By on September 3, 2013

Can you remember when sports cars were a staple of design studios?  When these wee-beasties were vellum fodder like today’s CUVs?  Me neither.  But Europe once made these in spades, and–much like today’s utility vehicle craze–Japan regularly followed suit.  Let’s examine that rich history with a deep cut into Nissan’s “Fairlady” series.   

 

1

Let’s be clear, the Datsun 1600 will never win a beauty contest if comparable Euro Metal enters the show.  Like most Japanese cars from this era, the styling was far more agricultural and cost-effective: uber voluptuous fenders, lumps, bumps and curves need not apply. The 1600′s box-nosed face belongs on today’s family sedan, and the bumper looks like an afterthought compared to the sexy slope of the MGA’s integrated maw. But the clean (well-organized) lines and tidy details (i.e. well placed signal lights) still makes it a timeless classic.

The practical charm of such nostalgic Japanese iron is clear to every eyeball. Heck, there’s even a fantastic website dedicated to the hobby. Check it.

2

There’s nothing wrong with a basic design when details like the grille and emblem are presented in such a clean and logical manner.  This is why cheap(er) cars are as cheerful as more expensive iron.

 

2_1What really makes the Datsun 1600′s nose stand out is the integrated grille/hood cut line.  Simply put, the ends of the grille match the beginning(s) of the hood.  It may seem like a little detail, but go back to the 2nd photo: doesn’t that make everything right on that face?

4

My, how things change with time! Body parts were screwed together back then?  No biggie: it’s part of the historical charm of many cars from this era.  Not having seen similar British/Italian machines up this close, I don’t know if screwing the front end in such a visible location is par for the course, or part of the Datsun’s value appeal.

 

5

I like the scalloping around the signal lights, a subtle touch to make these (universal?) parts look somewhat more unique to this machine.  The crease near the headlight’s center line is nice, but it’d be even nicer if they centered the headlights (i.e. slightly lower) to match it. Lowering the headlights would also help “visually lower” the front end. If the engineers would allow it.

But look at how elegant the front clip appears with the minimal cut lines from the hood+grille treatment!

6

Again, lower the headlights so they “center” with that very cool crease in the front fascia.  That said, this proto-240Z shows the future nosejob for the Fairlady of the 1970s.

The Datsun 1600′s other hard crease, at the top of the fascia and hood, could use some softening up to empathize with the headlight’s round form: another issue cured by the elongated schnoz of the 240Z.

 

7

My need for a rounder top and “centered on the crease” headlights comes to light (sorry) from this angle.  The biggest problem is how that hard fold at the top fights with the rounded headlights and turn signals.

8

The chrome trimming at the leading edge of this hood scoop is quite the expensive looking touch!  Nice job.

9

While the snub-nosed face with too many hard edges isn’t the best start for a 1960s sports car, the hood and fenders sweep back quite nicely to compensate. How I long for the days when every automaker had at least one car with a looooooong hood! Which leads to a discussion of “dash-to-axle ratios”…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

10Indeed, that space between the dashboard and the front axle.  The more you have, the more inherently bad ass your vehicle becomes!  The Datsun 1600′s snub nose really kills the mood when you consider the hustle and flow of all those complementary lines from the headlights alllll the way back to the windscreen. Yum.

 

10_1I love how this elegant and delicate side view mirror’s base compares to (almost?) anything from the 1970s and beyond. While this could be an afterthought/necessity to comply with US safety guidelines, it’s a delightful design element.  The problem is that wart of an antenna(?)…it’s like seeing a pretty girl with a not so handsome guy at a black tie event.

That’s one lucky chrome wart, I say!  Or maybe he’s well endowed. Whatever.

 

10_3These emblems, while cool by themselves, are far too chunky to live here.  They kill the flow.  Put them further down the fender, perhaps halfway between the chrome moulding and the base of the wheel arch.

 

Sadly the Datsun’s poor location ruined my side shot, so this hardtop’d interweb photo will suffice. The upright windshield rake and static vent windows make this body look cuter and dumber than the more refined metal from Europe. But perhaps that ain’t no big thang since it echos the boxiness of the front end.

And isn’t it refreshing to see such an advantageous ratio of side glass to side sheet metal these days?

