By on August 30, 2013

datsun_200_sx_silver_1980

In the summer of 1984, my older sister Connie landed a great job with Sears credit hassling people for money. If you knew my sister, you would understand that hassling people is her special gift and she was highly successful as a credit collection agent. Twenty-one years old, with a great job bringing in real, grown-up money for the first time in her life, she did what every other bleach-blonde disco dancing queen would do, she ran out and bought a slinky little MGB convertible.

My dad, as he was known to do on occasion, screamed and yelled about the purchase. It wasn’t that he hated British cars, he was angry that hadn’t been consulted in the purchase and had not, therefore, been able to give the car a thorough once over before Connie brought it home. I think he agreed that it was a pretty little car and the body was in great shape, but he had a feeling about the car. It turned out that he was right, the electrical system was an absolute wreck. My dad was an excellent mechanic but rather than try to fix it, he intervened in the situation and took my sister back to the dealer. I am not sure what transpired but my dad was legendary for making people offers they couldn’t refuse and they came home later that day with an equally cute, slightly used 1980 Datsun 200SX coupe.

1979Datsun_200sx

Like the MGB, the Datsun was a sporty little thing with an engine that loved to rev. Prior to 1980, the 200SX had been a dowdy little coupe with an odd roofline, a huge sail panel for a c-pillar and a swooping rear quarter window that worked together to make the car look like a giant snail. Today, that design looks very cool and has all the features of a Japanese classic, but back then it was old hat and it was better off gone. The 1980 redesign was the future and it featured good looking square lines that would become the hallmark of 1980s Nissan design. The coupe was particularly handsome, with an upright greenhouse that offered good all around visibility. It was just the right car for a girl who was just setting out in the world, on her way up and out of the nest and headed for better things.

The best thing about the little Datsun, however, was that it was a real go-er. Backed with a 5 speed transmission, two whole gears more than the three on the tree in my Nova, it gave the driver a real sense of power and speed. Like most Nissans I have known, the suspension tuning was spot on and it did better on the curvy roads near our home in the hills of Western Washington than any car I had driven up to that point. My sister, like everyone else in my family, loved to drive and she became a regular terror in the little car.

My sister during the disco era

My sister during the disco era

The birth of my niece Lauren changed all that. Connie calmed down and a lot of her bad habits fell away. She even started wearing her seatbelt. That seems an odd statement today, but the truth is, as many of you will remember, most people didn’t use seatbelts back then. My dad, for example, was an excellent, safety conscious driver and didn’t use them until they were mandated. Although he never complained about it, I think he really didn’t think they were necessary; none of us did. Until Connie’s big wreck.

It was almost dusk on a Friday night when we got the call. Connie had been in an accident on the river road, a road near our home that was notorious for the number of accidents that occurred along its length. Fire and police services were on the scene and my sister was OK, but I remember that, in her shock, her first concern was for her baby who was, fortunately, at home with grandma. She simply had no idea what had happened. I set out immediately for the scene of the accident and arrived about 10 minutes later.

accident

The little Datsun was on its top, half submerged in a roadside swamp. A car driven by a teenage girl who had been playing a game of cat and mouse with her boyfriend in another car had rounded an off camber curve a little too hot, crossed the double yellow and struck my sister broadside, spinning her car off the road. It was an absolute disaster scene with pieces of glass and plastic scattered all over the street. The two kids stood across the road from the scene, surrounded by policemen and emergency responders, and I recall they projected an odd sense self-rightous detachment towards the carnage they had caused. It was almost as if they didn’t believe they were responsible for the night’s events. Connie sat in the back of an ambulance, her clothes muddy and wet, her expression shocked and sad, but she was otherwise unharmed. “You know,” she said as I arrived, “I decided today that I since I was a mom now, I better start using my seat belt every time. I think it saved my life.”

