Datsun’s long lineage of sports cars in the US began here, with the Datsun Sports 1600 (SP311). Strictly speaking, it started a few years earlier with the Sports 1500 (SP310), which looked very similar to this 1600, but there were a number of significant improvements. R&T noted that they had been somewhat less than impressed with the 1500, but that changed with this latest iteration.
The Sports 1600 had not only a larger and more powerful engine, but its bore and stroke had both been changed to improve it s high speed running, revving happily to 6000 rpm, where it made its peak 96 hp. Disc brakes, bigger 14″ wheels and a number of other technical and interior improvements turned R7T’s opinion 180 degrees, most of all in terms of its value proposition: unbeatable in its class.
It’s important to note that despite certain similarities with the MGB, the Datsun Sports 1500 was shown in 1961 several months before the MGB, so any lingering thoughts about it being a copy of that class-leading roadster needs to be put to bed.
R&T noted the many improvements since their test of a 1500 three years earlier. The top was much improved, and interior accommodations.
The engine, the latest evolution of the Datsun ohv four that began with a license built BMC B-Series engine, featured a larger bore and shorter stroke to improve its running characteristics and revving abilities. An even bigger improvement was the new four speed transmission, with all gears synchronized. It was deemed to be a splendid box, in fact, as good as any four-speed manual R&T had driven to date. This is a stark example of the kind of incremental improvements that the Japanese manufacturers were making at the time,,leapfrogging their sleepy competitors in the US and Europe with things like world class transmissions.
Of course the chassis was still old-school, with the classic IFS teamed with a rather brittle leaf-spring solid rear axle, yielding that classic vintage sports car ride and handling. Lots of fun, easy to throw the tail out in a controlled fashion, until the road surface deteriorates too much.
The cockpit was cramped for taller drivers, a common malady back then in sports cars. But the instruments and appointments were praised. Most of all, the list of standard equipment, which included a long list of items that were typically extra cost in other cars. This was of course according to the Japanese playbook at the time, since it simplified production and made the cars more competitive, price-wise.