company. These Datsuns were actually badged as Yulons (or Yue Loong) and sold with new model numbers. In 1960 Nissan Motor Company in USA was formed to market and distribute cars there and then in 1961 Nissan Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. was created to manufacture Datsuns in Mexico. In 1964 the Canadian Nissan distributor was set up and in 1966 the same in Australia. Later a similar production facility to Mexico was established in Peru.

Nissan also launched it's new luxury car in 1960, the Nissan Cedric. The Cedric was an unusual combination of luxury with economy and at first features a rather small 1500cc engine, later enlarged to 1900cc. The Cedric was exported in very small numbers to America (approximately 19 G31 models were sold) and a few other countries but it was in Japan were it excelled. It's rather odd name was chosen by Nissan's President at the time, Katsuji Kawamata. It comes from the character in the book "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and was chosen due to it's association with the United Kingdom in respect for their assistance in producing Austin cars, thus allowing Nissan to develop the technical skills to produce their own cars.

Nissan was rewarded for it's efforts by receiving the annual Demming Prize for engineering excellence in 1960. They were the first Japanese company to have done so. Nissan was prepared for its impending expansion with exports climbing ever higher. In 1962 they built a new state-of-the-art production line at Oppama and launched the SP310 Datsun Fairlady roadster, a well equipped, sporty convertible which was very successful in America. The SP310 replaced the previous SP211 Fairlady models which had not been a tremendous success due to their relatively small engines. In 1965 another high tech plant was opened at Zama which specialized in truck production. This plant was highly automated and for the first time parts were computerised for the purpose of gathering quality control information. The year also saw the launch of Nissans most luxurious car ever, the V8 powered Nissan President.

Yutaka Katayama became Nissan USA's new President in 1965 and remained so for the next ten years. Katayama was instrumental in the success of Nissan USA in the early days with his blend of excellent business sense and hard work.

A 411 Bluebird going through the paint processA prototype clay model of the Datsun 510 being created

1966 was a landmark year for Nissan. They combined with the Prince Motor Company who had an impressive model line up and a history of engineering excellence and sophisticated cars. Nissan adopted two of Prince Motors car's to their own line-up. These were the Skyline and the Gloria. Prince brought new technical and design skills to Nissan that is reflected in the cars produced after the merger such as the C30, 510 and E10 models.

1966 was also the year that the very first Datsun Sunny arrived. The B10 model was a simple but well engineered car that was received well in both home and export markets. It provided just the right combination of comfort, performance and economy for a small car and in Japan heralded the beginning of what was to be known as the "my car" era, a time when everybody could have their own personal car. The name "Sunny" was actually chosen by the general public after Nissan ran newspaper ads inviting people to name the new model to be launched soon. Nissan received nearly eight and a half million reply postcards in a month! The name Sunny was finally chosen because it fitted the cars image of "bright, lively and youthful".

Nissan motor sport success continued with a top placings (5th and 6th) for a pair of 411 Bluebirds in the 1966 East African Safari Rally, the toughest rally in the world. Similar results came in 1967 and 1968 with the 130 Cedric's when only seven cars finished out of ninety three starters (the Cedric came 7th).

In 1967 the 510 arrived. This was probably one of the best cars Nissan ever produced. While relatively orthodox in it's styling and general concept it, much like the B10 provided the perfect blend of performance, economy and comfort ...and all for a bargain price. The 510 was an instant success in both the USA and Australia and to a lesser degree in Europe, although it has to be said, that in Europe there was a higher number similar cars in competition with the 510. Exports had reached such a level by this time that in 1967 a wharf was built at Hommoku port just for Nissan’s export vehicles. In 1968 the C30 further improved on the 510 and B10 with its rack and pinion steering and cross flow OHC engine. These three Datsuns along with the 130 Cedric heralded the beginning of Datsun imports into the United Kingdom in 1968.

Datsun came closer to the top of the leader board again in the East African Safari Rally with a 510 finishing 3rd overall and Datsuns taking six of the top thirteen places. Victory was not far away.

Nissan's Fairlady models, which had been about since the fifties, took a dramatic new direction in 1969 with the arrival of the Fairlady 240Z. Up until the Z the Fairlady had always been a convertible but now it had not only an elegant fixed head body but a powerful six cylinder engine as well as fully independent suspension. The Z was a massive success and went on to become the biggest selling sports car of all time. Another first for Nissan came in 1970 with the introduction of their first front wheel drive production car, the Datsun Cherry E10 or 100A as it was know in some markets. The E10 combined the 988cc “A” series engine from the B10 mounted transversely over the transmission in a similar style to BMC's Mini of 1959, the main difference being that on the Datsun the engine and transmission didn't share the same oil. The E10 was an immediate success in Europe where cars of this type were already popular.

The Datsun 126X concept car on display at the 1971 Tokyo Motorshow

In 1970 a company called Tokyo Kaka merged with Nissan. Tokyo Kaka was specialists in the production and assembly of truck engines. 1970 finally brought victory in the East African Safari rally with the Datsun 510 taking top honours. Nineteen cars finished of which six were Datsuns, four of those in the top seven positions. You can read about the 1970 Safari rally 510 HERE. Datsun took the title again in 1971 but this time with 240Z's finishing in first, second and seventh places. Although victory eluded the Datsun team in 1972, half of the eighteen cars that finished the event were Datsuns. Datsun hit the big time in America too with victory over Alfa Romeo and BMW in the 2.5 Trans-Am series with the BRE Datsun 510 sedans. BRE Datsun's had entered as rookies in 1970 and took the title only to come back in 1971 and do the same again.

By 1972 Nissan was the fourth largest car manufacturer in the world with sales in 120 countries around the world. Between 1967 and 1972 the number of Datsuns exported had grown from 131,000 to 2,700,000. This required a fleet of twelve ships, some capable of carrying 1200 cars in one go. Their range was not only huge buy also very diverse in both mechanical layout and styling. Exports were at an all time high and Datsuns were having plenty of success in motor sport around the world, thus raising the marque's profile even further.

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