Sports Car Classics: The Datsun 1500, 1600, and 2000

1967 Datsun Fairlady

1967 Datsun Fairlady

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Well before Datsun build their segment busting 240Z, the company had nearly a decade in building little roadsters known in the Japanese market as the Fairlady. Their earliest models were made of fiberglass, which only 20 were made. The next two generations, the 1200 and 1300, were sold to export markets for the first time with the 1200 being the first Datsun model to be sold in America.

Then when the 1500 debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1961, they hit a sweet spot that didn’t change until production ended in 1970. At first glance the Datsun looks like a knock-off of the classic MGB, but this car debuted a year before the British roadster ever did.

Though seemingly ancient today, the 1500 possessed normal specs of its day. The car was used body-on chassis-construction when most roadsters were shifting to using monocoque designs. Suspension consisted of an independent front suspension with leaf springs and a live rear axle at the rear. Front disc and rear drum brakes were offered and quite good for the time. The engine was an 85 horsepower 1.5L inline-four with an SU carburetor built under license by Hitachi and backed by a four speed transmission. The 1500 was entertaining to drive in the turns, the powertrain wasn’t zippy with a top speed of 92 mph and a 0-60 time of 15 seconds, it was left in the dust of the British sports cars.

Thankfully Datsun got the message, and in 1965, released the 1600, which came with a twin-carburetor equipped 1.6L engine producing 90 hp, and thankfully was rev-happy compared to the old 1.5L. Top speed rose to 105 mph and reached 60 mph in 13.3 seconds, matching performance of the MGB.

The best was yet to come and in 1967 Datsun offered the 2000. This car, while sharing most of the 1600 that was built along side of it, came with an advanced single overhead cam 2.0L inline four producing 135 horsepower. Even more surprising was a five-speed transmission, which was unheard of in a budget sports car of the time. Datsun offered a competition package that changed the Hitachi carburetors for Solex units and camshaft to produce nearly 148 horsepower. This was the Datsun to get, as in SCCA competition; it dominated stock classes well past its production end in 1970 when the 240Z came on the market.

Today, it’s easy to find any one of these models for sale in good condition despite only 66,000 being produced over 9 years.

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