Curbside Classic: 1972 Datsun 1200/Sunny Coupe: The Yang To The 1972 Cadillac’s Yin

Yin -yang: complementary opposites. Sometimes described as “the sunlight (yang) over a shady mountain in the valley (yin)”. Now what swept this sudden regurgitation of late-sixties profundity over me, other than the obvious differences between these two? There just has to be some deeper cosmic connection between old Cadillacs and Datsun Sunnys. I ran into the Datsun 210 woody wagon minutes after first discovering the 1950 Caddy CC logo-mobile. And until yesterday, I’d forgotten that I shot this ’72 1200 coupe on the same walk as the ’72 Coupe DeYin. Heavy; man! Well yes, the Cadillac’s weight is part of its yin. It must be the name “Sunny”; seriously, what could possibly be a more opposite name to Coupe DeVille?  A Sunny just has to follow a big Caddy, so it seems.

You see, the Japanese knew just what we needed to balance out our yin-heavy problem; well at least back then. Now Nissan makes gigantic things overflowing with yin, called the Titan and Armada, and Cadillac is set to make four-cylinder coupes. Maybe the name Sunny is available to Cadillac? Nature always seeks a balance, but who would have foreseen how this one would play out in 1972?

It wasn’t just the profound leaders at Nissan who came up with that name. No, it was the people of Japan themselves, in a nationwide contest to name Nissan’s new small car in 1966. Eight million entries, and the winning name was revealed at a major public event. Was the winner a Taoist monk?

The B10 Datsun Sunny/1000 was an utterly pragmatic and practical little car, and configured like most small cars at the time: RWD, a little (998 cc) pushrod four, and just big enough (barely) to fit four underfed and lithe adults. Its mission in life was to compete with the very similar Toyota Corolla, which it did, and quite successfully too. Reminds me of the 1962 Opel Kadett A, or so many others of its ilk.

This rather tasty little Sunny Coupe version came along a few years later, and of course there were wagons, panel truck and utes. A cheerful little family, but not quite ready for prime time: North America.

But the Corolla’s smash success in the US after its 1968 introduction put Nissan in a catch-up mode, and when the second generation B110 appeared in 1970, it was quickly sent this way to complement the bigger 510/ Bluebird. The 1200 was the cheapest car in the whole land, starting at $1866 in 1970 ($10,358 adjusted).  That was less than a third of a new DeVille. Small; and cheap. And its engine was less than a sixth of the Caddy’s. A miniature musclecar? Oh right: “sort of”. Everything is relative, but the “run-of-the-mill economy car alluded to in the ad undoubtedly was the VW slug bug.

If numbers help you draw a clearer mental picture, our featured car’s vital stats are: wheelbase: 90″; overall length: 152″; width: 59″; wight: 1640 lbs.  That’s up a couple of hundred pounds from its predecessor. Tin cans; that’s the only proper way to describe them; the whole bunch. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not meant in a derogatory way, just an accurate description. And there are times when a can of miso soup is just the ticket. Especially if you’ve been overdoing the steaks for too long.

A friend of mine’s girlfriend bought one of these in 1973, same color, same body style. Drove it a couple of times; it was pretty much a dead ringer for the Corolla 1200 (CC here) that I also was familiar with.  Actually, it was even a bit less refined than the Corolla; the ride was choppier, a tad noisier, but also sportier. Or is that just the impression any bone-rattling car made back then?

The 1200 was brutally honest: what you saw is what you got, for better or for worse. And for that low price, plenty of young folks saw the opportunity to buy their first new car. How many VW Beetles with a burned exhaust valve were traded in on these? By 1970, the Beetle’s magic was starting to fade, and a tsunami of baby boomers were getting their first real jobs. The Corolla and 1200 were there to scoop them up, if not in comfort. No, there was precious little of that.

But that Datsun A-series motor always pulled with a bit of gusto, at least before its heart was strangled by smog controls. And it’s an extremely easy and fun little toy to mess with: a Weber jug (or two) and a set of headers, and hello drift-city; on gravel anyway.

The 1200 quickly made a name for itself on the rally circuits, and is still being turned into all sorts of crazy little go-fast machines. Maybe that’s what Datsun was alluding to in that ad: there’s some miniature musclecar potential, you just have to coax it out. Many have.

The 1200 morphed into the slightly bigger B210, which became the 210, which was the end of the road for the RWD Sunny on these shores. Which also means that this CC marks three out of the four generations of RWD Sunnys. Finding this one was a rather pleasant surprise; it’s the only one I’ve seen on the road in quite a while. I suspect it was in town for a visit from Portland, because I never saw it again. I guess I have the ’72 Caddy to thank for it.

Needless to say, there’s plenty of B210s still chugging around; I know of at least half a dozen plying the streets. How many in your town? We’ll get to it soon, as soon as I find the right Cadillac to team it up with. Now just what would the the yin be to a B210?