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Datsun DC-3 Sports
Datsun Sports Logo

1952 Datsun Sports DC-3 - the car that started it all ...

Today, Nissan is renowned for its sporting heritage, and the Fairlady Z and Skyline bloodlines are now legendary across the world. This heritage is often thought to have started in the late 1950s with the launch of the fibreglass S211, which was to lead to the development of the Fairlady Roadster, Japan's first commercially successful sports car. However, its true origins date from 1952, when Datsun's first post war 'sports car', the DC-3, was announced to an unsuspecting Japanese public.  

From humble beginnings - Although the DC-3 was Nissan's first sports car offering, the company had offered variations on the theme before the Second World War. In 1932, the first year of Nissan's car production, the company launched a convertible, known as the Datsun Roadster. Powered by a 495cc 4 cylinder engine of just 10hp, the 1932 Roadster could not be described as a sports car, but it did offer cheap top-down motoring to the Japanese public.

In 1935, the Roadster was replaced by the Datsun 'Road Star'. The Road Star, and its sister model the Datsun Coupe, were certainly an improvement on the earlier model, featuring a 722cc 14hp engine, and Nissan achieved reasonable sales of both models at home and to other pacific markets. Power was increased to 16hp for 1937 and the car continued to sell in small numbers until 1941, when Japan entered the Second World War.

The DC-3 arrives - In 1952, with the help of western licensing agreements, Japan was getting back on its feet and investing heavily in its own manufacturing future. Nissan's agreement with Austin was finalised in December that year. The agreement, which would see production by Nissan of the A40 and A50, would aid this progress, and although the company would manufacture Austins for seven years, Nissan was still keen to make its own mark. One such move was to enter the sports car market with the launch of the Datsun DC-3 on 12 January 1952.

Something of a pastiche of pre-war sports cars such as the MG, the DC-3, a 2-door four-seater, was still not very powerful or technologically advanced. Mechanically similar to the pre-war Datsun saloons, roadsters and trucks, it featured a single carb 860cc/52 in³ engine (coded the D10) similar to the Austin A-Series engine, a three speed non-syncromesh gearbox, and leaf spring suspension. Its output was 25hp, which produced a top speed of just 43 mph. This engine also powered the Datsun 5147 pick-up produced between 1952 and 1955.

The DC-3's bodywork was often painted in two tone colours, such as cream over green and red over black, with a black soft top and side screens. It was designed and manufactured by Yuichi Ohta, the son of the man behind the short-lived Ohta car and truck company. Ohta had previously raced Datsun 750 race cars, and learnt his trade at the Teikoku Body Co. Ohta undertook some significant work for Nissan during the 1950s. He designed the Datsun DW-2 Wagonette, the only 'Woody' ever produced by Nissan. He went on to design the chassis to the 210 (the forerunner of the Bluebird) and, following the design of the sleek Datsun A80X prototype in 1957, he was to design the eventual successor to the DC-3, the fibreglass Datsun Sports S211, which was to be developed into the steel Datsun SPL212 - the first Fairlady - and the SPL213.

DC-3 grille badge

'Mr K' makes his first mark - The legendary Yutaka Katayama ('Mr K') lays claim to involvement in the DC-3 project. He remembers: "The years after the Second World War were difficult for Japan, and the idea of a sports car, let alone its production, was far from anyone's mind. I was, however, invited by the officers of the sports car club of the US occupation force  in Japan to participate, and then to lead, the Sports Car Club of Japan. I soon realised the importance of the sports car to the automobile industry and remembered the intent of Ayukawa (the Chairman of Nissan in the pre-war years) of offering a sports car as Nissan's flagship.

"By the time of the first Tokyo Motor Show in 1952, in my role as Nissan's Advertising Manager I arranged for a sports car body to be designed and manufactured by Yuichi Ohta. This body was to be attached to a Datsun truck chassis. This was the first sports model to be produced after the war by any Japanese company. Although this was largely my private project, Nissan agreed to build a production version, and this became officially named the Datsun Sports DC-3. One of the first production models is still proudly shown in the entrance hall of Nissan today."

A rare 1952 Datsun Sports DC-3 emblem

The DC-3 makes less of a mark - Although the DC-3 captured some media attention, it was not a commercial success. With a price tag of 835,000 Yen it was not expensive (the A40 was priced at 1,120,000 at the time), but the Japanese public was not ready for a sports car - times were tough, and sales were slow. Although 50 cars had been built, Nissan eventually took the decision to convert the unsold DC-3 chassis to saloon cars and pick-up trucks, which were far more in demand in post-war Japan. Ever the entrepreneur and believing that times would change, Yuichi Ohta bought the 20 or so remaining DC-3 bodies back from Nissan, and sourced both pre-war and post-war Datsun chassis to build his own DC-3s!

After it suffered a crippling strike in 1953, Nissan abandoned any serious investment in sports cars, concentrating on its bread and butter in-house saloons and trucks and the licensed Austin A40s and A50s. However, both Ohta and Katayama were working behind the scenes. A drophead version of the 110 saloon, the K110 Convertible, was available but few were sold, and eventually, in November 1957, Nissan unveiled Ohta's 2-seater A80X prototype to the media. Although it was only powered by the 860cc B series engine, the car was light years ahead of the DC-3 in design, and, more importantly, Japan was in better shape and it was now ready for a sports car. More importantly Nissan could see that the world was ready for a Japanese sports car...

Nobody could argue that the DC-3 offered anything in the way of innovation for its time, but it is an important car, and the Nissan/Ohta partnership paved the way for some exciting things to come. 

::: Nissan's DC-3 ::: ::: DC3- front :::

The Datsun
DC-3 Gallery

::: DC-3 outdoor display - front ::: ::: DC-3 emblem ::: ::: DC-3 chassis plate ::: ::: DC-3 grille :::
::: DC-3 outdoor display - rear ::: ::: DC-3 interior ::: ::: DC-3 engine ::: ::: DC-3 hood/bonnet emblem :::
::: DC-3 on the road ::: ::: DC-3 windshield detail ::: ::: DC-3 engine detail ::: ::: DC-3 wheel detail :::

Datsun DC-3 Literature
Click on thumbnails for larger images

DC3 Brochure

DC3 advertisement

'Light Car' cover

DC3 press photo

Rare Datsun Sports DC-3
sales brochure

1952 DC-3

1952 Nissan

1952 DC-3
press photo



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