12Dare I call this wheel design a classic from this era?  Purely functional, but elegant and modest.  Ditch the whitewalls, but the sliver slotted steelies with a big face chrome center cap is an element I’ve loved on Porsches, VWs…and Datsuns!

 

 

12_1

While the exposed screws on the front end look a bit cheap, these fasteners on the cowl vent have a functional beauty about them.  Maybe it’s the silver paint and how this could be a close up on any number of brilliant European sports cars from the 1950-60s, but it just plain works.

 

12_2Two window panes to make one windshield?  If only Datsun sprung for a fancier sheet of glass in their bargain basement roadster.  That said, the chrome details in the wiper arms, rearview mirror, windshield rubber, etc. look fantastic in their close up shot.  Ditto those exposed screws on the cowl vent.

 

13Back again to the fantastic real estate between the dashboard and the front axle.  Be it a lovely Ferrari or a lowly Datsun, this is always a delicious treat that’s good for the car enthusiast’s heart and soul.

 

14The chrome trim is modest enough, but its location between the door lock and door handle appears clumsy as you approach from this angle. This might be the only car more deserving of a body side molding delete than a C5 Corvette.

 

15

The ragtop’s boot cover buttons are super-static on this otherwise flowing form.  Is it possible to bend that panel a few degrees in, more aggressively inward as it nears the rear, and still make the buttons snap to engineering specifications?  If possible, it’d certainly help the look.

 

16Just an ever-so-gentle inward bending: I’m not expecting a Talbot Lago from a reasonable and honest Datsun, but give us a little taste!  And here’s another good reason to eliminate the chrome trim.  From the subtle curves of the quarter panel to the soft contours of the wheel well, the Datsun 1600 is begging for someone to remove its rigid orthodontia.

 

17And let’s round out the trunk’s cut line…this is brutally rigid.  It’s obviously cheaper than the goodies coming from Britain and Italy at this time. While there are other hard edges and elements in this design that must stay, this one needs the boot…from the boot!

 

 

18

There’s a strong homage to the Aston Martin DB4 and DB5 presented here.  Or perhaps it’s just a cheap knock off.  That’s fine, but punishing the eyes with the “visual sound” of fingernails on a chalkboard comes from the brutally hard edges connecting the rear fascia to the quarter panel.  My kingdom for a little more money to round out some panels!  Please!

 

19Generation Gap: whatever that says and no matter how poorly integrated it may seem, at least those aren’t Lucas Electronics.  Some scalloping/recessing a la the front signal lights would be nice, too.

 

20Too many hard corners and Aston Martin rip offs aside, this is a pretty wicked rear end.  Note how the trunk cutlines seemingly disappear like an infinity pool in some fancy spa with overpriced meals and minimalist music piped into every hallway. Nice.

21

This might be the best angle to photograph.  A well-organized and classically minimal interior only highlights the curvature of the Datsun 1600′s decklid.  And the subtle rib down the middle? Perfection.

22

Sorry about not blurring the license plate, but this dealership changed names!  Too bad the Datsun 1600′s location was less than ideal for photography.  But shooting outside shows the Datsun 1600′s flat butt…and Cindy Crawford worthy birthmark (gas cap) too.

Note the especially clean integration of the deck lid, rear fascia and quarter panels in a single line at the top. Nice-ish…too bad it all ends on a butt that needs a little Sir Mix-a-Lot in its life.

 

23

Requisite twin chrome exhausts are always welcome ’round these parts. The leaf spring perches (left) and back up light (right) are interesting throwbacks to a simpler, stupider time.

 

25And since the top was indeed down, the Datsun 1600′s interior plays an integral role with the exterior design.  And, simply put, this is a fabulous interior.  There’s nicer bits from the Europeans, but that’s all relative.  Datsun’s intelligent and cohesive design is an Everyman’s ergonomic and stylistic wonder.  It’s what IKEA is to modern furniture, and it’s damn good-looking.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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28 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 1966 Datsun Sports 1600 (Fairlady)...”


  • avatar
    bunkie

    The 1600/2000 was always sort of an odd duck, largely because of the front end and the high roof. In fact I seem to remember it being called the “giraffe carrier”.

    But you’re right, it’s a very deftly executed design in many of the details. This car and the original 240Z show what Datsun was capable of. The current 370Z is just plain ugly by comparison.

