Picture the scene – in Technicolor: a casino on the Riviera, on a balmy mid-‘60s evening. The sharply-dressed stranger nonchalantly fishes a Dunhill lighter out of his left jacket pocket and lights his cigarette. The croupier addresses him: “You win again, monsieur.” A comtessa in a low-cut dress exclaims: “This is your night, signore!” Two tuxedoed gentlemen at the table nod; one of them asks: “May we have the pleasure of you name?” The stranger takes a drag and replies: ”The name is Cedric. Nissan Cedric.” The whole casino erupts in hysterics.
Nissan weren’t the only company (nor the first) to come up with improbable names for their cars, but they were quite adept at it. And in a way, it all started with Cedric – the name first appeared in 1960, alongside two other early attempts at Anglicization, namely Bluebird and Fairlady. Those two were dubious enough, but Cedric takes the cake.
The Cedric name originated from the reading list of Nissan CEO Katsuji Kawamata, much like the Fairlady had. Mr Kawamata read Little Lord Fauntleroy and figured the main protagonist’s moniker would be perfect to add a touch of Engrish class and literary sophistication to his company’s attempt at countering the almighty Toyota Crown and the redoubtable Prince Gloria.
Famously, Nissan figured out that 19th Century classics weren’t the best source for model names when they tried exporting the Cedric to Australia, circa 1962. A top Nissan representative was sent there to launch the new product and was met by a gaggle of giggling local journos, one of whom asked why the car was given a “poofy (homosexual) name” (whatever that means). The Nissan exec countered: “Are there a lot of homosexuals in this country?” The confused journalist replied: “Er, I suppose so, yes…”, to which the man from Nissan smiled and declared that therefore many cars would be sold. The logic was flawless, but the car a bit less so.
A few of these primordial Cedrics were also sent to the USA circa 1962, but failed to make any impact, perhaps for that reason and the fact that only limited 4-cyl. power was available. The first generation Cedric was, like its main competitors, a rather amateurish imitation of American styling, which was all the rage when it was created, but aged quickly. And unlike its competitors, it was a unibody from the get-go, so big changes were prohibited.
Born with stacked quads, the Cedric was refreshed with horizontal ones in 1962, sprouted a wagon version and eventually gained a high-end 6-cyl. Custom variant by 1964, trying to keep up with Toyota and Prince. But a completely new design was direly needed, and it only arrived in October 1965 with the Cedric 130.
Although they kept an in-house design department, Nissan saw wisdom in building links to European influences. At the time, that necessarily meant Italian, so they asked the best in the business: PininFarina. The Bluebird shed its dowdy 310 self into the classy 410 thanks to a dash of the old Farina magic, and so would the Cedric 130.
Some have cast doubt on this collaboration, though our esteemed and learned CColleague, Dottore Don Andreina, has written on the subject quite authoritatively. This is due to an alleged absence of the Cedric 130 from the design house’s official history. But there are clear elements we can point to, such as the side scallop, which adorned many a PF design of the era, such as the Cadillac Jacqueline or the Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider.
The rear end of the Cedric 130, at least in its earliest incarnation, also bears a rather Farina-esque appearance – especially in the taillights, which have a feel of Peugeot 504, even though the shape of the C-pillar and trunk, with those vestigial fins, seems unique. Perhaps the Nissan designers devised that area. The initial cars did not have that bright panel between the taillights. It seems Nissan designers added that during the first model year to make the higher-end cars stand out a bit more.
It wouldn’t be the first time a Farina design was blended with the in-house team’s effort. The aforementioned 504, for instance, was a clever blend of PF body and a face that actually came from the French side of the Alps. We can see that the 100% PininFarina proposal above looks like a weird blend of 504 and Cedric, instead of the trapezoid-shaped headlights that Paul Bouvot designed on the in-house prototype.
The clincher, as far as I’m concerned, is that smiling grille & oval eyes combo that Farina put on some of his mid-‘60s creations (e.g. Cadillac Jacqueline, Peugeot 204, BMC Landcrab), and that we also see on the Cedric and the 504 prototype.
