Curbside Classic: 1975 Datsun 160J SSS (710/Violet) – Peak Fuji-lage

It’s been a while since a Datsun 160J/Violet -AKA 710 in the US- visited CC’s pages, the unloved replacement for the ‘late and lamented 510.’ As it was becoming a Nissan tradition, the 710/Violet arrived in the States feeling rather pedestrian; decontended to the point of being nothing but an appliance. Elsewhere, as is often the case, the 710/Violet had a slightly different role, and in SSS form it was the closest one could get to a 510 replacement. If one could get over its looks, that is.

A bit of a recap on the 710/Violet origins; first Nissan had lost its top spot as Japan’s #1, when Toyota launched the Corona T40 in ’64. With that, Nissan’s frantic search for its soul started in earnest, in a quest to regain the public’s favor, swinging wildly in styles just as a failed pop star would (You didn’t like my country song? How about a techno remix?). After offering a number of Italian-inspired and elegant products in the late ’60s, by the early ’70s Nissan thought best to go outré in order to surprise the buying public. On the surprise front, mission accomplished. Sales wise, it’s a different story, and varies from region to region.

Nissan’s outré ’70s oeuvre was once referred to as Fuji-lage by our editor, a notion I doubt anyone will dispute, as Nissan’s lineup was clearly inspired by a pile of late ’60s Mopar brochures. Add to that Kabuki-mask detailing and the penchant of Japanese designers for ethereal influences, and all elements were there for an explosive cocktail: in the case of the 240Z, Nissan’s stylists talked about ‘the swiftness of a Samurai blade,’ on the 1970 Cherry, human eyelids -of all things- were referenced. On the 710/Violet? Flower petals and filaments, maybe? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t cars.

Back to Nissan’s planning. Following US carmaker tendencies, the 510 had been sent upmarket and turned into the Bluebird 610 U. A slightly larger, plusher and softer car for the ‘upscale’ ’70s, which sold as the Datsun 1600 in much of the world (Can anyone keep track of Nissan’s alphanumeric soup?). As the Bluebird had gone up market, and with the Sunny remaining as Nissan’s entry vehicle, a small window of a few-Yens-difference appeared for a 1,400 – 1,600cc model. Thus the Violet came to be in 1973, AKA 710 and 140/160J. A model that was somewhat head-scratching in the US, but made enough sense in its native nation, as it was placed against Toyota’s similarly positioned Carina.

The US version of the 710/Violet has already been covered at CC, with an onslaught of wagons that apparently were Oregonians favorite form of transport for a while. Also at CC, R & T’s 710/Violet test has appeared (here). R & T basically confirmed that during its Fuji-lage period, Nissan took after Detroit’s worst impulses; with a revised US fascia, the 710/Violet arrived stateside cheapened and decontended, losing many attributes that had made the 510 a darling in the import segment.

In perfect ’70s fashion, packaging had been compromised, and interior ambiance -in R & T’s words- had a feeling of being ‘built to a price.’ Drivetrain was simplified by using a live axle instead of the 510’s IRS, with a three speed automatic and a US-only 1,800 engine. With the 710 being just economical and straightforward, Nissan probably hoped US buyers would rather flock to the 610s in their showrooms. R & T however, told prospective buyers to visit Toyota dealers instead.

Outside the US, there was an effort to place the 710/Violet as a slightly upscale model, and played the role so. Body variants included a 2 hardtop, a 4 door sedan, and a wagon. Interiors were slightly plusher, with full instrumentation as an option. Period advertising often placed the 710/Violet against typical Nissan-bucolic settings.

In its native Japan, 15 versions of the 710/Violet were available altogether in different states of tune, with the top performing ones being the SSS and the SSS-E.

On the SSS, the 1,600cc mill delivered 104HP at 6,000RPM, with the aid of two SU carbs and either a 4 or 5 speed manual. Meanwhile, the SSS-E offered 115HP with the aid of Bosch injection, and offered only the 5 speed.

Thus set up, the model acquitted itself well in the rally scene. The 2L works engine was massaged to 230HP and drifted its way to victory at the 1976 Acropolis Rally under the driving of H. Karlstrom. An additional 2nd place was achieved at the 1977 East Africa Safari Rally, and a turbocharged Violet won the 1974 Selangor GP in Malaysia.