    And I want to go on record saying that one of the scourges of our age is the intentional blurring of images. It’s disrespectful to the process of recording history.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    I think the proportions would look even better if the vehicle were slightly larger. The boot from the side looks tiny to me. I also like the flares on the fenders, a nice detail sadly missing from most of today cars.

    Nice looking car. Reminds me a bit of a Sunbeam.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Way to go, Sajeev! I missed reading your Vellum Venom articles!

    Indeed, the first thing that jumped out at me upon seeing this car was the seamless way that the grille meets the hood-opening. Too many modern cars have hood openings that skit around the grille, or that just about cut through it (think F30 3-Series). I don’t mean to sound clichéd, but automakers really need to start sweating the details…

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This is such a cutesy car. Simple in design/execution and every other possible way. Built properly, even though it was cheap and cheerful. I love it. Vintage Japanese cars have such an honesty to them. Like an old Land Cruiser or some Cressida estate – usually a copy of something somebody else was doing but in a simple, serious way. Competence was the order of the day, no flim-flam.

  • avatar
    Jalibb

    I owned one of these as a kid. This, along with acne and a girl named Vern, has to in the top ten nightmares of my youth. Those twin carbs never synchronized, a head bolt would always back out and turn the oil to cream, and just after I got fed up and rebuilt the engine the camshaft snapped in two in a parade downtown. Just seeing the images sends a chill. I see a vision, its becoming clearer… yes, a black and white film… I see Japanese workers laughing and cross Americans swearing.

    This car should go by the way of polio.

    • 0 avatar
      VoltOwner

      You were lucky to only have engine troubles. Mine was a ’64 1500, brought over by some G.I. stationed in Japan.

      It developed a crack in the firewall around the master cylinder, such that the brake pedal would just bend the metal rather than operate the brakes.

      I still have nightmares about driving that car down a steep hill, vainly trying to slow it down.

      When the intake manifold cracked, I had to replace it with one from a 1600, which meant my nice Hitachi SU’s no longer fit. The bolt pattern on the 1600 was identical to the SU’s from a friend’s MGB, so I ended up shortening the MGB linkage and running British carbs from then on. Never had a problem with the way it ran, but stopping the beast was a serious problem…

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    The front end is somewhat reminiscent of a similar vintage Peugeot sedan.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    my neighbor has one of these in red, and it’s both cute and terrifyingly small. I believe the entire grill is slightly smaller than the blue oval emblem in the grill of my other neighbor’s F450. (ok, that blue oval is Flavor-Flav quality in size and garishness, but still..)

    One thing that I think that we’re all missing with a car like this is that there’s nothing like it out there. Clean, honest design on an economical car? Heresy! I can’t help but think that a modern car (or heaven forbid a compact pick-up) following these values would thrive today. Manufacturers are wringing their hands trying to make their cars more like iPhones so that they appeal to Millenials. Millenials already have iphones. Give them a simple sturdy car with good design, a docking port and streaming bluetooth, and they’ll likely be happy.

    don’t advertize the car at all and tell them that “they probably wouldn’t like it, it’s too pure a car for mainstream people, the manufacturer just built for people-in-the-know” an they’ll buy it in droves. ;)

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    I looked into buying one of these a few years ago, and one of the things that sets them apart from the British roadsters of their era is that Datsun made minor changes to the trim and body panels every year or two over the 1963-68 model run. There are three distinct Datsun internal model numbers for those six years.

    As a result, it’s very hard to restore any car that is missing parts. Contrast this to something like an MGB, which only had three official model changes between 1962 and 1980.

  • avatar
    millmech

    Rear light clusters look like those on a SAAB 95.

  • avatar
    08Suzuki

    Hey Sajeev, I’d love to see one in the future about 60s Imperials.

  • avatar

    Summer 1987. The year prior I had moved in with my Dad and step-mom. Dad was a Nissan man and had been since leaving Chrysler in 1970, a year before I was born.

    Four years prior, he along with my step-brother restored a 1969 2000 Fairlady. My job at a local theater required my arrival at noon, thus no one could drive me, the Fairlady was mine. Red, sexy and exotic when teenage girls knew what an MG was. It could have been my ticket, but I was gangly and my high tops had green skulls on them. Still, it started a lot of conversations.

    Then my report card arrived. I would be repeating my sophomore year. The Fairlady was sold and my brother made sure I felt bad (“I spent weeks with steel wool on those bumpers alone!”) . It was just such a wonderful car, especially for a 16 year old.