The little Datsun was eventually dragged out of the mud and hauled away to a body shop in town where it sat, a broken, shattered hulk, for several days across from the high school along the main drag. The police decided the kids were indeed the wrongdoers and the insurance agents came and looked at the little car. It was obviously a total loss and the decision was made to go ahead and scrap the car. They cut a check and, after a brief period with a Chevy Chevette loaner, my father and sister went out and chose a drab, lifeless, dark blue Chevrolet Cavalier coupe to replace the sporty little Nissan. The fun had obviously ended and the responsibility of adulthood had set in.

Years later, I would think of the little Datsun fondly as I, belted securely in my seat and at the tattered end of my own personal rope, mercilessly flogged my own 200SX turbo along those same roads. I always slowed just a little, however, whenever I hit that slightly off camber curve on the river road and let my eye wander ever so slightly to the mud and reeds of that roadside swamp. The curve behind me I would stand hard on the gas and accelerate away from that time and place. The lesson had been learned and internalized, a part of my sister’s childhood ended there through no fault of her own. My own, however, still continues.

The Nissan 200SX

1986 Nissan 200SX

Shameless plug here for my sister, “The Moss Boss.” If you live in Western Washington and have issues with moss on your roof, my sister can help: NW Moss Removal.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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48 Comments on “My Sister’s Story: The Road To Adulthood...”


  • avatar

    There is a fun road that I can take on the way home — Sheridan in Chicago. As it goes through Winnetka there is a 1-lane curvy section with no shoulder. I’ve been though this many times on my bike & it’s quite fun. Until one time a large lawn truck took the turn too fast went about 3′ over the center yellow line and I had to shoot to the outside of my lane to avoid the truck. In my car, that would have been a head-on collision.

    I no longer drive that section of road due to the numerous lawn trucks going over the center yellow.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    From a 200SX to a Chevette….indeed one grows up.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Just want to say: my first car was the 200SX at the top of the post, only a hatchback. Same color scheme, same wheel covers.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      Did yours have the Murilee-approved gadget under the dash that used a small analog disc to play back the various warnings about low fuel, doors being jars and whatnot? Ever since his post on the subject I’ve been looking in my local junk yards for one but coming up snake eyes.
      FWIW when I was in high school I had two loves, the 200SX and the Corolla gt-s. I could aim low with the best of them.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      I had an ’81, hardtop like the picture, very dark blue with a light blue pinstripe. Great car, lively to drive, very solid, but excellent fuel economy.

      I especially liked the instrument panel, and the look when it lit up as you turned the lights on. Very futuristic look.

      Sold it when I got my first company car in ’84, but never regretted owning it.

  • avatar
    Aleister Crowley

    I’m sorry your sister had an accident.(But glad she was alright.) I’m more sorry she had to drive a Cavalier. I had one. That was a truly dreadful car with an automatic. Wish your sister good luck with her business and tell her those are great before and after shots. Come to think of it didn’t Ford build one of their plants with moss on the roof?
    Here’s the quote:
    “The plant’s 10-acre vegetative roof—the largest installation of its kind in the United States—provides aesthetic and operational benefits that include restoration of native habitat, effective thermal and acoustic insulation, and improved air and water quality.”
    That’s what I thought of when I saw her pictures. If she got a contract from Ford to clean up that roof, she could retire.
    Nice story.

  • avatar
    old fart

    My ex bought one new in 1980 while we were still dating , it was a fun little car for about 4 years then started having gremlins. The A/C went out, and started running real rough and at that time no one here other than the dealer could/would work on it. They tried to fix the roughness to no avail, and parts for brakes and routine maintenance had to be bought at a import only parts store, so we got rid of it and bought American .

    • 0 avatar
      IndianaDriver

      I remember my Dad only buying American until the gas crisis of the late 1970s when he picked up a Datsun (I can’t remember the model) that was a hatchback and was either a 2 or 3 speed semi-automatic (manual shift without a clutch). He had fun with if until the bottom of it rusted out. More fond memories of riding in that Datsun as a kid than the Chrysler New Yorker he had beforehand that dropped the drive axle on I-65!

