Car Show Capsule: 1952 Datsun Sports DC-3 Roadster – Historical Revisionism Gone Mad

If you look up “Datsun Sports DC-3” on the web, be it in English or Japanese, you will find a lot of sources – including Nissan themselves – claiming this is the ancestor of the long-running Fairlady lineage. On the one hand, it is a drop-top Datsun, and those eventually came to be known as the Fairlady. But on the other hand, the DC-3 is a lot more like the last of a kind than the beginning of anything.

I found this delightful little Sun of Dat last year at a local Cars and Sake event (they really should have designated drivers for these) in central Tokyo.* We’ve seen a few entrants already, such as the white Austin parked right next to our Datsun of the day. We’ve also seen the maroon 1936 Datsun 15 in the back there. If you were to put it right next to our feature car, you’d be hard-pressed to decide which one was the older of the two.

* This is a joke. No sake was consumed during the shooting of this CC post.

The reason is fairly straightforward: they are essentially the same vehicle. Circa 1940, Datsun ceased making small passenger cars, but carried on with truck production using the same chassis. The little Datsun trucks were eventually updated with a new 20hp 860cc side-valve 4-cyl. in 1950, but they still looked like the early ‘30s designs they essentially were.

Nissan’s fugliest (that’s saying something!) — above: 1952 Datsun DB-4, below: 1952 Datsun DS-4

Nissan did not sit idly by, even in the resource-constrained mid-to-late ‘40s, and devised new models for the postwar era. The peculiar Datsun DB and DS sedans were launched in parallel, though with similar underpinnings (including the prewar 15hp 722cc engine) in the late ‘40s, eventually sprouting four-door variants and even wagons by 1951-52.

Perhaps unconvinced by the looks of either the DB or the DS, but eager to bestow a touch of open-topped glamour to their fledgling range, Nissan tasked Yuichi Ohta, the son of a rival carmaker, to design an MG-like roadster. The easiest solution was to use the more powerful truck chassis, as well as its front end – after all, if the object was to emulate British cars of the era, ‘30s styling was the way to go.

This halo car failed to impress: 50 units were made, at most – probably only 20 were sold though, and it is rumoured that some were rebodied as trucks. Datsun quickly focused their efforts on more important matters, such as making their regular small cars presentable and signing a major licensing deal with Austin.

Present-day Nissan are keen to show that their range always included a sporty roadster and thus claim prewar Datsuns and the DC-3 Sports part of the Fairlady family. This is a tad far-fetched. The one clear through-line that can be traced all the way to the ‘30s is that of Datsun pickups, of which the DC-3 Sports is a variant.

The DC-3 is a pure ‘30s truck underneath: side-valve engine, beam front axle, cart springs all around, mechanical brakes and a crash 3-speed gearbox. The presentation was nice enough and very MG-esque, but the chassis was not in the same league as anything made in England at the time.

The Fairlady tree is actually rooted in the GRP-bodied 1958-59 convertibles. These Datsun 1000-derived cars, officially dubbed Fairlady by 1960, were a completely different animal, both technically and style-wise, compared to anything that came before.

The DC-3 Sports was the swansong of the prewar Datsuns, the last gasp of a reasonably long line dating back to the very first “Dat-Son” in 1931. It is not, despite Nissan’s claims, a direct ancestor of the Fairlady, a nameplate that is still alive and kicking in 2024. Doesn’t take anything away from it – it’s still an impossibly rare, very cute and historically significant car. But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than it is.


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Car Show Capsule: 1936 Datsun Type 15 Roadster – JDM Archeological Artefact, by T87