From: Road and Track, February 1970.


The DATSUN 1600 and 2000 are Japanese versions of the Traditional British Sports Car, but hearsay and reader letters had led us to believe that they were notably more reliable than the English breed. Our survey of 106 owners of these two models indicates otherwise, to our surprise.

The survey covered 52 owners of Datsun 1600s, the cars dating from 1965 models (the 1600 was introduced in mid-1965 as an improved version of the Fairlady 1500 roadster ) through 1969, and 54 owners of the overhead-camshaft, 5-speed 2000 introduced in 1967. Only five of the 2O00s had the Solex-carbureted 150-bhp engine, the rest having the standard 135-bhp engine version with Hitachi-SU carburetors. Average odometer reading was 26,900 miles for the 1600s, 13,800 for the newer 2000s; the "oldest" 1600 was a 1967 with 65,000 miles and there were 18 of them with more than 40,000. The most used 2000 had clocked 40,000 miles.

Why a Datsun?

OBVIOUSLY anyone who buys one of these roadsters is in the market for a sports car. But why a Datsun in preference to the traditional names like MG, Triumph or Austin-Healey? Clearly the main reason is value for money: 54% of the owners we surveyed singled this out as a reason for their purchase and 24% mentioned the extensive list of standard equipment that comes with both models. For the 1600 this means standard whitewall tires, radio, clock and tonneau cover-items that when ordered as options bring the price of the very similar MGB (even subtracting $ 100 for its now standard wire wheels) to over $ 150 more. And the 2000 comes with all this plus its husky 2-liter engine and a 5-speed gearbox for only $330 over the 1600.

Next on the list of reasons for purchase came performance or engine, mentioned by 51% of the owners; but since the great majority of these were 2000 owners-for whom the SOHC engine is a great plus-we should note that fully 78% of the 2000 drivers considered the big engine a selling point. Furthermore, 48% of the 2000 owners were influenced by its standard 5-speed gearbox; this should give other manufacturers some thoughts about tooling for 5-speeds!

Three other factors were given by 10% or more of the owners as influencing their decision to buy a Datsun sports: handling, the roadster "cockpit" with its full instrumentation and favorable road test reports in car magazines like R&T.

Use and Maintenance

FULLY SIX percent of our Datsun owners race their cars-this is the first significant proportion of weekend racers we've found among our survey respondents, including the MGB and the Triumph TR owners we surveyed. Interestingly, 5% of the owners were impressed by the good competition record of the cars before they bought their cars too. The number of Datsun owners who rally (29%) or slalom (17%), however, turned out to be smaller than the corresponding percentages for the MG and Triumph respondents. As for the daily use to which these cars are put, 95% use them for daily transportation, 63% for long trips; 57% say they drive "hard" which is the highest-by only a percentage point-proportion we've recorded so far.

Sixty-three percent follow Datsun's recommended maintenance schedule-an average proportion indicating neither fanatic devotion to the machinery nor neglect. Ten percent of the owners do all or part of their own maintenance.

And what about the Datsun service organization? Half of the owners rate their dealer service "good"-a lower percentage than four of the other makes we've surveyed and higher than three. Eight percent of those rating their dealers good also noted that their dealers were especially good or excellent; but the proportion of owners rating their dealers "poor"-23%-has been exceeded by only three other makes, all British. Datsun's dealer organization is still on the weak side, it would seem; many of the dealers are still small, relatively poorly set-up strugglers not only because of Datsun's comparative newness to the U.S. market but also because their allotment of cars from the factory has been modest. They're now launching big expansion plans and judging from the favorable comments by our owners about Datsun's warranty adjustments and settlements, a good service situation could develop. As it stands there remain difficulties: 12% of the owners mentioned having trouble getting replacement parts, particularly body parts. On the plus side, only 3% said that their service was expensive" comments on high service costs have run right around 10% for all the makes we've surveyed so far.

"Best" and "Worst" Features

WHEN ASKED what they like best about their Datsun sports cars our owners answered loudly and clearly performance. Sixty-five percent of them listed either performance or the engine as their favorite feature, and when we break the 1600 and 2000 questionnaires apart we find that 85% of the 2000 owners felt this way, with 9% of these also listing the 2-liter's excellent cruising ability (only 2730 revs/mile). Otherwise the list of favorite features reads like what we would expect for a sports car: gearbox (25% of the 1600 owners, 45% of the 2000), handling (33%), cockpit (22%) and fuel economy (l9%).