  • avatar
    Monty

    Annnnnnnnd, once again, a great story.

    For what it’s worth, I had a 78 210 coupe – for it’s time it was quick, fun to drive and luxurious. Odd styling? Yes, but the interior was so much better than many domestic cars that I was able to live with the Datsun ugly-stick treatment. I can’t imagine how disappointed I would’ve been to go from the Datsun to a Crapalier. Ugh.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    The last time I saw one of those S110 Datsuns in driving condition, it was reversing through a garage door. They still sell the Group B rally body parts for them. Would make a sweet project.

    • 0 avatar

      I would love to find another ’86 200SX turbo in killer shape for a project. I even think the 70s datsun 200SX is a spiffy little ride these days too. I miss a lot of those 70s Japanese cars that we all used to think were so ugly. They had their own style. These days, with a few notable exceptions, most Japanese cars look like warmed over Benzes.

      • 0 avatar
        MWebbRambler

        Great story!

        In college I tried to buy a blue ’85 200SX 5-speed coupe, but for some reason the bank wasn’t keen on the idea of loaning money to an unemployed college kid. So I traded a Honda motorbike, plus $400 to a friend’s uncle for his VW Thing. Six months later, I traded up to an ’82 Celica GT for even money.

        I liked the Celica but loved the 200SX. There’s someing about Datsuns of that era that were just fun to drive.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Does anyone else see mid-80s FWD Buick in the title image (at least from the b-pillar forward)?

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Great story together with that Kodachrome picture of your sis! Disco-era indeed.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX (formerly gslippy)

    Another great installment. Makes me recall – with both relief and sadness – the many accidents I had as a youth, and those I knew who never returned from some.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    Oh there’s so much I could say here! I’m pretty sure I never uttered anything about being thankful for a seat-belt (but hey, my brother’s great imagination is part of his writing gift!) Aleister, I accept your condolences on the Cavalier. I too loathed that ugly car and now you know why my father wasn’t consulted in the first place! I remember showing up in the Cavalier and a friend’s mother shrieked “OMG- did you actually pick that car?” and I replied “No- they put a gun in my face and made me take it.” I will say the account of the swampy accident is fairly accurate. The girl had her license a full week before she managed to wipe me out. I remember being upside down in the bog as the water started to seep inside and thinking to myself “I’m gown to drown in a swamp”. Thankfully another passerby and his buddy jumped out of their cars and pushed my car out, got the door opened and helped me out. My hair was entirely wet and I smelled like skunk cabbage. So much for partying with my girlfriends that night!

    The 200SX was a zippy little car and I really missed it when it was gone. The Cavalier was fully and completely my father’s idea- he was always a Chevy man.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Wow. Welcome Moss Boss!

      You’ve got a great website.

      How do your guys keep from killing themselves on wet, mossy roofs?

    • 0 avatar

      I wanted to give you my condolences on the Cavalier, too. As they say in the vernacular of my ancestors, oy vey. But so glad you were unharmed, at least in the long run.

      So what do you drive now?

      And did your father always remain a Chevy man?

      Oh, and great story, Mr. Sonata

    • 0 avatar
      Aleister Crowley

      Congratulations on your new business venture. I hope it does well.It’s a shame you weren’t in New York back in the disco craze. I’m sure you would have lit up the floor at Studio 54.
      You’re brother is a very good writer by the way. Anyone who can make the process of choosing a minivan a gripping and entertaining story deserves an award. But then again he probably has one (or many) already.

  • avatar
    niky

    We had a turbo hatchback just like that one, but the previous owner had already replaced the 1.8 Turbo with a more easily serviceable SR20.

