In Motion Classic: 1970 Datsun Sports 1600 – Datsun’s Miata

Fairlady 1
On the rare occasion when I’ve seen a Datsun sports car such as this one, I usually mistake it for an MGB for a few seconds, before realizing it’s a Datsun. And that was the point of Datsun’s sports car.  Brought into production to take advantage of the burgeoning 1960s sports car market, Japan’s largest vehicle manufacturer aimed this car squarely at the European competition.  While largely derivative, these Datsuns had their own unique characteristics, and tended to be more reliable than many of the Europeans as well.  This particular car is an unusual example from the 1600’s last production year of 1970.

Officially known as the Datsun Sports 1600, many people call it by its home-market name of Fairlady. Power was supplied by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 96-horsepower – a competitive, but not outstanding engine for its cohort of sports cars.  Build quality was generally viewed as superior to most of the 1600’s European competitors, and the engine and transmission were considered quite durable.  However the suspension was harsh even by sports car standards, and not nearly as responsive as other roadsters.  This last point probably held sales back quite a bit, as did buyers’ general reluctance to consider Japanese cars in the 1960s.  Still, the Datsun held its own against some very entrenched competition.

Postcard 1969
Stylistically, the car’s profile heavily resembles an MGB, but with a grille more invoking a Triumph TR3 or Fiat 1200. It’s a pleasant and clean design, with varied elements blending seamlessly together.  The most distinctive elements are the round taillights protruding from a sloping trunk lid – it resembles an Italian design… or a 1954 Buick Roadmaster in 3/8 scale!

Fairlady 2
As with most small cars of its era, the advent of US safety regulations took their toll. In addition to the huge headrests and various reflectors seen on this car, Datsun increased the 1600’s windshield height by 2 inches.  Although the top-down appearance is relatively unaffected, with the top up, these later US-market cars have a curious mushroom shape to them.  Taller drivers, however, benefit from the added headroom.

Brochure 1970
About 23,600 Datsun 1600s were sold in the US from 1965 to 1970 (additionally, 15,700 of the visually similar but higher-powered 2000s were sold stateside as well). But Datsun never pursued the roadster market after 1970.

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Just months after this car was produced, Datsun introduced its successor, the 240-Z, and went in a completely new direction.  With that, the 1600 was quickly overshadowed by the 240-Z and then faded into our collective sports car memory.  But it’s an interesting example of an often-overlooked piece of sports car history.


Related Reading:
Curbside Classic: 1967 Datsun Sports 1600