As few days ago, in Bangkok, I saw a squarish maroon shape with chrome bumpers out of the corner of my eye turning into a small “moo” (Thai for alleyway) a couple blocks ahead and decided to go investigate. The driver was out of the car by the time I got there, opening the gate of his house. This was a nicely preserved Japanese car, but I was not overly familiar with the model.
Nissan Datsun 1600? Hmmm… That didn’t ring any bells. The double badge made this a transition model, I figured. The famously incomprehensible transformation of Datsun into Nissan, which was officially launched in 1981, took several years to be achieved (and about US$500m, according to some estimates), but that was mostly in Europe and North America. Nissan was a household name in Japan since the ‘50s. What about grey areas such as Southeast Asia? Well, here’s your answer: the transition from Datsun to Nissan was already taking place by the late ‘70s.
According to what info I could gather from the web, all Datsun A10 sedans received square headlamps by mid-1979 (except wagons) in all markets. It’s very probable that this particular car was built in Japan for export, though these were also made (as Datsuns) in Australia, Mexico and South Africa. Eagle-eyed American and Canadian CC readers will have recognized this as the second generation 510, as it was marketed as such in North America, albeit with pouty 5mph lips. The slim chrome bumpers and round lamps on this Thai car are more attractive in my opinion, though the blacked out grille is a puzzler. Designer Toshio Yamashita did a good job of toning down the previous generation’s cartoonish pseudo-American Coke-bottle styling for this cleaner, if slightly bland shape.
But why, Oh why did Nissan double-badge this car? And why did it give it yet another nameplate? “Nissan Datsun 1600” – how does that make any sense? This rather plain-looking, three-box RWD car, which reminded me of the Fiat 131, was marketed under so many names: Nissan/Datsun Violet, Stanza, 1600J / 1800J, 140J / 160J, Sedán, 510, Auster… It’s easier to give it its internal alphanumeric A10, though one must be careful not to confuse the Nissan A10 car with the Nissan A10 engine (which was a 1 litre used in the late ‘60s on the Datsun 1000). On the Japanese domestic market, the A10s were available from mid-1977 as the base Violet, the “sporty” Auster, the “luxury” Stanza and the “sport & luxury” Stanza Maxima GT – yes, this was the first use of the Maxima name, though these were never seen outside Japan and the name became associated with a different platform (derived from the 910 Bluebird) from 1981.
The A10 was available as a two- and four-door sedan, a wagon, hatchback hardtop coupé and, from 1980, as a five-door hatchback. Some could be ordered as Stanzas or Austers, but all were available as Violets in Japan. The weird thing is that none of these are exactly like the one I photographed in Bangkok. A special Southeast Asian poverty-spec version, maybe? Engine choices on this car were also pretty confusing. Anything from 1.4 to 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 litre was available, depending on where it was marketed.
The Mexican version was long-lived, being built until 1984 – the five-door sedan was called the Datsun Samurai, which is a little on the nose (not that Suzuki ever cared). The Yue Loong 712 (above), built in Taiwan, apparently lasted until 1986. Everywhere else, the A10 / A11 had been replaced by its FWD successor. So this is somewhat representative of the end of an era, the last RWD chrome-bumper mid-range Datsuns.
Many other automakers had confusing model names. General Motors, British Leyland or Peugeot-Citroën-Talbot (to name but three) were also guilty of these “sins” around the same time as this Nissan/Datsun was made. But Nissan took the practice to an even more intricate and obscure level, particularly with this model. So congrats, Nissan, for making out of this pretty innocuous car the most mind-numbingly unclear nameplate salad I’ve ever come across. Next time I catch a glimpse of a chrome bumper in Thailand, I’ll remember to buy aspirin before I leave the country.
Curbside Classic: 1979 Datsun 510 – Revived In Name If Not In Spirit, by David Saunders