I’d like to introduce you to my favourite Japanese car; the Datsun 260C sedan, aka Nissan 330 Cedric. For this article, I’m going to look at the intermingling of the Japanese car industry and Italian styling houses through the progression of this model, hopefully shedding some light on a little understood collaboration and taking a step in giving credit where its due.
In 1952, Nissan entered an agreement with Austin Motors of England to licence the production of motor cars. By 1955, the Austin A50 Cambridge was at the top of the Nissan passenger car hierarchy, but with the domestic economy still recovering, these were not a local success. Toyota, which had eschewed licensing vehicles from outside, developed the Crown and by 1957, it was being exported to the USA. For Nissan, onerous licensing fees and corporate pride had them eager to step out on their own.
Nissan launched its own premium car, the Cedric 30, in 1960. Design chief Shozo Sato was responsible for the lines. An engineer by training, he had impressed executives at Nissan with his excellent watercolour rendering and was appointed head of the fledgling styling office. The Cedric was a conservatively styled saloon, but it did demonstrate lessons learned from the Austin affiliation; and compared with cars such as the Opel Rekord or the Standard Vanguard, it held its own.
Those stacked headlights were not a bid at preempting the 1963 Pontiac, but were instead inspired by the Tobu JNR 151 commuter train from the late 50s. The 680 truck received this treatment as well, and it was also considered for the Junior pickup. The curved windscreen on the Cedric 30 was, however, evidence that designers were trying to emulate overseas styling advances, albeit a little late.
In 1960, Prince Motors (not yet merged with Nissan) exhibited the Michelotti-styled Skyline Sport at the Turin Motor Show. By all accounts, this was the first time a European design house had been involved with styling a Japanese car. It initiated a rush. By the mid-sixties, Michelotti had also worked with Hino, Ghia with Isuzu, Bertone with Mazda and Vignale with Daihatsu. For Nissan, Pininfarina was the chosen carrozzeria.
The first result of the Nissan/Pininfarina union was the 1962 410 ‘Bluebird’. A cohesive and contemporary design, its most distinctive feature was the shallow scallop along the body side. As a Pininfarina styling cue, it first appeared on the 1956 Alfa Romeo 6C 3500 Super Flow.
The 1961 Cadillac Jacqueline used it in a fashion similar to its adoption on the 410, as did the 1968 BLMC 1100 Berlina Aerodynamica, and it was still being used by Pininfarina in 1976 on the Lancia Gamma Coupe. Fine bloodlines indeed.
As we linger on the Jacqueline, I take pause here to explain the Japanese/Italian link in a bit more detail. The Pininfarina Catalogue Raisonné, which is considered the official record of output, features no Japanese cars among nearly 500 vehicles from 1930 to 1990. These omissions are not explained, but the Italdesign/Giugiaro Catalogue Raisonné hints at a possible reason: ‘Japan’s auto manufacturers are not too keen to have it known that they have asked an outside designer to do work for them’. Equally, it’s possible that the design put to manufacture is not the same design as delivered by the styling house, who perhaps might not want to be associated with a work that they don’t consider ‘theirs’.
For the earlier-mentioned Japanese/Italian unions, the result was usually a halo two-door sports car and the link with the design house publicised. But the 410 was not, until very recently, openly acknowledged as a Pininfarina design.
Back to the top-of-the-line Nissan Cedric. The 1963-65 31 model had the same body as the stacked light 30 with a new face. Given the timing of the redesign, it’s likely this update was at the advice of Pininfarina. In 1962, Nissan had also released the Cedric 50, a longer-wheelbase variant with extra length in the rear doors.
Credit to Pininfarina for the 130 Cedric, as with the 410, has only recently been promoted by Nissan. This sketch is dated December 1962. It features a side scallop with a chrome strip running along its centre, à la Jacqueline. The overall design is a more squared-off arrangement, in keeping with international trends following the tailfin era. For the production 130 Cedric, the rectangular headlights were not to be used. Nor was the stepped front bumper.
If the 410 was a confident step in the right direction, the 1965-68 130 Cedric was a giant leap. Some of the cues from the December ’62 sketch are present, including the body-length scallop, but this design is a far more sophisticated solution.
I would go so far as to say this was one of the better Pininfarina four/five doors of the sixties. While it doesn’t match the sheer brilliance of the BLMC Aerodynamica or the beauty of the 1960 Peugeot 404 Wagon, it is–to these eyes–a more attractive solution than the 1963 Austin Morris 1100 and 1966 Ika Torino (pictured above).
The longroof variant is just as well conceived. A delicate greenhouse, crisp lines and balanced proportioning combine to provide sure competition for the Toyota Crown. And there were few contemporaneous European cars of this size and utility as pleasingly resolved. Overall length of the saloon had not differed from the 30, but the height had been reduced by fifty millimeters (about two inches), and the improvement in visual effect was more than apparent.
The 1968-71 130 Series Mark 4 was an in-house update. The front end of the car was totally revised to the extent that it appears to be a completely new model, from this angle at least. I won’t yet focus on the many different names of these cars, but I will point out that in Australia, the model name ‘Cedric’ was dropped and replaced with ‘Big Datsun Six’ for these versions.
This carefully chosen angle of the 1969 Plymouth Fury in no way implies that the US stylists were looking over the shoulders of their Japanese counterparts. But it does suggest that the Japanese stylists were capable of producing design solutions the match of their international peers, even if they did have a great head start on the 130.
