Curbside Classic: 1981 Datsun Pulsar (N10) TL – Not Exactly Star Material

There had been an epidemic of ‘80s Nissans on this site lately. Roger Carr’s excellent piece on the lamentable ARNA story and Paul’s 1983 Pulsar N12 re-post kind of highlighted to my recent capture of a late model N10 as the obvious subject of a quick post about the first generation of Pulsars, using this well-worn example I found a couple weeks ago up in Chiang Mai. The CC Effect strikes again.

The biggest problem with Datsuns of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s is their multitude of nameplates. This Datsun (and/or Nissan) N10 could also be called, depending on where you bought it, 100A/120A/130A/140A/150A, Cherry, B310, Pulsar, Langley, Syphilis or Key Lime Pie. OK, I made up these last two, but come on. How many monikers does one FWD hatchback need?

Even the brand name was in a state of flux in those days, as the name Nissan began creeping in to gradually replace Datsun. In Thailand, it seems the Nissan badge just started appearing on the rear, just like that. To be fair, another contemporary rebadging exercise I’m more familiar with (Peugeot’s ill-fated resuscitation of Talbot) was handled in a similarly haphazard fashion, with different marques and logos on either end of the car for a couple of model years. Though not rocket science, rebranding is also a lot trickier than one might expect.

The N10 Pulsar came out in May 1978 looking like the above, replacing the F10 Cherry as Datsun’s compact FWD offering. Aside from the new model name, this generation displayed Datsun’s conversion to the origami design philosophy, all straight edged and boxy, which would characterize Nissans for over a decade. It must have looked quite clean and mercifully unmolested when it came out, especially compared to the F10. Under the new skin, however, little had changed. The suspension, engines and transmissions were carried over from the previous generation, though our late model feature car might have the new OHC 4-cyl. that came (though perhaps not in Thailand) for the 1981 model year.

This is a 1981-82 car, which got a slight facelift, and some really cool and very period wheels. This is the JDM-style facelift, though: Australian, European and North American Datsuns did not look like this, it seems. (This is based on an empirical online image search, so please correct me if need be. Datsun/Nissan is not my forte…) I prefer the earlier cars’ front end, But this isn’t too dreadful. Reminds me of the Fiat 131 quite a bit. There were other Italian reminiscences coming from the Pulsar’s wedgy looks.

At the back, the Pulsar’s late ‘70s flavor is unadulterated. As I photographed it, I remarked how close Giugiaro’s 1979 Lancia Delta’s behind was to the Pulsar’s similarly hunkered down and angular rear quarters and fat C-pillar. Sure, this is all from the VW Golf / Chrysler Horizon school of hatchbacks, but the Golf and the Horizon have a more or less horizontal beltline, looking far less wedge-shaped overall. To me, the Pulsar’s rear half also had shades of Gandini’s 1982 Citroën BX, though those are a bit bigger than the Datsun and the Lancia. Convergent evolution, probably: the Datsun was designed in-house, it seems. And came out before these two.

I really tried to like this car. It was the first one I’d seen up close in ages – certainly the last couple of decades. But despite this relative novelty and a few interesting angles, the Pulsar N10 overpowers by its blandness. There doesn’t seem to be that much love for the Cherry / Pulsar bloodline in general – the ugly F10, the boring N10, its anonymous successor and the atrocious European N12… Previous CC posts and their comments provide a wealth of knowledge and experience on these well-known and truly global cars. There isn’t much love out there for these.

The Pulsar is an underdog. Everyone roots for the underdog. But this one doesn’t have much personality, be it outside, inside or underneath. And like they said in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way. This Pulsar’s not going far enough. But it also paled in comparison to two older Datsuns (as well as a couple other interesting cars) that I bagged on that week-end in Thailand’s second biggest city. So more to come, fellow CCurbivores.


Related posts:


Curbside Classics: 1979 – 1982 Datsun 310 (Nissan Pulsar/N10/Datsun Cherry) Coupe and Hatchback – Datsun Town, USA, by PN

Carshow Classic: 1985 Nissan Cherry Europe GTi – The Worst Of Both Worlds, by Roger Carr

Curbside Classic: 1983 Nissan Pulsar Five Door – So Rare I Forgot It Existed, by PN