The "worst feature" list sounds like a deseription of the Traditional Sports Car: 35% thought these roadsters' harsh bouncy ride was their worst aspect and 12% objected to the live axle, leaf spring rear suspension that contributes not only to the hard ride but to sometimes skittish handling. The roadster top was another source of irritation, 25% of the owners objecting to its leaks, the comparatively mild difficulty in folding or raising it, or the canvas material of early models. Small tires (5.60-14, bias) with their limited cornering power and poor adhesion in the wet bothered 22% of the owners.

Workmanship and materials came in for criticism too-a total of 15% mention on such items as paint, chrome, upholstery and carpets and bodywork that dents easily.

Problems and Life Expectancies

THE DATSUN sports cars join the growing list of cars in our surveys that suffer instrument troubles. Handsome and readable as they are, the instruments are troublesome, 21 % of the owners having problems with the speedometer or cable. Most of the speedometer trouble, according to Datsun service people, was caused by insufficient lubrication in the speedo housing, and a change in production procedure in application of the lubrication has been made. On the 1600s which had most of the speedo cable trouble, a modification was made to the cable drive at the transmission. The other instruments-tachometer, fuel gauge, temperature, clock, and so forth-together accounted for a 21 % mention but no one of these had more than a 5% failure rate singly.

Upholstery and carpeting gave 20% of the owners trouble seat tears been the most frequent example. The front seat side rail configuration was changed to correct this, and the upholstery modified, starting with May l969 production; dash padding, another part of the upholstery trouble, was improved a bit earlier. Engine oil leaks occurred on 17 % of the 2000s-the cam cover being the most frequent leak area. A new cam cover gasket, introduced around October l968, corrected this. Brake complaints-mainly of squeaking, which is common with discs as are used on the front-were mentioned by 12% of the owners and 13% of the 2000 owners had some trouble with its alternator. And the emission control system-using an air pump for burning of exhaust pollutants-was a bother to 13% of the 2000 owners, causing poor running, backfiring and other ills often associated with these systems. Since this was introduced in 1968 a corrective plumbing change has been made.

How often can the Datsun Sports owner expect to replace the "wearing" components? The front disc brakes went an average of 21,000 miles before requiring new pads and the rear drums 31,000 before needing new linings. Tires lasted an average of 22,000 miles and it appears that radials which had been fitted as replacements by many of the owners, wil1 go at least 30,000. Shocks were replaced at an average of 30,000 miles for those reporting replacement. And spark plug life works out to an average of 9200 miles. There were no engine overhauls reported except one that was done needlessly by an errant dealer.

Summary

IN OUR SURVEYS the lower-priced sports cars haven't inspired fanatical owner loyalty, and the Datsuns aren't any exception. Eighty percent would buy another one, but 8% say they intend to move up to something fancier next time. A total of 18% including that 8% will not buy another one, for whatever reason, and 2% are undecided. The 1600s and 2000s have had a higher-than-average frequency of mechanical troubles; as the Problems section indicates corrective changes have been made to four of the seven most troublesome areas of the cars. It will be interesting to see how the new 240Z stacks up after 100 R&T subscribers have put them to the acid test.

Summary: Datsun sports owner survey:

New or Used:
Bought new 85%
Bought used 15%
Miles per year:
5000-10000 9%
10000-15000 42%
15000-25000 45%
over 25000 4%
How owners feel about Datsun Service
Rated "Good" 50%
Rated "Fair" 27%
Rated "Poor" 23%
About driving Habits:
Drivers who said they drove "Moderately" 33%
Drivers who said they drove "Hard" 57%
Drivers who said they drove "Very Hard" 10%
Probem Areas mentioned by more than 10% of the owners
Instruments & calbes
Upholstery & carpets
Gearbox
Engine oil leaks
Brakes
Alternator, voltage reg (2000 only)
Emission control system (1968-9 2000 only)
Mentioned by between 5 and 10%
of the owners:
cooling system
ignition system
owners report no troubles 10%
How many current datsun sports owners would buy another?
Would 80%
Would not 18%
Undecided 2%
Five Best Features:
Performance
Gearbox
Handling
Cockpit
Fuel Economy
Five Worst Features:
Ride
Top, General leaks
Small Tires
Workmanship & materials
Rear Suspension