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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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.