I’m not sure why I’ve written so many “Twofer” posts. It’s often a good way to write a reasonably long post on cars that are closely (or loosely) related. And my poor skills / bad luck as a photographer have also played a part. On this occasion, in Chiang Mai, it was like the curb had turned into the Asian version of Life on Mars, all of the sudden. A real-life flashback to the late ‘70s.
Of course, the one that immediately caught my eye was that glorious Datsun. The red paintwork and the gleaming chrome caused an immediate mental freeze frame/record scratch. The Sunny deployed some sort of invisible tractor beam, irresistibly pulling me towards it.
I’m still definitely not a fan of resto-mods, but I tried to ignore the silly toy-car wheels and focus on this Datsun’s many positive attributes. I’m not familiar with these – not sure many were exported to Europe back in the day, but it must have been peanuts compared to the US coasts and places like Southeast Asia, Australia or New-Zealand. I really liked what I was seeing.
So for the benefit of all (and for my personal education), here’s the low-down on this little beaut. This is a 2nd generation (1970-73) Datsun 1200, a.k.a Sunny 1200, according to the market they were sold in. Or just use the “B110” Nissan chassis code, because it’s clearer. Sort of.
The B110 was launched in January 1970 in Japan, only making it across the Pacific about six months later, in time for the 1971 model year. Assembly probably started at Nissan’s Bangkok plant in the summer of 1970 as well. Nissan started exporting cars to Thailand in 1952; ten years, they were the first Japanese carmaker to assemble some cars locally. There is a non-zero chance that this car was built by Nissan’s JV partner, Siam Motors, then located on Sukhumvit Road. Our CC is a 1st series, as the 2nd series, arriving in mid-’72, had a busier-looking bonnet, a revamped interior and different badges.
The B110 is not a million miles away from its immediate predecessor, both in terms of looks and technical specs. That was a good thing, as the B10 Sunny (1966-69, also known as Datsun 1000) had sold well and was rather good-looking. The B110 was just a slightly widened and Coke-bottled version of the previous generation, a slow transition towards the Detroit-tinged ‘70s. The subsequent B210 generation (1973-78), which we’re going to explore in excruciating detail very soon, turned the Motown groove up to eleven and Datsun’s styling became excrementally worse.
Other than the 2-door sedan, the Datsun could be had as a 4-door, a coupé, 3- and 5-door wagon and B120 pickup. This last one became Nissan’s default small (as opposed to kei) pickup for decades: production stopped in Japan in 1994, but continued in Ecuador and South Africa well into the 21st century.
As most of you doubtless already know, behind this grille lies the famous Nissan A-Series engine; it should be in 1171cc form, producing 70 hp. It is a different block from the eponymous BMC, though it does have some similarities to it. By all accounts, these are excellent engines. They were widely distributed for many years, so there’s a fair chance that this modified Datsun still has one, though it may be souped up and/or overbored to 1.3 litres, or swapped for a bigger 1500cc unit. Whatever’s in there now, I hope it’s not another Diesel… In the JDM, the Sunny coupé and 4-door were available with the “Excellent” package, which included a plusher interior, a distinctive grille and a new 1.4 litre OHC engine. None of that in a market like Thailand. This is already a “Deluxe” model, so let’s not get carried away with that fancy OHC stuff.
The proportions of this car are very well balanced. It was a joy to see a compact from an era when they were actually compact. If one were to compare the Datsun with a present-day “compact” such as the Nissan March/Micra, for instance, the late 20-teens car appears morbidly obese. It’s even worse here: the silver Toyota Ventury van next to the Datsun looks like a Zeppelin with wheels. The ‘70s Datsun just looks like a small car. You know, the way compact cars used to be.
Taking a pic of the interior was not easy – this is the best I could do. The dash housed the cheapo rectangular instrument binnacle found on standard Asian B110s, which I’m pretty sure came straight off the B10. I don’t think these were ever seen on the US-spec cars – if anybody knows, do please share with the rest of the class. The rest of the interior was… not the car’s greatest asset. Money spent on those rims certainly didn’t go into the upholstery…
But never mind, I was happy with my latest catch. And by this time, I had clicked that the Datsun had brought along a little friend. Its strangely penetrative stare was eying me as I toured the B110. I recognized it instantly.
Our little kei truck is a 1972-81 Daihatsu Hijet. These may be getting scarce globally, but in my corner of Bangkok, I see these very regularly. This Chiang Mai example was a basic pickup and seemed pretty much original and unrestored (well, the cab, at least). The ones I see in Bangkok are slightly different.
They’re used as a kind of taxi here. I caught this one in my street a while back. All are fitted with a roof, rudimentary seats and very little else. They’re not really tuk-tuks, but not proper taxis either. I use them on a regular basis. The majority are Hijets of this and subsequent generations. I’ll have to write a little something about these (and Bangkok traffic / transport in general) one day…
But back to our little kei van. This is a 3rd generation Hijet, which means twin power. The engine, originally a 23 hp two-stroke 356cc parallel twin, sits behind the driver. Power, if one uses the term loosely, goes to the rear wheels via a good old leaf-sprung live axle (the ride quality is terrible, but then that’s not the Hijet’s brief).
In 1976, a new four-stroke 547cc OHC twin providing a whopping 27 hp arrived. I have no way of knowing what engine this one had. The ones I see in Bangkok are all four-strokers, but I doubt any of them still have their original engine, given their degree and length of their servitude.
It seems there were several pickups on offer. Our CC has the smoother-looking integrated bed, which this helpful 1976-77 compendium of JDM products describes as the 550cc Hijet S40 PD. This seems to indicate that Hijets with this body only came with the 550cc engine, so that’s probably what we have here.
It’s difficult not to fall for the Hijet, so tiny and cute. The roof stands at 161 cm (about 5’ 3’’) and total length is only 304 cm (120’’), so as a pickup, it’s really about a small as can be. Yet these are apparently invincible. Mechanical things don’t tend to age very well in these parts. Six months of blazing sunshine and six months of torrential rain usually means years count double here.
Yet this little survivor doesn’t look 80. It hardly looks 20, in fact. Somebody cares for this little pickup, giving it a fresh coat of black eyeliner every once in a while, just to keep things looking sharp. Obviously, the bed is from another Hijet, but otherwise stock. No bumpers, miraculously intact taillights, “DAIHATSU” embossed above. The colour combo is great with the orange cab.
And it’s the same story inside – the unmistakable patina of decades of hard labour, yet everything seems to have held up pretty damn good. That’s something one might associate more with tough old workhorses like Benzes, Volvos or RWD Peugeots, rather than with ‘70s Japanese kei trucks. Yet here we are. It seems these Daihatsus were made of the same stuff that has kept 504s and W123s rolling along since the days of disco.
I had already noticed the Hijet the previous day, but hadn’t had the occasion to photograph it. Fitting that I would bump into it again in such pleasant company. This Hijet and the Datsun 1200 are both superb examples of Japanese design and durability. If I had to pick one, it might have to be the Hijet. It just looks perfect for what it is. The problem is that these oldtimers were made well before crash-testing became a part of the equation.
I don’t know if this had been posted on CC before. It’s a fascinating 13-minute VW “propaganda” film, appropriately made in 1984, where they crash-tested their Transporter and six Japanese rivals (Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota). It makes for some rather unsettling viewing. They didn’t test a Daihatsu, but it’s clear that if a gigantic mutant late model Mini were to poke an S38/S40 Hijet, the driver and passenger themselves would be the crumple zone.
On second thought, I’ll take the Datsun.