Vintage R&T Review: 1977 Datsun 200-SX (Silvia) – Quirky Styling & Average Performance

Nissan’s sporty coupe, the Silvia, reached the US in 1977 as the Datsun 200-SX. The model arrived to a red-hot import market, ready to make an impression with its funky styling and Datsun’s (Nissan) known quantities for economy and reliability.

The new 200-SX was arriving to a rather cluttered Nissan-Datsun USA lineup. A lineup that showed the company had left its economy-performance 510/240Z days behind, as each product reflected a shift towards style and luxury trappings. Though always well assembled and offering good value.

The 200-SX’s hardware was as conventional as could be. Its chassis came from the humble B210, and power was provided by the 710’s (Violet) 1952cc engine. Suspension was very traditional; with short wheel travel, McPherson struts upfront, and live axle/leaf springs on the back.

With its pedestrian mechanicals, and its peculiar-looking compact body, the 200-SX offered little in sporting pretenses and little as a family hauler. For all effects, it was a ‘stylish’ 2+2.

With those limitations in mind, the question came; what sort of buyer was Nissan pursuing with the model?

Back in its native Japan, the model had actually been launched in 1975. The economy-oriented sporty coupe was Nissan’s response to Toyota’s Celica and Mitsubishi’s Arrow. A vehicle for an upcoming young professional who wished for a stylish ride, at an accessible cost. A niche Nissan was not to ignore, and part of Japan’s market dynamics, where automotive segments had quickly exploded in the previous decade.

The sporty coupe took its name from Nissan’s limited-production Silvia GT of the mid-1960s, which carried some cachet in the corporation’s lore. That said, the new Silvia/200-SX had little in common with its predecessor other than being an “image” car.

Few can talk about the 1975-79 Silvia/200-SX without addressing the matter of its styling and R&T is no different. Inevitably, there’s been some debate as to what were Nissan’s designers thinking with the car. Not easy to pin down, as the Japanese are eclectic cherry pickers with their influences. Yet, the Citroen SM seems to be the car’s biggest reference to many.

However, the model does have two styling motifs Nissan was obsessed with at the time. They’re the “human-eyeline” side windows, and the C-pillar’s shape evoking Mount Fuji’s silhouette. If you have a hard time seeing either, at least one is clearly shown in the 1971 Nissan Cherry brochure (more on that here). See that green ‘eye’ over that exploding head in the image above?

Once the ’75 Silvia was created, bringing the little ‘personal coupe’ stateside made all the sense in the world, even if it took it a couple of years. After all, the US was swamped with similar vehicles at the time.

Aside from its curious styling and questionable packaging, R&T found the car to be an adequate vehicle at a reasonable value. Assembly, fit, and finish were commended. Meanwhile, reviewers found the driver’s accommodations to be well arranged, and its Citroen-influenced dashboard befitting the car’s sporty pretenses.

Under driving, the 200-SX’s drivetrain behaved as expected. The car’s handling wasn’t “conducive to continued hard-driving… Suspension travel is minimal, so the car doesn’t respond well to changes in road surface… on the other hand… overall riding comfort must be considered acceptable for most driving.”

Cornering capabilities scored an unimpressive 0.68 g, low even by the standards of the period. Meanwhile, the 200-SX’s braking was considered very good, with no signs of fade. Less satisfying was the car’s 5-speed manual, with reviewers struggling with its unusual shift pattern and finding no fun downshifting. As for the engine, after reaching operating temperature, it was “very willing and quiet for normal driving.”

As mentioned, R&T found the car to be “a fairly pleasant car to drive moderately, and quite successful at steady cruising… For those who like its distinctive styling and aren’t looking for over-the-road precision, it is an acceptable car at a good price.”

Ultimately, the 200-SX was another dependable -if curious- Nissan offering; from a period where their products offered middling performance and lots of peculiar styling. As time passed, the company would show to have a knack for such sways; with bursts of excitement and daring, followed by quick retreats and pedestrian lineups.

In true form, the 200-SX followed such patterns. The model’s sales paled against the contemporary Celica, with the latter outselling the former by a 5 to 1 ratio. However, the 200-SX’s 1980 replacement was a much better offering and became a steady seller in the company’s lineup. Part of another upswing in Nissan’s fortunes.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1977 Datsun 200-SX (Nissan Silvia S10) – The Many Faces Of Silvia

Curbside Classic: 1977 Datsun 200-SX (Nissan Silvia) – Not All Shots Hit The Target

Vintage Review: 1980 Datsun 200-SX – Samurai Stocking Stuffer