And if there are any doubts as to the Japanese in-house capacity to produce a great looking large(ish) saloon, the 1971-75 230 Cedric should put them to rest. The Z and 510 were styled in-house, as were the slightly less attractive Crowns and others, but with the 230 we have one of the best examples of ‘baby US fullsize’ ever designed. This harmonious amalgam of fuselage, cokebottle and Florida crease is an out-and-out success. You can perhaps see other makes in this design, but none predominate. As with the best of the US big three, this is a style in and of itself.
Thanks to the help of Aaron Severson from Ate Up With Motor, I have been able to put a name and some context to the 230’s design. The publication of ‘Fairlady Z Story, Datsun SP/SR & Z’ (Yutaka Katayama and Yoshihiko Matsuo, Tokyo: Miki Press, 1999) lays clear that Yoshihiko Matsuo was the primary stylist of the legendary Z sports car. And in it Matsuo also states that the 230 was his design.
To continue Aaron’s summary:
Matsuo says in that account that cars like the 230 and the 610 Bluebird came about in part as a response to the success of the E10 Corolla (late 1966) and T60 Corona Mark II (Fall 1968), which both had semi-fastback profiles. (There was also the E15 Corolla Sprinter coupe, although he doesn’t mention it specifically.) Matsuo says Nissan’s design chief had previously insisted that everything be very boxy and upright for the sake of packaging efficiency, but sales of the Corolla/Sprinter and Mark II demonstrated that buyers were as interested in styling as anything else, which made Matsuo’s superiors more receptive to sleeker shapes.
The 230 wagon was an equal styling success. Pictured is the commercial variant, the 230 van. Both the van and wagon had a unique feature; the rear quarter side window retracted. You can just see the keyhole near the end of the rear quarter panel. Insert your key, twist and the window winds down electrically so you can place your groceries in from the sidewalk.
Two new body variants were introduced with the 230 series. The four-door hardtop featured above, which complemented the pillared four-door, and the absolutely gorgeous two-door hardtop. Evident on this model is some of the fussy detailing associated with Japanese cars, particularly those wheelcovers and wing mirrors. But the overall result is outstanding.
And now we come to my personal favourite, the 1976-79 330 Cedric. Matsuo had left Nissan by this time, but this model was an in-house upgrade of his 230 body. As some people prefer the ascetic 1965 fullsize Chevrolet to the more zaftig 1967 model, I can understand those who prefer the 230 over the 330. But I find the latter to be a fuller expression, with a number of its styling elements slightly more elaborated.
There is the hint of Oldsmobile dogbone in that face but this is in no way a slavish copy. In truth, this is another conservatively proportioned saloon. But when those proportions are as well-balanced as these, then the results are more satisfactory than mediocre designs resulting from more ambitious undertakings. I love my European saloons, but I still consider the most successful US fullsize designs to be the ultimate expression of the four-door sedan and wagon. And this works exceedingly well within that idiom.
This is my favourite perspective. I love the fullness of the volumes. I love the angles of the edging. I love the space-age lenses. I just really love the design of this car. But rather than bore you with more of my lyrical waxings, let me explain some of the broader aspects of the 330 Cedric as I take you through the other body variants.
According to World Cars 1979 and Wikipedia, seven engines were available: a 2.0 litre I4; an I6 in 2.0, 2.4, 2.6, and 2.8 liter displacements; and 2.0 and 2.2 litre I4 diesels. Power outputs ranged from 60 hp to 145 hp (JIS), fed to the rear wheels through a three-speed Jatco auto, or four and five speed manual transmissions. At about 184.6 inches long (188.4 inches for the Brougham), and 66.5 inches wide, on a 105.9 inch wheelbase and a track (front and rear) of 54.3 inches, these were not big cars by our standards today. They were built on a unit body and supported by coil-sprung wishbones up front and a rigid rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs.
Overseas markets received this range as the Datsun 200C, 220C, 260C and 280C. They were assembled in Taiwan and sold as the Yue Loong 805 and in Japan, they were marketed as Nissan Cedric and Gloria.
After the 1966 merger with Prince Motors, the top-of-the-line, Michelotti-designed Gloria initially continued as a completely separate design and model. At the suggestion of Matsuo, however, the Cedric and Gloria ranges were consolidated for the 230 series in 1971. This continued through the 330 until the end of both lines in 2004. The Gloria is considered a different model in the Japanese market, but for obvious reasons is mentioned within this narrative.
And for those of you who like the more idiosyncratic aspects of Japanese cars, here is a later model in the series, with a face only a mother could love. Rectangular headlights were offered on some earlier 330 two-door hardtops, but by the end of the series they–along with a redefined grille–had spread to the four-door hardtop in some markets.
I end my Cedric story with the 1979-83 430. Based on the 230/330 shell, it enhanced the “dynamic thrust” styling of its immediate antecedents. It also eliminated a lot of the character. Pininfarina was apparently brought back to work on this model. Around the same time, Nissan engaged Italdesign to help with their range of smaller cars. This leaves me feeling as perplexed as Jack Nicklaus looks. Why was outside help sought again? Is the later face on the 330 coupe evidence that the in-house capacity at Nissan needed a reboot?
My uncle used to tell me “You can teach a person to draw, but you can’t make them an artist”. By bringing in Pininfarina (and slightly later Albrecht Goertz), Nissan took the opportunity to learn how to draw. But the artist existed already within certain individuals. All they needed was the facility to express themselves.
Names such as Yoshihiko Matsuo are finally earning greater recognition, but there are others who still remain anonymous. Not everything that emanated from the Japanese motor industry was a styling success. Far from it. But a great many outstanding designs were released and for a long time, I was guilty of prejudiciously ignoring their merits.