Nissan’s Fuji-lage period started with the arrival of the 1970 Cherry, and found its way across Nissan’s lineup to ever diminishing sales in its native Japan. Nissan’s ‘let’s stun them’ approach wasn’t working and this Violet’s female model seems to be longing for a Carina. Maybe even a Galant. Nissan quickly overcorrected, cutting most of the Fuji-lage’s lives short and dressing their replacements under rather conservative guises that vaguely aped the ‘late and lamented’ 510 lines. By the early ’80s, Nissan swung wildly again, and embedded its offerings with a cold rational design approach that almost buried the company by the ’90s.

In Latin America the 710/Violet story plays a bit different, though. Car ownership grew exponentially in the region all throughout the ’70s, and cars were such a novelty that in spite of looks, Nissan ran second in sales against perennial #1 Toyota.

With that, the 710/Violet sold decently -though not extraordinarily- as the Datsun 140J or 160J (depending on engine size). The 4 door 710/Violet sedan is the most easily found nowadays, though not exactly being common. Its complex so-out-there-and-modern lines looking somewhat more endearing after all these years.

I’m well aware that Nissans of this period come across as… peculiar in the US. But regardless, Nissan’s offerings sold heartily all throughout the ’70s in Latin America. It probably helped that thanks to its Mexico plant, Nissan offered prices few others could.

The 710/Violet’s front end probably shows best its Fuji-lage styling. Was it peak Fuji-lage? A case could be made the concurrent 200SX/Silvia would deserve that title, but the 710/Violet isn’t far behind in my book.

Against current traffic, the 710/Violet looks rather small and hunkered down to the ground, a sign of how much packaging proportions have shifted after all these years.

Those sitting up front may have been comfortable enough, but I have doubts about those back seats. Paul has made the convincing argument that Nissan’s thick pillars and cavernous interiors predated current trends and were just 40 years too early. Who would have thought? Nissan, the true visionaries?

Once again, whatever influences Nissan’s stylist had in mind while penning the 710/Violet, they certainly weren’t cars. Up close, a bunch of ‘creature-like’ ideas pop to mind, from flora to fauna.

Coincidentally, by ’73 Nissan was in one of its many peculiar PR stunts, with a reforestation campaign in Japan: “Love Green.” Could that have anything to do with the Violet name? Nissan, you’ll always vex me so.

Outward vision and comfort, the things one must sacrifice in the altar of fashion. Dubious Nissan-fashion that is. Japan’s taxi drivers thought otherwise, and voiced their dislike for the model’s lack of visibility and dungeon-like back seats. By ’76, sluggish sales forced Nissan to offer a more traditional notchback body. Sales improved somewhat, though major revisions would arrive with the Violet’s next generation in ’77; partly due to criticisms, partly due to new government regulations.

While the wagon seems to have been a US favorite, it’s rather rare in Latin America. Whatever pretenses Nissan sold with the sedan, apparently worked with the locals.

Undoubtedly, the rarest 710/Violet is the SSS, which may be the only version to justify its odd-duck looks. A lucky find on my part.

On this ocassion, after capturing most of these SSS shots, the street’s security guard got into a total melt down about me having done so. This being a country with a rich military tradition, I was well aware it was only a matter of time to find a trivial issue like such blowing out of proportion.

Still, as far as I know there’s no law against shooting cars in public roads, and until so, there was little he could do in spite of my ‘suspicious activity.’ (Because that’s what robbers do? Take photos of cars in plain day light?). So, I let him blew his top while I left the scene of the non-crime. And now, travail over, I post these shots with enormous pleasure. (Take that, suppressors of the free automotive press!)

With the street guard on alert, there was no way to capture that interior. Not that it would have been possible, due to the car’s tinted windows. Still, if we go by the Japanese brochure, we can see the SSS dash offered full instrumentation, fake wood, and lots of lusty Mopar-mod styling touches.

I would think the SSS’s current owner knows he’s got something slightly special on his hands. While the model isn’t particularly common nowadays, Datsuns of the period are cherished and coveted, mostly for their straightforward mechanical goodies and dependability. With Sunnys being the most common, a 160J/710/Violet makes for a slightly exotic variant. This SSS certainly must stand out within the local Datsun community.

The 710/Violet arrival was a sign that Datsun’s good days had come to an end; a harbinger of things to come from Nissan. The company would create models of later glory, but a tradition to fumble on their way to the top became something of a trademark. Still, their chutzpah is something to behold to this day, and their fumbles have been rather memorable ones.

More on the 710/Violet:

Curbside Classic: 1974 Datsun 710 Wagon

Curbside Classic: 1974 Datsun 610

Road & Track Vintage Review: 1975 Datsun 710 “Nissan Replaces The Late And Lamented 510”