by Rob Beddington
Rob Beddington's 1969 Datsun 2000 Fairlady Roadster - SRL311-08486
Although widely thought of as not being sold in Europe, the Datsun Roadster series was exported in small numbers to certain markets. The following should reveal the early history of Datsun/Nissan in Europe, and how Roadsters feature in that history.
The first ever Japanese car to hit the UK was a Dat 91, imported in 1934 by Herbert Austin, who was concerned about the similarity of the Dat to the Austin 7. (The Dat sold for half the price of the Austin in Australia and this was causing concern). Originally green, but now painted black, the car still survives, and is now part of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire. Aspects of the styling and grille are very similar to the Austin Ruby, but the Dat actually predates the Ruby by a year. Could the Austin have been influenced by the Dat? And could the MGB, launched nearly 30 years later, have been influenced by the Fairlady Roadster?fy
The first official Datsun/Nissan imported into Europe was the Datsun Bluebird 311, a batch of which were sent to Norway in 1960. Again, the first car of the batch remarkably survives and is in perfect working order. Later, the very first Fairlady to come to Europe was a rare 1200cc 4-seater Fairlady SPL213, which was imported by Horst Sommer, a company based in Innsbruck, Austria.
The&nbThis SPL213 was featured in a road test by Revue, a German magazine, together with a 1200 Bluebird imported by the same company. This was the first German road test of any Datsun and probably the first road test in Europe of any Fairlady. The SPL213 was priced at 6500 Deutschmarks and the Bluebird was 5200 Deutschmarks. It is not believed that the car survived and it is not known if any were sold. The Register also has a brochure of the SPL213 with Magyar (Hungary) rubber stamped on the back. The significance of this is not known although it may have been a technical library item. Only 297 of these cars were sold worldwide.
It was not much longer before Nissan sent the first batch of 3-seater Fairlady Roadster 1500s (model SPL310) to Europe. These were single carburettor models and were exported to Finland as early as 1962, the year that the 1500 was launched. The reason that Nissan chose Scandinavia was believed to be for the ability to test the cars in icy conditions.
Later, the 1600 Roadster was advertised in Belgium together with the Nissan Silvia (known as the Datsun 1600 Coupe in Belgium). Contrary to most books and articles to date, apart from one pre-production model seen tested by designers Albrecht Goertz and Kazuo Kimura, the Silvia was never made in left hand drive, and the fact that it appeared in mainland Europe is interesting. The Belgian market may seem an odd market for Nissan. However, Japanese cars were well received in Belgium during the 1960s and Hino Contessa saloons and coupes won a number of Belgian awards in 1965, 1966 and 1967 for build quality & design.
The earliest Fairlady 2000 brochure in Europe (France - 1967).
The Nissan Silvia also appeared at the Paris Salon in 1967, at the same show as the 'James Bond' Toyota 2000GT Convertible. During this period, until the arrival of the 240Z, the Fairlady 2000 featured in several French, Swiss and Belgian brochures, and examples went to all of these countries. The roadster was also sold in Scandinavia & the Netherlands, following Hannu Mikkola's 9th place in the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally. The 2000 was also featured in the German newspaper 'Der Bund' in 1968, although no Fairladies were sold there. According to official Nissan figures, one car also was sold in Yugoslavia. All European Fairlady 2000s were advertised with Mikuni-Solex twin-carburettors. As far as any 1967 (low windscreen) 2000s in Europe are concerned I have only seen a sales brochure from France on this early model.
Sadly, the Fairlady Roadster was never officially sold in Britain. Nissan was a late arrival to England in 1968, some 8 years after entering certain other European markets. The first range from Datsun UK included the Sunny 1000 saloon (B10), the Bluebird 1300/1600 4 door saloons (510), and the 2000 saloon and estate (Cedric). According to Mark Dixon, writing a Fairlady1600/MGB comparison in Popular Classics magazine (November 1994), 'We should be grateful that Datsun didn't sell the Fairlady in Britain during the 1960s, or we'd have a Datsun on the front of every other classic car magazine today'. Praise indeed, and perhaps Datsun UK got it wrong all those years ago.
ROADSTERS IN ENGLAND
The first unofficial Fairlady imported to the UK was the 1500 brought over from America for testing by Standard Triumph in 1964. This car was recently being sought by the son of the second British owner, who Triumph sold the car to in the mid 1960s. When last seen the Fairlady still sported odd front tyres following an incident at the famous Mira testing grounds during testing by Triumph. An enthusiastic apprentice over-inflated both front tyres and caused both tyres to blow out at the same time on a rolling road.
The first 1600 to hit English shores was a 1965 SPL311, a personal import which was owned by a lady who drove her across the USA from California to New York State & brought her over to England in 1967. This car now rusts in peace on my driveway. One day she will look as good as new.
The first 2000 to be imported was a low screen Mikuni-Solex 1967 SRL311 imported from the USA in the 1980s for historic racing. She never raced and for some time the chassis has rested at a racing engineers in Silverstone and the bodywork at a Datsun Z specialist in Cheshire. Whether the two will ever be bolted together again is uncertain. Today, examples of the Fairlady/Sports Roadster series can be found in the following European countries:- Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal & Switzerland. These include 1500s, 1600s & 2000s.
The highest asking price seen in Europe for a Roadster was Sterling £15,750 for a low screen SPL311 1600 in Belgium (1990).
The cheapest Roadster seen in Europe was Sterling £30 for a high screen SPL311 1600 in Germany (1988).
As well as the Popular Classics feature shown here, there have been several other articles in British magazines. My 2000 appeared in Practical Classics magazine and my 1600 in a book called 'The Ultimate Classic Car Book'. Keith Purdon often displays the lovely red Fairlady 1600 at Shows and on Classic Car runs. The good news is that there are now more Fairladies over here than ever before and interest in the Roadster is definitely growing.