    Lovely little car, even driving it twenty years after it left the factory, it never failed to put a smile on our faces.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Amazing how prescient your father was. The story probably would not have ended the same if she had kept that MG.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    Thanks Kenmore! We install anchor points and follow OSHA Fall Prevention Safety standards. Wear harnesses and on the cedar shake roofs wear Korkers to keep us from slipping off. I turned to moss removal when the housing market tanked (I was a mortgage broker.) The one thing we know is that there will always be moss in the Pacific North West (even when our homes have lost their value.)We work year round- even on Christmas Eve last year!

    The MGB burned to the ground along side I5 one glorious summer morning. Ya- dad called it. But that’s another story… I now drive an Oldsmobile mini van. (Dad was also an Olds Man. Go figure)

    Thom? Did you just call me a refrigerator?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Thanks, Boss. Smart business.

      Uh.. gotta go. Think your brother just showed up.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Put on roofing summers in the late 60s early 70s – enough long ago so a lot of roofs were wood shingles. For a few reasons, most were roofed over – cheaper, under deck skip planked, etc. You couldn’t pay me enough even in my invincible youth to try and walk a low pitch wood roof early in the morning when the dew was still there, might as well be walking on inclined ice. That was pre-OSHA and even toe boards were considered a sign of weakness on a low pitch – anchor points and harnesses would have cost a guy his man card had they even existed.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    And- when dad negotiated me out of the loan on the MGB and into the 200SX- the MGB was already toast. This speaks to the power of my fathers negotiation skills. They probably would have given it to me free just to get him out of their show room.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Great article, but I’d have to disagree with the nothcback 1980 200SX being better looking than the swoopy hatchback.

  • avatar
    readallover

    Thomas, did not run that River Road much. We had Snake Road in Edmonds and somebody would drive off that on a monthly basis.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    The River Road was no where near as dangerous as Devil’s Elbow. I don’t think there was a driver around who didn’t end up there in the ditch at one time or another. I know I did- several times! I also bought my son his very first car- a Volkswagen GTI. He was so excited to drive it to school the next winter morn. And, you guessed it, he totaled it on Devil’s Elbow before he could even get to town. Hauled away to the same body shop that took my 200SX many years before. Sigh

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Those earlier 200SX seemed to look like Japan’s take on the ’68 and ’69 GM intermediate coupes.

    But the ’80s..that was another story.

    At the place I worked back then, our recently divorced (and now single mom ) 40-something expediter traded in her ’76 Olds Cutlass 4-door Colonnade sedan for an ’80 model. It was the appropriate answer to a mid-life crisis–spend some money on yourself!

    Driving that car to work took made her look and feel 10 years younger, and most of us applauded her move. It actually showed the day she drove in, and for some time thereafter.

    It was a radical departure from much of the strange styling coming out of Datsun in those years. After the clean styling of the 510′s, the B-210, older 200SX and the later F-10 made it seem like they had lost their way. Meanwhile over at Toyota, they had just released their brilliant Celica ST which looked for all the world like a 3/4 scale Mustang fastback.

    So this car was clean, had cool factor and seemed to emulate the 1980-1981 Dodge Mirada, not a bad looking car considering the Baroque vinyl-encrusted tanks coming out of Detroit.

    I don’t know if she’s still with us, being probably in her 70′s, but it was just what she needed at the time.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    One of my Mom’s friends had that very same Datsun when I was a kid. Same color and everything, but an automatic. Rode in it many times. Same couple also had a Cordoba, they liked their 2drs!