Beyond styling, the Cedric 130 was very much a product of its time: coil-sprung IFS, leaf-sprung live rear, drum brakes all around and a three-speed manual gearbox as standard that must have looked mighty dated to Datsun’s budding European clientele. Things were slightly more interesting under the hood, at least.
Incredibly, four different 2-litre engines were available on the early models. There were two 6-cyl.: the 1973cc OHV (known as the J20) was dependable and good for 100hp. It was essentially a reverse-engineered Austin 4-cyl. B-Series, but with two extra cylinders. Atop of the range, the Special Six received the new 1998cc OHC L20, initially churning out 123hp with two carbs (soon demoted to 115hp), or 105hp in single-carb form.
It seems the L20 6-cyl., which eventually became available in a 2.3 litre variant, was a rushed effort to catch up with Prince, whose advance in OHC engines was envied by Nissan. The L20/L23 ended up being a thirsty, noisy and lackluster mess. That engine and the OHV J20 were both replaced by the L20A for 1970, which was the better-born L18 4-cyl. with a couple extra cylinders. Said L20A was available in 2.4 litre form as well – the biggest engine ever on the Cedric 130 – for 1970-71. (Well, it was the biggest engine available to the public: some special police cruisers were made with the President’s 4-litre V8.)
Our well-worn feature car, as far as I can tell, has the 1982cc petrol 4-cyl. (that would be the H20, in Nissan codespeak), which made do with 92hp, unless you went for the taxi-oriented LPG version, which only managed 80hp. For its part, the 1991cc Diesel four, a.k.a SD20, only provided 60hp. On the JDM, 4-cyl. cars were cheaper and thus pretty common. Export markets usually got the 6-cyl. models as a default.
Speaking of exports, this Cedric was the one that really took sail. All it needed was a Datsun badge and a new name, which was usually related to its displacement. So several bits of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Pacific and South America received contingents of the big Datsun 2000 / 2300 (or even 2400), though the more exotic destinations were usually granted their anonymized Cedrics only from 1967.
Early cars are thus pretty rare outside of Japan, for the Cedric 130 got a taillift in early ’67 (bottom left pic), followed by an extensive facelift (and further butt surgery, as seen on the right-hand pics in the composite above) the following year. It’s pretty obvious that these touch-ups were entirely made by Nissan’s in-house designers: the return of a certain Detroit-tinged look was evident, a harbinger of ill-shaped things to come. The wagon / van version, which was the only body variant, followed along right till the end of the Cedric 130, which came in February 1971.
The successor car, known as the Cedric 230, introduced more body variants (hardtop sedan, coupé) and started merging the Cedric and Gloria nameplates into a single entity – a recipe that would last decades. The Cedrics (and Glorias) of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s all have their merits, as I’ve been documenting since I started writing for this site, practically. But I’m genuinely happier to have found this 130 than any other Cedric I’ve bagged thus far. Why? Well, it’s the only one of the lot with a sharp Italian suit, for one thing.
And for another, it’s also the one that really set the template for the breed, with those three distinct 2-litre sixes (try, try again!), flawed though most of them were. The first-gen Cedric was really a 4-cyl. model, though a few Custom Sixes were made, but those had a 2.8 litre H-series engine that had an even shorter career than the two (OHV and OHC) 2-litre 6-cyl. mills that replaced it. Still, I imagine it must be easier to find parts for a 4-cyl. car like this one nowadays…
Outside Japan, it’s difficult to understand how important the Cedric name has been since the ‘60s. That silly name is still stuck on the rear end of a significant proportion of taxis here, as well as a diminishing but still important population of private cars. The place just wouldn’t be the same without Cedrics, whereas the rest of the world probably has no trouble living without remembering the Datsun 2000. That is the legacy of this generation of Cedrics: a departure from a world where the CEO, on a whim, could pick out ridiculous names for his company’s products, to a world in which that function is the purview of an entire marketing department. The results are identical, but the process is much more tedious. Progress, in other words.
Automotive History: Nissan Cedric – When The Pupil Becomes A Master, by Don Andreina