By on December 18, 2011

It was known as “The World’s Cruelest Rally:” The Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. In 1958, there were two entries, regarded as a joke by the burly Aussies: A pair of tiny Datsun 210s, named “Fuji” and “Sakura”.

The suicidal idea was had by marketing manager Yutaka Katayama. Aged 102 years, he is still alive to tell the story:

“We didn’t think we would win – we would probably lose. But it wouldn’t matter if we won or lost, as long as we completed the race.”

“Fuji” and “Sakura” rounded Australia for 19 days. Only 36 out of 67 cars managed to complete the rally. Surprisingly, the two Datsuns were amongst the survivors.

Even more surprisingly “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth.

Back home in Japan, the cars had to hit the road again. This time on a celebratory tour around Japan. The unexpected win helped pave the way for Nissan’s exports to the United States, led by Katayama as president of Nissan Motor Corp U.S.A.

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11 Comments on “That Took Guts: How A Funky Little Datsun Won The World’s Cruelest Rally...”

  • avatar

    Yes, but how did they do in the Mobil Economy Run?

    C&D had an article years ago about how drivers would cheat in that long-forgotten event…one car supposedly had an ashtray that was semicircular in cross section, so the driver would put a ball bearing in it and use it as an accelerometer.

  • avatar

    Pretty cool story. Early Japanese cars are interesting. The homely Suzuki Suzulight based on the German FWD Lloyd LP-400, paved the way for the success of the future Swift.

  • avatar

    David Halberstam tells this story in “the Reckoning” and I’ve always loved it. How a outsider like Katayama eventually had a positive effect on a clique-y place like Nissan would make a good movie.

  • avatar

    Interesting post Bertel and an area of interest for me (Reliability Trials history).

    The challenge of finishing was significant – outside of the small populated areas of the country, roads were rudimentary at best and car-destroying or impassable at worst. There weren’t motels for accommodation, and more often than not no petrol stations.

    The events consisted of a series of timed stages, and were literally a trial of man and machine, as to be able to get a result between the top crews the stage times were very difficult, crews would set average speeds beyond what the locals thought possible let alone had achieved. The introduction to the article below

    Results for the event can be found here:

    The scoring system is one point gained for every minute over the set time for each trial section, the outright results for the Datsuns certainly reflect the goal Katayama-san noted. The Datsuns finished ahead of two Morris Minor 1000’s, and the non-finishing Toyopet and Auto Union.

    A photo of one of the cars on the start line:

    I also saw a photo of one of the Toyopets that rolled on the Nullarbor Plain.

    Finally as you note in the article the Datsun team won their class rather than the rally outright(Eddie Perkins in a VW), perhaps the title “A Funky Little Datsun Won The World’s Cruelest Rally” could be revised?

  • avatar

    Great you liked it. I am working on more history pieces on Japanese cars. The company that gives me access first will get first dibs.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    Bit misleading this one.

    The Datsuns didn’t win at all – they came 25th and 34th (last). The lead car beat a pair of Morris Minors that’s all.

    The rally did however prove the mettle of VW and Peugeot products as well as the local Holdens.

    Also there is no evidence to suggest that they were regarded as a joke.

    The exploits of “Gelignite-Jack’ Murray who competed in this event might have provided a more compelling story.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s somewhat misleading too. 34th was only last if you discount the 19 vehicles that didn’t finish at all, including 3 Toyopets.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t understand. Bertel didn’t say the Datsuns won the rally. He said one won their “class” and the other came in 4th, presumably, in its “class” as well.

      And, as far as Datsun not being considered a “joke”, I refer you to The Simpsons, where the Japanese are called “sandal-wearing goldfish tenders”. Honestly, I’m not sure this was too far off the mark for how they were really perceived 60 years ago.

      You’ve got to admire the Japanese. I do. In contemporary terms, this would be like the Iraqis entering the auto export market today.

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