Favourable Impressions of an o.h.c. Saloon from Japan

Driving the Datsun 1600

It would be comforting, but exceedingly foolish, to ignore the challenge of the Japanese Motor Industry. Motor Sport has not gone out of its way to publicise such products, but has been prepared to commend the Honda 800S, while admitting disappointment over the Honda N360. I found the Mazda-Wankel 110S an extremely good sports car, but was much less impressed with a Mazda saloon.

I have now spent a week driving a Datsun 1600 de-Luxe saloon. This newcomer from Nissan-Datsun offers an overhead-camshaft, twin-carburetter 83 x 73.3 mm (1,595 c.c.) engine in a compact, vented four-door saloon body of conventional appearance. While it lacks a few small refinements, such as a high-beam warning lamp and a vanity mirror on the nearside visor, it is generally very fully equipped, and it is well finished in almost the German tradition. It has an excellent all-synchromesh gearbox, controlled by a fairly long central lever, a light yet smooth clutch, very reasonable disc/drum brakes, and all-round independent suspension by semi-trailing arms and coil springs at the back. There is an extremely effective heater, controlled by three finger-tip pendant levers, which work with notable precision. This heater is backed up by swivelling cold-air vents at each end of the facia, the volume from which is controlled, rather cumbersomely, by large knobs under the facia, at right angles to the vents. With this system it is possible to be adequately warm or cool, although I never did find a setting which remained consistent and had to fiddle with the heat control as I was driving.

I was not at first aware of the independent rear suspension, the impression being that the car has a beam back axle and that the ride rather than the read-holding has been in the designer’s mind. On getting to know this Datsun 1600, however, road-holding is found to be really quite good, with a certain amount of oversteer on the Firestone F7 tyres fitted to the test car. It does not roll unduly when cornered normally, and the wheels appear to follow road undulations effectively, though the suspension generates some noise. The front strut suspension appears, however, to be rather on the soft side, which results in some deflection of the car over road undulations, and a tendency for it to divert somewhat if the brakes are heavily applied. Fully reclining front-seat squabs, forming a bed, are available at extra cost. The steering is light, does not transmit kick-back, has reasonable caster return, and is geared 3½ turns lock-to-lock, plus a certain amount of sponge. The steering wheel, with its half-horn ring, is set low, and all-round visibility is very good, the screen pillars being notably thin. The front seats adjust fore and aft very easily, but the squabs were fixed on the test car and rather uptight. The upholstery is on the hard side, which tends to be noticed on a long day’s motoring. It is patterned and holds the driver from sliding about.

The controls include a speedometer with horizontal white figuring every 20 m.p.h., the needle moving in an arc, this big instrument incorporating a casually-calibrated fuel gauge and temperature gauge, and a total mileometer, with tenths. There are the usual warning lights, including one which shows that the pull-out handbrake is applied. This handbrake felt rather flimsy. One unusual feature of the Datsun 1600 concerns the lamps, These are operated by pulling out a facia button for sidelights and moving it further to bring in the headlights. However, with the side lights on the right-hand multiple stalk control moves downwards to bring in dipped headlights. With the facia button in the headlights position the stalk control has to be moved upwards to give full beam. This is somewhat confusing, as one is then back in the sidelamps “on” position and, as remarked previously, there is no full-beam warning light.

Quarter-lights are sensibly dispensed with in the front doors, the sill door locks and lift-up exterior door handles work effectively, a big lockable cubby-hole is supplemented by an under-facia shelf below it, the boot is large, there are well-placed armrests on the doors, and the keys fit smoothly into the locks. The test car had Britax safety belts. No coat-hooks are fitted, but there are refinements such as an under-bonnet lamp with its own neat switch which shines on to a data panel, and a cigar lighter, which, however, fell out and tended to “short” on the test car. The side windows are curved, and tinted glass is used. The bumpers are rubber-tipped.

The engine started extremely promptly but needed plenty of choke for some distance after starting, otherwise it ran roughly. It is an extremely lively unit, especially if the throttle is fully depressed to bring in full response from the Hitachi dual-choke carburetters. For a family-type car the performance is excellent, with a top speed of 100 m.p.h., and an indicated 60 m.p.h. available in second gear. Acceleration is in keeping, and the only primitive aspects of the Datsun that I recall are the slight hum in the lower gears, and some tendency to body vibration over rough surfaces. The fuel gauge was extremely pessimistic, some 90 miles being possible after the needle has passed the “empty” mark, so that I began to think the Japanese had invented a means of making the car run without fuel! Two-speed screen wipers, controlled by a facia knob which twists to the right to bring in the washers, do not wipe the offside of the screen at all effectively, and also leave an unwiped portion in its centre, making nonsense of the catalogue’s claim that the 400 min.-long blades provide “the highest degree of safe vision”, at all events on r.h.d. cars. The turn indicators are non-self-cancelling, and while I do not mind this, I am not very enamoured of this control being incorporated with the lamps-dipper. The interior upholstery is neat and well fitted, there being no door pockets. The clutch pedal on the test car squeaked and the panel covering aperture for a radio tended to fall front the facia. The fuel consumption was most commendable, coming out at 29.1 m.p.g. of premium fuel, which, as the tank takes nearly eight gallons the range is useful, at around 230 miles. The o.h.c. engine isn’t an oil-burner, either, for the accessible dipstick showed practically no lubricant consumed in 550 miles.

The strut-supported bonnet, which is very easy to open, lifts to total not only the accessible dipstick but the equally-accessible oil filler, sparking plugs, and a 6-fuse box on the bulkhead. There is a four-blade nylon fan for the Nihon radiator, which has English instructions for removing it. Fuel is fed by Mikki pump, the battery is a Yuasa-M.50, the air cleaner is a Suchiya, and there are two rather weak Miyamoto horns. The dual headlamps have a rather too widespread beam, both full and dipped. The rear-lamp clusters are Ever-wing, and the safety glass is Nissan Temperlite.

This Datsun 1600 Type P.510, with its type L.16 engine, is a lively, pleasant-to-drive, well equipped and modern Japanese product. It has performance similar to that of a Ford Cortina GT, the light controls of a Vauxhall, appears to be well made, has a degree of acceptable individuality, and the modernity of o.h.-camshaft valve gear. This engine gives 96 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. and pulls a top gear of 3.70-to-1. The car costs £966 in this country, in spite of the latest purchase tax, loading and Import Duty. Nissan-Datsun produced 92,329 vehicles in October last year and are able to advertise that at Mexico in November Datsun 1300s and 1600s finished 1, 2, 3 in two touring car races, ahead of Fiat, Mini Cooper S, Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen cars. They have recently announced new models, including a 2000, and two new 1600 coupés, of which the 1600 SSS is said to develop 100 b.h.p. at 6.000 r.p.m. and have a top speed of over 103 m.p.h.

The Japs are creeping up on us.—W. B.