By on October 22, 2009

Is this woody-worthy?

With what words shall I express my overpowering feelings toward this tin can wrapped in vinyl wood appliqué? Jeremy Clarkson once called the Sunny “the worst car in the world ever” (probably not for the first or last time). To show he meant it, he hurled one to its death from a trebuchet (sorry, I couldn’t find it on You Tube). Richard Hammond piled in on the flame-fest too, incinerating another Sunny in the scorching business end of a rocket car. If graphic language is going to offend your delicate sensibilities, better skip the jump:

I love you, little woody-wagon Datsun.

Obviously, I’m feeling a bit emotional; male menopause, perhaps. More likely, my feelings for the lil’ woody were heightened by shooting a superb original ’55 Ford Fairlane yesterday. The owner’s son happened to be in town to visit his ninety year-old father in the nursing home. The father bought the Ford new, and the son, about my age, had learned to drive in it. And now he was preparing himself to say goodbye to both of them.

CC 39 106 800That’s how it often is with old cars. They’re like sponges, dripping with the human emotions we’ve invested in them. As the unofficial chronicler of old cars in Eugene, I feel like I’m taking a lot of it on, like a shepherd watching over his flock. I’ve photographed over five hundred in the past six months, and in the process we become intimate. When I see them coming and going, or just sitting on the streets, it’s a little like running into an old girlfriend: is your driver treating you well? Has he noticed your balding front tire and your oil leak? I have no choice but to internalize all this; it’s a heavy burden.

I’ve already lost several old friends to the jaws of the crusher. Two days ago, I walked down the street to re-shoot a 1975 Ford Granada coupe, because I wasn’t happy with the shots I had. I had heard it calling to me for days, but I procrastinated. Sure enough, it was gone; the wrecker had just picked it up a couple hours earlier.

So why the big love for this particular Datsun? Well, it was a perfect golden summer evening, and I was biking around the Whiteaker district. The Whit is by far the most colorful neighborhood in Eugene: a mixture of aging hippies, meth heads, hip young adults, idealistic families, the Nikasi Brewery, recent Mexican immigrants, the Pizza Research Institute, and the Arcimoto EV start-up. You get the picture.CC 39 102 800

It also has a unique zoning status that allows small business and residential housing to mix. My mechanic’s busy little three-bay shop is attached to his house. Instead of a waiting room, you can sit in his wife’s rose garden. Some of my best finds, like the Vega wagon, were found lurking around here. In fact, I had just discovered the 1950 hot-rod Cadillac down the street before running into this Datsun. Very anti-climatic, and I almost decided to pass on it. It’s hardly the only 210 around.

But it called out to me; the setting sun reflecting off the bright yellow house, the lush garden, and the way the vinyl wood appliqué was deteriorating, like alligatored paint on an old house. And just as the paint on a house flakes worst on the sunny south wall, the “wood” on this Datsun was clearly worse on its south-facing tailgate. It’s obviously been living here for a long time.

As I was shooting it, a bright and delightfully engaging girl of about eleven came riding out the driveway on a unicycle. I told her I was a unicyclist too, and we struck up a conversation about the pros and cons of 16” versus 20” unicycles. She confirmed the Datsun’s status as a reliable but little-used long-term family member, due to the family’s primary transportation being pedaled devices, one and two-wheeled.

CC 39 103 800As I stood there talking to her, I suddenly had the sensation that I was in a different country, perhaps Mexico, or Cuba. I felt thankful to live in a place where the old cars and the kids aren’t all hidden away in three car garages or McMansions in gated “communities”. Where an old Datsun wagon can live out a long and useful life hauling gardening supplies when needed. In a different mood, I might have thought about Clarkson’s catapulted Sunny and chuckled. But not that day.

