I had nothing, folks. I’d tried and tried again for a solid week, erased more than a dozen opening lines, looking for an angle. Some sort of hook, no matter how contrived, shoddy or nonsensical, continued to elude me. Try as I might, there’s just no way for me to find the right tack, or any tack at all for that matter, to do justice to this adorable Datsun wagon.
Yet it’s objectively a great find: interesting body variant, very old (for Japan), big name maker, not seen on CC before – at least in this long roof variant – and it’s in decent condition, with whitewalls and all that good stuff. How was this not enough to get my creative juices flowing?
I was pretty excited the first time I saw it. It wafted down the street with the rest of the traffic, seemingly dropped there via wormhole from the mid-‘60s. A glitch in the matrix. I managed one photo and it went away, perhaps never to be seen again.
Only I did see it again. A few weeks after seeing it in traffic, I came upon its lair, actually very close to where I had photographed it the first time. Hot dog! A truly classic JDM wagon!
This wasn’t my first encounter with a Bluebird from this era. I caught a 312 saloon a couple years ago, so I knew what this was immediately. And this wagon was in much better nick than that saloon, though it did not come to the level of certain over-restored museum pieces one can find here on occasion.
Still, this was a complete and seemingly 100% stock Datsun Bluebird wagon, with superb two-tone paintwork. It even matched the period North American adverts that promoted this particular model.
The 312 Bluebird was the final iteration of the first properly modern car designed by Nissan, the 310 Bluebird, that was launched in August 1959. The 310 was a leap forward in that it was almost a unit body design, that it featured an independent front suspension (yes, this was in 1959, not 1939) and all-new in-house styling that would have been deemed acceptable circa 1954. But compared to the Datsun 210 that came before it, it really was a step towards modernity.
The modernity was coupled with a newfound confidence in Nissan’s own capabilities, as the company weaned itself off the Austin products it had been assembling throughout the ‘50s. The creation of the Bluebird saloon was the first step, but this was followed very soon by additional bold moves, all taken during the year 1960. One was the launch of the Cedric in the spring – Nissan’s first “big” car, aimed at the hitherto dominant Toyota Crown and Prince Gloria. The other was the Bluebird 310 wagon, which joined the range in July and was arguably the first series-made Japanese station wagon.
That was not all, though. In a conscious effort to more closely measure up to the VW Beetle in major export markets, the 310 became the 311 in October 1960 when the Austin-B-Series-inspired 988cc OHV 4-cyl. “C1” engine, inherited from the Datsun 210, became the E1, sporting a Beetlesque 1.2 litre displacement (1189cc, to be precise) and churning out 55hp (gross, I assume). This was coupled with a brand new fully synchronized 3-speed gearbox, as proudly advertised on our feature car’s grille.
In August 1961, the Bluebird was given larger taillights and a revised grille, turning it into the 312. They reworked the grille again a year later, producing the very final version of the gen-1 ‘Bird. Just like the 312 saloon I wrote up a couple years back, our feature car should be one of these late 1962 cars, given that it has the last grille design, as well as the front bench, which was replaced by separated seats in December of that year.
This Bluebird’s plumage is kept very neat, but the interior is more fun-filled and relaxed mobile living space than staid and stuffy car museum. One can appreciate the philosophy, certainly.
The clutter of the front area in our CC du jour was fortunately contrasted by a very tidy back seat. Legroom seems pretty tight, but that’s to be expected in cars of this era and class. The Beetle, the Morris Minor or the Dauphine certainly didn’t treat their rear passengers any better.
As is evident by the interior, as well as by that sticker on the tailgate, this Datsun is not completely unmodified, but it is in active use. Sometimes, with those pristine Tokyo princesses, you kinda wonder if they spend more time being detailed than being driven: this wagon, while very clean, was not pampered or pensioned off. The cluttered cargo area was certainly testament to this car’s continuing use.
Yet the owner seems to like a bit more flash than the average Bluebird owner does. Whitewalls were not common on JDM cars (wagons especially), though they did dress up their wares on PR and brochure shots and the option was usually available. Given how a lot of the Japanese road network was in the early ‘60s, keeping one’s whities tidy would have been a positively Sisyphean endeavour.
The Bluebird 310/311/312 never bowled anybody over for its styling. That was clearly not the brief. Nissan’s head designer, Shozo Sato, smoothed out the 110/210 he had authored in the early ‘50s, but steered clear of anything too daring or expensive, such as wraparound windshields or a low beltline. The result was a rather milquetoast mix of 1955-ish Fiat / Morris / Borgward that would have been dismissed as prematurely outdated in any market this side of the Iron Curtain.
This is particularly true of the saloon. The wagon, thanks to the altered proportions of its greenhouse, looks better – but still far from exciting, from a visual standpoint. That would come later with the next generation 410/411 Bluebird (1963-67), when Nissan contracted Pininfarina to work their Italian magic.
But again, that was not the point of this car: it was designed to conquer markets by being competent and conservative, by reassuring the buying public into trusting the (still relatively novel) Datsun brand. And in that, it succeeded pretty well in many places, such as Australia, Southeast Asia and its home market. It even gained a foothold in North America and some European countries, though sales were still very modest.
So yeah, all this to say that I really can’t find a good angle to write a post about this car. Guess I’m just going to have to slog one out, if that’s the word I’m looking for. I’ll let you know how it turns out as soon as my word count reaches the 1100 mark. What? It already does? Never mind, then. The writer’s unblocked.
CC Capsule: Datsun 312 Bluebird, by Junkharvester