It should be a requirement that an example of every economy car should be stored in a museum. After all, these are cars that are such a fundamental part of our vehicle landscape but they’re often the least cherished. Eventually, they all succumb to wear and tear and are sent to the scrapyard, leaving just a tiny handful cared for by diligent older drivers.
Those numbers are even smaller when it wasn’t a popular economy car to begin with. Case in point: the Datsun Pulsar.
You may also know this as the Cherry (Europe) or 310 (North America). In Japan, it was known as the Pulsar, which also became its name here in Australia upon its launch late in 1980. While that nameplate would go on to enjoy a decades-long history, often as one of Australia’s most popular small cars, this generation never seemed to click with local buyers and was hamstrung by local import quotas.
The last Datsun Pulsar I recall seeing would have been around 15 years ago and that was the much more practical five-door hatch. That body style, too, featured a clearer expression of Nissan’s turn away from its 1970s styling excesses and towards cleaner, boxier lines for the 1980s.
This coupe variant, however – a rarity in this segment in Australia – still nods to previous Cherry/F10 models. The huge rear window and the targa-style wraparound C-pillar treatment seem to clash with the anonymous front and rear-end detailing. Nevertheless, it’s distinctive.
While the next segment up in Australia remained trenchantly conservative and continued to embrace rear-wheel drive, the Pulsar’s segment was turning to front-wheel drive at a rapid clip. The imported Pulsar had shortly followed the rear-wheel drive Sunny (210) here in 1980, but just a year later the Sunny was gone and the Pulsar had this segment to itself in the local Datsun/Nissan range.
It was a different story in the US, where the 210 was sold all the way until the arrival of the front-wheel drive Sentra in 1982. Likewise, the 310 – introduced in 1979 to replace the F10 – was sold until model year 1983. Then, the Pulsar name made its US debut on a five-door hatchback… which promptly disappeared after a single model year. It was survived by the Pulsar NX, a wedgy coupe on the same platform.
US models had a carryover pushrod engine, while global models offered a choice of new, single overhead cam four-cylinder engines. Here, we had a choice of 1.3-litre (59 hp/70 ft-lbs) and 1.5-litre (68 hp/84 ft-lbs) engines, the latter of which was the only option for the coupe. There was also a new five-speed manual transmission. Contemporary reviews, however, weren’t exactly glowing about this distinctly middle-of-the-road offering.
While writing this, I realised just how rare this model was. The Pulsar range’s pricing overlapped with that of the larger, locally-built Stanza (510/A10/Violet). The coupe came in a single, highly-specified trim level (including a tachometer and rear wiper) that sat atop the local range, and only arrived as part of a “reboot” of the Pulsar in late 1981. That makes this an example from the car’s only model year here, 1982. Paul, I think I found something even rarer (relatively speaking) than your 1983 Pulsar hatch.
In markets like Australia and the US, the Pulsar/310 didn’t send out many radio waves though for entirely different reasons. It did help usher in front-wheel drive into the Australian Datsun range while in other markets it bid adieu to two generations of peculiarly-styled Cherry models. The coupe was perhaps the most intriguing model of all, with its transitory styling.
Even if it wasn’t a terribly memorable small car, seeing perhaps the rarest model in a rare range was a treat. To me, this example is a star.