It probably won’t come as a shock if I tell you that most new cars don’t do a whole lot for me these days. The exception to this are the developments in new technologies and propulsion systems. Well, that and the Alfa 8C that haunts my dreams. But there’s no doubt that we’re in the early days of a transitional period. It’s like the end of the steam locomotive era, or the horse and buggy. So I find myself with one foot in the future, and the other in the past, documenting and reveling in the era when cars were far less perfect, but had character, and are now sitting decoratively at the curb in front of a vintage house. Being an optimistic futurist as well as a nostalgic historian is my way of coping with the muddle of the present.

Transportation wise, the Whiteaker is a melange of bicycles, at least one unicyclist, pedestrians, old cars, trucks and a few EVs. Newish cars? Except for Priuses, not so much. Is it a sneak preview of our future? Works for me, especially when I get to meet a hot rod Caddy, a fellow unicyclist, and a Datsun 210 woody wagon within the same two blocks.

Thanks for tolerating my middle-aged digressions; I’m feeling better already. And I promise you a slew of truly awesome vintage Datsuns to come. Speaking of which, I’ve barely said a thing about this Datsun; my apologies.

It was a primitive but fundamentally rugged and cheap workhorse of the era. It really hadn’t changed much since its origins in 1966 as the Datsun 1000. RWD, the simple little A-series push-rod engine, the same old tired formula that the European FWD hatches and the Honda Civic made obsolete. By the early eighties, it was a rolling relic. Deadly boring. Maybe even the worst car in the world.

CC 39 100 800

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61 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1980 Datsun 210 Sunny...”

  • avatar

    It couldn’t have been the worst car in the world, even in 1980, because they were making the Citation.

    I don’t have a lot of background with Datsuns, but this one hits several of my happy places: rear drive, a basic and durable engine, and a station wagon with woodgrain paneling. What’s not to like? And as Japaneese cars of the era go, its not that bad looking.

    Around this time my Dad bought what must have been one of the last Datsuns – a red King Cab pickup. After a few years, one of my brothers nearly totalled it. It came back from the bodyshop as a Nissan.

  • avatar

    What made this car so bad? My dad bought new a Datsun wagon in about ’78 and it was a wonderful car for way, way, way over 100K miles. Other than the rust that Japanese cars were known for in that era, it was my mom’s favorite car ever. Did the quality take a dump in a couple of years? No opinion, just a question. Info anyone?

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen one of these for over a decade. The first car I bought with my own money was a ’69 Datsun 1000(B-10) for $50.00. Later I found an identical insurance write-off with 30,000 original miles for $200.00 at the auto wreckers. I learned a lot about wrenching, making one car out of the two. Later I owned a Datsun B-110 with the 1200cc motor, it met it’s maker in a collision with a Ford Maverick. Later still, the pizza place that was my first job, replaced their Vegas and Chevettes with a fleet of Datsun 210 hatchbacks. I don’t know if it was weight or pollution controls, but the 1000cc version had more poop than either the 1200 or 1400cc motors of the ones I drove later.

  • avatar

    I love one of these – always liked them for some reason. Same with the rear drive Corollas of the same vintage. Not too many left here – what few rust and neglect hasn’t killed are harvested for their five speed transmissions to fit into MG Midgets.

  • avatar

    Well, that and the Alfa 8C that haunts my dreams.

    For me it is nightmares. I would gladly kill all of you for an Alfa Romeo 8c Competizione. Even if it required hurling Datsun 210s at every last one of you with car-tapults.


  • avatar

    With all the beautiful cars in the world, why do you insist on picking shit boxes all the time?

  • avatar

    jpcavanaugh : October 22nd, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    It couldn’t have been the worst car in the world, even in 1980, because they were making the Citation.

    And the Chevette. What a horrible car.

  • avatar

    I had a powder blue 1979 Datsun two door sedan…only options were a 3-speed automatic, a radio and heater.

    Living on Cape Breton Island, the winters were snowy, and the rear wheel drive was just okay…then, I discovered, quite by accident, that the transmission had a 2nd gear start feature…just put ‘er in “2”, and slippery driveways and streets were much better negotiated….of, you had to have snow tires.

    Great little car…if I remember, it had drum brakes all around, and modest acceleration, but it was a dependable grocery getter.

    An honest little vehicle…and more soul than anything new.