    I have many regrets. That one is top 5

    Your assessment of the styling is spot on. But I wish you could have driven it. My adventures with an MG are documented here. But that Datsun was better in every way.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The 1600 Fairlady was a fantastic vehicle, when Datsun was a sports car manufacturer.

    The 240Z was the last of the ‘real’ Fairladies. The 260Z was becoming an Amercianise boulevarde cruiser, every Fairlady since was just that, mostly uninspiring.

    From a business perspective that was by far the largest and most influential vehicle market at the time.

    Times have changed. It would be nice for the ‘new’ Datsun to bring out a bare as bones true sports car again (not Nissan or Renault nameplate on the bonnet/hood).

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I foolishly didn’t buy a BRG Datsun 2000 Roadster from the back lot of a low end used car dealer in North Hollywood .

    Oops .

    These were always fun cars , I guess time has made everyone forget that from about two years old and on , you could find clean ones for under $1,000 but they’d need a clutch and the engine has to come out to replace the clutch in these .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    myheadhertz

    I’ve owned 2 of these! The first one was purchased used, with about 14,000 miles on it. The car was originally purchased by a Navy Officer who brought the Datsun to the Great Lakes Naval Base via Hawaii. Quite the odd ball car here in the Midwest in 1967. I put about 80,000 miles on the 1600 and beat the living krap out of it. Had to replace the clutch, transmission, oil pressure sending unit, front brakes, and a voltage regulator during my ownership. The transmission problem was TOTALLY my fault. I beat on that thing with no mercy! That car had soul. Real soul. I’m sure it’s been crushed (rust issues). But that 1600 will never be forgotten.

    Bought a “restored” 1600 back in 1980. This car is beautiful but has has a blown head gasket. The car has been in storage since 1980. Looking to do a KA24de swap – some day.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    My Navy roommate in the early ’70s had one of these. Those thin chrome body strips on the sides may have looked out of place, but they were perfectly positioned to fend off dents from the doors of my ’65 Impala usually parked alongside it. I don’t remember that philips screw in front, they were chrome buttons, so the screw is not original. Finally, when my shipmate bought it, that flat rear had a dark gray paint job that contrasted with the cream color on the rest of the car. My shipmate repainted the car all white.

    My shipmate shipped his car to the ship’s new homeport of Yokosuka, while I transferred to Newport, RI. For some reason, he wasn’t able to drive it off the ship, even with California plates. He ended up selling it to another sailor rotating back to California but wanted it back. He tracked it to Long Beach, then Mayport, then Norfolk, then lost track of it. It may be the car is still being handed down from sailor to sailor, But more likely, proximity to all those seaports turned it to rust.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    Sajeev, delighted to read another of your car style breakdowns! It’s like having Jon Gruden break down an offensive scheme during an NFL broadcast. Dude, that’s what you should do–make these into videos with a telestrator so you can show us exactly which lines you’re talking about. Hell, I’d watch that if it was a weekly TV show. Someone get SPEED Channel on the phone.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    A fellow college student had one of these , think a 1969 2000 , also in silver . Back in the day these were a bit of a rarity , much less seen than MGs or Karmann Ghias . He was a D-I-Y type and really kept it up and he thought it was quite reliable. He really liked it , but he was a more affluent type college kid than me , and also owned two motorcycles , one for him and one for his GF ,I think he used the bikes a lot more than the car , and was real fussy about them also . I rode in the Datsun a couple of times , once in the back seat or whatever it was with the top down as his GF was with us – as a 5 ‘ 5″ little dude I was often relegated to substandard or childlike ” back seats “.

  • avatar
    TTAA

    There are 29 photos in this article, 26 of them are covered with ads for basically the same thing.

    It’s frustrating that each one needs an active click to dismiss in order to see the details you’re talking about…
    26 times.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Never owned one, but spent a lot of time in one cruising the coastal towns of SoCal when I lived in Dana Point for a time in 76′. Great little car.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Historically, Japan’s emergence into the first world back in the mid 19th century was patterned after the British Empire and British institutions.The Fairlady was Datsun’s tribute to the British Sports car. Except better mechanically. If you de -badged it, it could have been from British Leyland or the Rootes group.
    Thanks for the article.


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