    My Grandfather was an early seatbelt proponent – he witnessed first hand a head-on collision where someone went flying though the windshield straight into a rather large tree. Crushed the man’s skull like a dropped egg. He wore his seatbelt from that day forward – it was the late 60s, I believe, he was a bread delivery man at the time, so always on the road. My Grandmother, on the other hand, did not do so until it became illegal not to in Maine. Sigh.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have had only one serious accident. A woman in a K-car pulled out right in front of me on a 55mph state road. I was doing more like 65 in an ’88ish Ford Escort – company car, I worked summers in college as a bank courier. Hit her right in the driver’s side rear door/wheel well area, I did not even have time to hit the brakes. Went about 1/2way THROUGH the K-car, spun it around like a top. The Escort slid to a stop, and I had to force the door open. Which resulted in my only injury, a bruised shoulder. And broken glasses which went flying off. The Escort was shortened considerably. The woman was banged up and cut by flying glass, but walked away as well. VERY glad she was not just a tick slower, she might not have walked away if I hit her door. “She never saw me”.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Ouch ~ .

    Glad you’re O.K. Sis ! .

    I liked those 200SX’s too , drove a few .

    My Dad lives in Wa. , right on the side of Lake Whatcom and the road to his house is often slippery with dew or whatnot in the shady corners . I decided to not ride my Motocycle up to visit him .

    My ’59 Metropolitan Nash has the slush box tranny from a 1980 Datsun B210 because it needed an automatic that takes a pounding .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    those old S11 cars looking at them now scream 80′s. And not necessarily in a bad way. My Aunt had an s12 like yours Thomas, bought new after some dude in a Scout ran over the front end of her 1st gen Pulsar. Looking at how odd older nissan designs were it kinda forshadows why theyd partner with renault, as theyve already pinned the wackiness meter in their home market, why not double down and throw some french into the mix?

  • avatar
    afflo

    If the earlier Toyota Celicas were miniature Japanese clones of Mustang Fastbacks, the Datsun 200SX notchback is a Japanese clone of the early Fox-Bodied Mustangs.

    To my eye at least… But these cars are before me, so I don’t see some of the nuances that someone more, uh, contemporary to these cars might see.

  • avatar
    Kuya

    I drive an S12, am young, mercilessly flogging it as well. Hope I don’t need to wise up anytime soon.

  • avatar
    cls12vg30

    I also started out in a similar car, a 1982 200SX hatchback 5-speed. When I bought it in 1993 it had 211K on it. I sold it in ’95 before graduation, when I got a deal on an 88 Accord hatch 5-speed in much better condition, which got me through college. After graduation and moving south, I noticed that there were so many rust-free Japanese cars from the ’80s which were never seen anymore back in Buffalo. So I went back to my roots, ditched the ’94 Dakota Sport I was driving, and in 2001 scored a 1988 200SX SE V6, which I still own. It’s not a DD anymore, more of a project. I retired it from DD duties in 2009, replacing it with a ’96 200SX SE-R, which gave way to a 2005 Sentra SE-R Spec V after my daughter was born.

    I’d still love to find another old Datsun 200SX. Around 2002 I became a founding member of http://www.club-s12.org, which is still going strong.

    Incidentally, is it me or have 200SX’s been popping up a lot on TTAC the past week or so?

    • 0 avatar

      Part of that is me, I’m sure, because in addition to the one my sister owned, I owned an 86 Turbo. I also happened to write an article abotu a Japanese friend taking me out drifting in, you guessed it, a mid 80s 200SX.

      The truth is they were a whole lot of car for decent money. If I was down south where you are, I’d probably be digging that old iron myself.

      • 0 avatar
        cls12vg30

        What’s the title of the drifting article? I must have missed that one.

        One of the greatest adventures I had in my S12 was when I drove it from Raleigh, NC to my parents’ place in West Seneca for Christmas in 2001. That was the year of the post-Christmas blizzard, when seven feet of snow fell on the Southtowns between the night of Dec. 26th and the afternoon of the 28th. A few days later when I was able to get out and head back home, and with my heaviest luggage strategically placed over the rear axle, I wagged the tail of that torquey VG30E-powered open-diff ice skate all the way down I-90 to Erie, PA.

        I felt like I was in one of those old movies or TV-shows where you see the driver constantly sawing the wheel back and forth while driving in a straight line.

        It was only after proceeding south for awhile on I-79 that the roads became snow-free.


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