  • avatar

    Paul – Any chance you could write up a Datsun 510 someday?

  • avatar

    re: cycarconsulting:

    With all the beautiful cars in the world, why do you insist on picking shit boxes all the time?

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and is more than sheet metal deep.

    Besides, there are dozens of other sites and car porn mags to see the standard-issue “beautiful” cars… frankly, if I never see another pic of any late-model BMWs, Jags or Mercedes, it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

    I’ll spare you all my opinion of what a beautiful car is or ain’t, but it’s kinda like supermodels… the ones that seem to get the most attention just don’t do much for me.

    That Datsun represents something that is all too rare these days… an honest car. Even with it’s faux wood grain.

  • avatar

    Worst car in the world in 1980?

    Put. Down. The. Crack. Pipe.

    As mentioned above, you’ve got the Citation and the Chevette. How about any GM H-platform car? All winners there. Let’s not forget the Omni/Horizon. Moving over to Ford, there’s the Capri and my personal fav for one of the worst cars ever, the Fairmont/Zephyr. Or the last year of the Pinto’s run.

    And how about the Pacer’s last year?

    Everyone was a POSmobile that had long, sad lives in most trailer parks here in Flyover Country, well, except the Pacer.

    Gimme this Datsun any day of the week.

  • avatar

    It also has a unique zoning status that allows small business and residential housing to mix.

    Doesn’t that just make all the difference in the world? You end up with real, actual communities that work for people.

  • avatar

    My dad bought a Blue 81 210sl brand new when we lived in hawaii. One of my first memories is of going down to the docks and picking up the ‘Blue’ car as it was coming off the ship and then the fun of tearing the plastic off the seats.
    It was a faithfull family work horse for 18 years. I drove it as my first car in high school… the thing was down right indestructible and fun as hell on a gravel road for a high school kid. I thought the thing was a tank and wish I still had it. The last I knew my dad gave it to the youth pastor at our church and it is still going to this day.

  • avatar

    Unlike the poster above I like that you pick “real” cars. Anyone can trot out some garage kept “trailer queen” show car and admire it. For me show me the “grunt” the mass produced midrange that has as much mileage (character) as Michelle Duggar’s uterus.

    Cars are meant to be driven and old mid ranged cars are meant to be beat down by multiple generations to the point of a rolling pile a scrap. The measure of worth for an automobile isnt the rave first year reviews of autofiles but the begrudging respect of a family to a car that no matter how many reckless teens they handed it down to after 15 plus years the old girl can still take a punch.

    Built for show…pfft…give me built for go.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    jaron : Paul – Any chance you could write up a Datsun 510 someday?

    It’s coming, soon.

    grog, and others: is the last line the only thing you remember? I was quoting Clarkson; do you take him seriously?

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen one of these in years. Most of them rusted away a long time ago.

    This car’s replacement was the Sentra, which, if I recall correctly, was the first car from Nissan in this country to wear the Nissan badge instead of the Datsun badge.

  • avatar

    beater & gohorns: +1

    grog: and my personal fav for one of the worst cars ever, the Fairmont/Zephyr.

    Oh, c’mon. You’ve gotta show a little love for the last of the inline 6 rear drivers. The earliest iteration of the venerable Fox platform was a servicable little car. I look forward to one as a curbside classic one of these days.

    But back to our regularly scheduled programming. Does anyone else remember the slogan, probably from the early 70s: Drive a Datsun – Then decide.

  • avatar

    So it wasn’t a 2010 Tata Nano after all. Damn.

  • avatar

    I skipped the jump, not because I’m offended by language, but because I’d never forgive myself for wasting the minutes necessary to read further about such a piece of junk (the car).


    Now I’m out of here before my day is completely ruined beyond repair.

  • avatar

    japcavanaugh: I remember “Datsun Saves!” from around the time of the first fuel crisis.

    And, yes, I can’t hate the Fairmont/Zephyr. They weren’t bad cars…too bad Ford didn’t keep developing the sedan and wagon versions. But in those days, the front-wheel-drive configuration was all the rage, especially for family sedans.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte


    I was so sure that only an American manufacturer could have the tastelessness to slap “genuine wood-like applique” onto a car. So, apparently did the same parent company that brought us the GTR.

    Embarrassment, thy name is “Sunny.”

    I’m flummoxed.

  • avatar

    Oh man, I had a 210 hatch back in ’79; I loved that car. It seemed as if it had personality and a soul. It wasn’t fast, I had to recline the driver’s seat back to avoid constantly hitting my head on the roof, and it had the pop-out rear windows, but it was a fun little car.

    Also, Mr Niedermeyer, this article is the epitome of the Curbside Classic; with your rambling dissertation on community and residents, midlife crisis, reflections of the changing nature of transportation that add the flavour to the meal of the car. Perfect. It’s my favourite series on this blog.

  • avatar

    This was just a fabulous piece of writing, Mr. Niedermeyer.

  • avatar

    My friend had an old Datsun wagon in these exact colors when we were in high school (late 1990s). We called it the Crap Mobile. The two coolest features were 1. It had rusted through the floor in one spot so you could drop lit smoke bombs out behind you and 2. It could back-fire on command. Which was great when someone was tailgating you. Ah the memories.

  • avatar

    Hey it’s not every day I read an article about one of my cars. Thanks. My 1981 210 Hatchback will be getting me through this winter. It doesn’t inspire the confidence of my other cars, but it has no shortage of soul. I wish I could justify the cash injection to keep it going for years to come but sadly, its time is running out.

  • avatar

    I figure a stopped clock is right at least once a day so I am just going to keep guessing LTD wagon.

    As for this car, well, it’s not a B210. It has that going for it.

  • avatar


    Definitely keep these rolling – they’re easily the most entertaining part of TTAC.

  • avatar

    Other than rust, this happens to be a super super reliable workhorse. I worked for Datsun in the early 70s and this 1200cc engine could not be killed. The same goes for the trnasmission. In additon, the car got in the 30mpg range. It was also rear wheel drive and there were no electrical issues. Why did this article mention this car as being a horror show. I totally disagree. It was a simple car with no real issues other than rust and the fact it was no frills. I wish I had this car today to knock around.

  • avatar

    You have convinced me, I want to move to Eugene.

  • avatar

    It’s so cute. I want to hug it.

    … surely that was in the Japanese-market advertising, right?

  • avatar

    “Jeremy Clarkson once called the Sunny ‘the worst car in the world ever\'”

    Which proves he’s in show biz, not the car biz.

    “[The Whiteaker district] … has a unique zoning status that allows small business and residential housing to mix.”

    For once, I’m with psarhijinian. Sadly, mixed-use neighborhoods are all too rare in America. On the other hand, there are strong reasons for that.

  • avatar

    Paul,I’ve never met you personally but I absolutely understand your car philosophy about the lost and sometimes forgotten in car world.Keep on doing what you’re doing so well with Curbside Classics.

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    I’m nowhere near old enough to have firsthand experience with almost all the Curbside Classics, but I still appreciate this series nonetheless. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read an editorial on a car that isn’t gushing about the newest Teutonic sports sedan that doesn’t have even the slightest bearing on most people’s driving experiences.

  • avatar

    Cool write up here. That looks like a good car for its day. My family had an early 80s lime green B210 hatch with the honeycomb wheel covers. My buddy here locally drives an 82 200SX that he got for $300. It runs great and except for needing new struts/shocks it drives nice. The interior is cracked but the car was garage kept for years. It even has the japanese girl still stuck in the dash that tells you the door is ajar lol. There are so many great bargains out there if you look for them.

  • avatar

    Oh yeah I have always wondered why Nissan changed their name in the early 80s. Anyone know? Marketing or a copyright issue? lolz.

  • avatar

    I moved to Japan and always loved seeing these Nissans over here.

    The Japanese name for this model was the Sunny.

    The Sunny station wagon with the fake wood on the sides was called the California edition. So on the rear of the car, it said “Sunny California” in a couple of places.

  • avatar
    H Man

    An article about a CC in the Whiteaker and no mention of Sam Bond’s Garage??? Best bar in town, bar none. *cough* And used to be an auto mechanic shop, to boot. Even a (near) life-sized cutout of Mr. Bond inside. But one of the hippy stoner slack-knuckled under-employed workers pierced his damn ears!

    Should have a Eugene area TTAC enthusiast drink-athon there at some point.

    Great writeup, in any event.

  • avatar

    My first car, ie not a truck, was a 1973 Datsun 1200 which I bought, much used, in 1983 as school commuter. At the time I had a 1973 International Scout II for bushwhacking and a 1975 Honda CB550 Supersport for barnstorming. I was going to drive 50 km to school and back and often another 75km in top of that to work. I paid $500 for that Datsun.

    It was rough, crude and noisy but in the whole two years I drove it, it never once failed me, this on a car that had many, many miles on it before I got it. In that two years I replaced my alternator and starter on it, both myself and with simple tools. Try that these days! I must have put another 100,000km on in in that two and a half years I had it and I drove it at ridiculous speeds, like 120 km/h on that tiny 1200cc motor.

    After said two and a half years it was getting towards the end of its service life. It need a valve grind a the very least but it made it to the scrap yard under its own power. I took the near new 12″ tires off of it and installed them on my newly acquired 1985 Chevy Sprint. It owed me nothing.

    At the time I disdained my Datsun 1200 but looking back, it was one heck of a little car. It was indestructible. So was my CB550. No matter how hard I flogged each of these poor beasts they kept coming back for more. Now compare the Datsun to a Vega or a Pinto of the era or the CB550 to a shovelhead hog! These were the products that put the Japanese makers on the map; they were far and away better than anything Detroit could produce at the time.

  • avatar

    Ask and ye shall receive. Paul, have you been to the Hung Far Low in Portland?
    Uh, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you didn’t receive the picture.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    H Man, that sentence was getting too long; but Sam Bond’s will undoubtedly make another appearance. Wouldn’t a CC look great in front of it?

    Definitely the place for a Eugene TTAC fest, now that there’s more than three of us.

    gusplus, seen it, but not tasted, yet.

  • avatar

    Paul, if you’re hittin’ on old Datsuns how about some love for the F10? More personality there than you can shake a stick at.

    And what’s with all the hate for the Citation? My parents bought one, and compared to the Pinto wagon (complete with faux wood siding!) it replaced it was heaven. Roomy, and the V6 had decent power (compared to the Pinto remember) and gas mileage. Ugly as hell? Well yeah, but name a GM car built between 1975 and 1990 that wasn’t.

  • avatar

    I received a 210 2-door automatic as a loaner once when my ’78 Datsun truck was in for some warranty work. I had to turn around and take it back because it couldn’t reach a then-55mph on the freeway. The only slower car on the road then was maybe a MBz 240d automatic. They gave me a manual version that wasn’t much better but at least I could get into highway traffic without causing a SIG-alert (this was So. Calif).

  • avatar

    Wow. If you keep it up Paul, I’m gonna be forced to move back down to Eugene. And wifey wouldn’t like that.

    If there’s gonna be a TTAC fest at Sam Bond’s, I’m there. While my friends were attending the U of O, I spent many a weekend with them attending shows. One of my greatest memories was of Elliot Smith at Sam Bond’s.

    Keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    Yes. Let me pile onto the CC love. Paul, you’ve definitely hit your stride with this series.

    You’ve added much appreciated context, both personal and national, to these little essays.

    These are the cars most of us grew up with. Sure, many were heaps of crap, but you’ve found a way to put the appropriate lens on your writing to romantacize each and every one of them. That’s not so bad.

    Write them long. Write them short. Let the car decide.

    If you’re not making money at this by now, then the Best and Brightest have spoken on your behalf. Again. Still.

    And…Curbside Classics would make a badass, smart-ass coffee table book. Just imagine…thick, creamy, glossy pages of crumbling, rusting relics from the eclectic avenues of Eugene.

  • avatar
    H Man

    Count me in. I’m at Sam Bond’s quite often, relaxedly enjoying some Brutal Bitter or Oakshire Hazelnut Stout. Even the random PBR to stay sober. Fine food, as well. (Rachel makes a killer tostada, but be warned: I was tricked into eatting a vegetarian sandwich.)

    Bottoms up!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Russycle : Paul, if you’re hittin’ on old Datsuns how about some love for the F10?

    I’m there, literally; delayed gratification is good.

    gus plus, thanks; and the money is flowing again,in the right direction.

    Sam Bonds get-together: Yes. a Saturday later this year. We can check out the 50 Caddy, just a few blocks away. I’ll put up a post/invite. Maybe some weekend when son Ed is in town. Stay tuned.

  • avatar

    “as much mileage as Michelle Duggar’s uterus”


  • avatar

    OK, so we didn’t learn much about the Sunny, which was probably a very decent car in its day. But we did get a lyrical snapshot of Eugene. I had to google the Pizza Research Institute. And I’m almost feeling sorry I don’t live near Mt. Rainier Maryland anymore, a community similarly full of classic cars, similarly funky vintage houses, and the Glut food coop (but not quite, because it’s right next to DC).

  • avatar

    This is really great stuff. Paul Niedermeyer has hit a chord with many of us. I have realized that I’m a bit older than Mr. N., but both of were in Iowa City at the same time–he apparently a teenager, me a grad student. This piece reminds me that I’ve never owned a car I really didn’t like. And I’ve owned some pieces of crap–a Vega, a Renault, a Corvair. But at the time I had them (and they weren’t being difficult) I loved every one of them. Thinking of them brings back parts of my life I thought I had forgotten, and time edits out the bad parts. Anyway, thanks, Paul!

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Paul, I hope to meet you some day in my travels.

    You have a gift for bringing to life those things that are endearing and enduring.

  • avatar

    My father had a Sedan when I was little in the late 80s. I think it was the 120 variant. Cool looking little car. No A/C, power windows, or big power, but it worked for us in the Dominican.

    Until it was painted white after a crash, instead of blue with green accessories. The hell with that.

  • avatar

    I’ve never understood hating the Sunny. Sure, in the 1970s it was obsolecent, but the fwd models were really good in their day. My friend’s 1985 Sunny Sportswagon was still running in 2002 – seldom serviced, never repaired and never broke down until rust killed it.

    Also, I’ll say that the 1985-1990 Euro-spec Sunny was one of the best cars in the world. You still see them every day, 19 years after the end of production.

  • avatar

    My Mother had a one of those in as a Sedan…. my first automotive experience is owed to it, i swiped the keys and was planning for a joyride when i was 7, didnt know that i had to change gears and declutch, just turned the ignition and had my first crash, all be it minor with the wheel turned to the curb… was shook up and got spanked (i think) but within the year i could get the stick out of first and turn the car on…but couldn’t reach the clutch….

    the war in Lebanon heated up after that and spilled into our front and back yard, a 150mm tore through the poor Datsun…i just wish i had photos to share… so I didn’t get a chance to actually experience the drive. but i hear stories from my dad (who worked abroad) that mom drove it for a good 7 month once with no oil in the engine as the stupid mechanic forgot to tighten the filter well…he put oil back in and the car worked as it’s supposed to, never gave my family a problem with its almost 11 years of service, until the shit was blown out of it…talk about a way to go, i guess casualty of war is a bit more acceptable than the crusher…

  • avatar

    I learned to drive in a piss yellow B210 in central New York in 1984. My dad bought it used as a second car. Although only a couple of years old, it was already suffering from salt-induced Mohawk Valley cancer.

    It was actually not a bad ride. With snows, it did just fine. The struts or shock towers or whatever eventually gave way to the rust and the front of the car collapsed in on itself.

  • avatar

    Wow. Just wow,PN. You captured my feelings about the unloved with such precision.

    Anyone can salivate over beautiful cars [ the ones everyone seems to feature], but it takes a true car lover to appreciate the value of the pedestrian stuff and it’s time and place in the automotive scheme of things.

    It made me sad to hear about that poor old Granada
    I hope the end wasn’t painful…..

    Thanks again.Reminds me of that feature in Hemmings Classic Car: Driveable Dreams.

    To those whose day was ruined by this feature, you’ll live.
    If you don’t get it, you’ll never understand it, so why hate?

  • avatar

    Gosh, I haven’t seen one of those piles in about 20 years or so. Most of them fell apart and rotted away when they were 5-6 years old. Memories! Meanwhile not a day goes by that I don’t see an 80’s Ford, GM, Chrysler, Mercedes or BMW. Guess those makes were better equipped for harsh weather climates.

  • avatar

    ponchoman49, yes, I think it took them a while to fully appreciate the caustic effect of road salt. Around these parts by spring time cars that go unwashed have a layer of ‘frosting’ eagerly devouring any exposed metal surface. Funny the Koreans didn’t learn from them and did exactly the same thing. I’ve taken longer to finish a 24 of beer than it took for Hyundai Pony’s to start rusting out.

  • avatar

    In 1980, foreign cars were still making headway into the US market. The Sunny was a transitional vehicle that demonstrated an ability to provide US buyers with a reliable rear drive small car for less money. The wood trim makes sense too, in that Japan was discovering how to mimic US design tastes on Japanese cars. This was deliberate, and in the end, successful. What we are not seeing is how this car, and most Japanese cars of this era, were mirroring and pacing the US market and making US buyers accustomed to accepting their brands for future purchases. American cars of this era looked similar. What Nissan is doing here, is offering their take of a popular American automobile style, with a Japanese twist.

    If we take a look at Japanese cars of this era, we see transitioning, not revolution. The reason for this makes common sense. By 1980, the Japanese recognized that many Americans didn’t consider Japanese cars to be reliable – just as they considered American cars of the period to be periodically unreliable. American shoppers of this period were often in dealer garages, and have accepted a certain level of crap in their vehicles. Reliability wasn’t expected.

    What the Sunny and the Corolla did was demonstrate that not only were these cars Japanese, but that they were reliable. This was new. To accomplish this, the Sunny and the Corolla were old-school. They used designs that were reliable. So we see rear drive, and bullet-proof mechanicals within these 1980 cars. What they lacked in cutting edge – they more than made up for in reliability and value. This was an important step for Japanese manufacturers in this era.

    If you look at Mazda’s history in the US, you see why their Japanese competition went with dated reliable designs. Mazda made a big publicity splash with Wankel engines. Mazda saw outstanding growth and PR with these engines. But just as publically, Mazda tanked when these engines didn’t deliver the frugality and reliability expected. Mazda looked like a goner until the GLC saved them from extinction. There was no way Honda, Toyota or Nissan would allow this to occur to their companies. Consequentially, these companies handled new product with great care.

    Laugh at the Sunny, but what you are not seeing is how well these boring tinny little cars caused the US market to reconsider Japanese manufacturers when they didn’t before. These cars were comfortable considerations for buyers of this era. They didn’t frighten away the US customer. They demonstrated value, frugality and reliability in an automobile at a time when US manufacturers were unable to do so.

  • avatar

    But back to our regularly scheduled programming. Does anyone else remember the slogan, probably from the early 70s: Drive a Datsun – Then decide.…

    How about “It’s a long way to empty, in a Datsun”. The yellow B210…wasn’t that the “honey bee” version? Really scraping the grey matter now…we’re talking fourth grade…

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    A typical find on a Willamette Valley street, right up there with some bicyclist in a rain poncho. Love it. Glad to see that some of these are around. Reminds me of my brother’s 1978 Datsun B210; the predecessor of this model. The Iron Cockroach: ugly as sin, but wouldn’t die. Had a hardy character that’s rather hard to describe in much depth. Seems like the mechanicals on these things last long after the surrounding body panels have rusted to pieces.

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