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The Complete Guide to Classic Datsun Cars and Trucks

1934 Datsun 13 Model
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 The number 13 is considered bad luck by some people, but for Datsun the number 13 was the exact opposite, as the Datsun 13 heralded a new era for the fledgling car maker from Japan, and the start of a rapid sales growth. The number 13 would prove to be a bad omen for the Austin Motor Company's ambition in Japan though. More about that later. 
 The Datsun 13 went into production in April 1934. The 13 represented a major change in the styling of the baby Datsun. The old upright, and almost Austin 7 looking radiator grille has been replaced with a very pretty all chrome plated grille with a tall heart shaped opening. The grille itself is cantered on about a 10deg. angle and gave the Datsun 13 a much more contemporary look. 
  The 1934 Datsun 13 also marked the first time a small truck model was introduced, with the Datsun 13T being the first truck based on a Datsun sedan. The Datsun 13 offered a full model line, including the truck, a van, a sedan, a phaeton and a roadster. 
Apart from the front of the car, much of the rest of the vehicle remained the same. The old 8 slot wheels from the Datsun 12 have been replaced with new flat disc wheels with no holes or slots. The slots on the side of the bonnet are no longer vertical, but are now sloped at the same angle as the new grille, which is about 10deg. The car continued to use the same 748cc 12hp engine as the previous Datsun 12. 
 Importantly though, this car became the first one exported from Japan. It was only small numbers to begin with, but a total of 44 vehicles were exported in 1934. These included exports to South Africa, and to Australia, the details of which are elaborated upon below. 
The bodies of the Datsun 13 were built by Yanase Motor and the Nihon Jidosha Corporation. The chassis were built at the Osaka Plant of the Automotive Division of Tobata Casting. In December 1933 Tobata Castings sold their factory, and merged with another company called Nihon Sangyo Co. The name Nihon Sangyo means literally Japan Industries, which wasn't an overly exciting name. When Nihon Sangyo shares were listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange the company's name was abbreviated to Ni-San. After Tobata Castings and Nihon Sangyo merged the company was initially called Jidosha Seizo, but in 1934 they decided to adopt their stock market abbreviation as the new merged company's name, and Nissan was born. Even though the Datsun name pre-dated the Nissan name, and even though the company can trace it's origins back to 1912, Nissan count 1934 as their company's originating date. 
 The Datsun 13 was in production from April 1934 until March 1935. A total of 880 vehicles were built in 1934.

 The Australian Built Datsun 13 
In one of those bizarre little events that occured in the early days of the car industry, a small number of Datsun 13s were built in Australia before the Second World War. Sadly, this grainy old pixelated photo is the only one I have of the last remaining Australian built Datsun 13 still in Australia. The Excelsior Body Works, a small coachbuilder in Melbourne, was run by a gentleman by the name of Mr. Whiteford. Mr. Whiteford had a plan, and that was that he would be the first person in Australia to introduce Japanese cars to the Australian market. The plan was that he would import rolling chassis of the new Datsun 13, and he would build the bodies himself here in Australia, which was a fairly common thing to do at the time, many other imported cars sold in Australia at the time had Australian built bodies. Mr. Whiteford placed an initial order for 24 rolling chassis, and in no time Nissan had built them and sent them on their way. It was an awesome plan, soon everyone in Australia would be driving Datsuns, and Mr. Whiteford would be a wealthy man, what could possibly go wrong ? Quite a lot as it turns out.   The boat that was carrying Australia's first Datsuns made a quick stop in Singapore, where someone accidentally unloaded them. The ship had sailed long before someone asked "What's up with all these Japanese chassis sitting on the wharf?". (Or words to that effect)  For reasons known only to the Singaporean harbour master, the 24 tiny Datsuns were placed in storage and were not sent on their way for another 12 months. To make matters worse, the monsoon season in Singapore was pretty bad that year, and the cars ended up completely submerged, they were so badly damaged that four of them were beyond repair.  
   Whilst all this was going on the Excellsior Body Works were hard at work building the new bodies to go on the Japanese built chassis. Nissan had supplied detailed drawings and plans for the Datsun 13, and being the craftsmen they were at Excellsior, the bodies were built precisely to the specifications supplied. Eventually, after such a long wait, the slightly rusty Datsun chassis arrived in Australia, and the first body was lowered onto the chassis, only to find that it did not fit. As it turned out, the dimensions Mr. Whiteford was given were "slightly incorrect", and much time and and considerable expense was wasted getting the ill fitting bodies to fit in place. Finally the first car was complete and ready to drive, except that the baby Datsun was almost impossible to steer. The rolling chassis for the cars were sent over, at the request of Mr. Whiteford, minus their tyres, battery and front transverse leaf spring, all of which would be supplied by a local manufacturer. The local spring works made springs that were nowhere near the specifications required, which caused all kinds of problems with the steering and handling. Excelsior ran into trouble trying to get the suspension sorted out and in July 1935 Nissan sent out an engineer called Kaoru Maeda, along with two fully assembled Datsun 13s, to assist. Eventually the spring problems were sorted out, and the car would now go around corners, but there would be no easy fix for the next problem. The car was impossibly slow.  
 Excellsior had built bodies to the correct dimensions, but they had built them out of sheet metal much thicker than anything Nissan had ever contemplated using, and as a result the cars were dramatically overweight. The 722cc 14 horsepower engine had no chance of propelling the car along at highway speeds, the first Australian Datsuns were destined to be city cars only. 
Excelsior and Nissan were aiming to build around 900 cars a year in Australia, but before the first batch of cars were even finished the Australian Government raised the import duty from three percent to twenty percent, thus making the venture no longer economically viable. The 20 cars were eventually finished and sold in Australia in 1936-1937. Even without all these problems the Datsun 13 would have failed on the Australian market. The car was designed to be used on the narrow unsealed streets of Tokyo and Yokahama, and were never intended for long distance, and higher speed travel. Whilst they would have coped with our rough outback roads, which were similar to the poor quality city streets in Japan at the time, they certainly weren't designed to cope with the long distances Australians travelled in extreme conditions. Oh, and as if all these disasters piled up against it weren't enough to kill the project, there was a little thing called the Second World War that would have killed the whole thing anyway. 
 Only one Australian built Datsun 13 still survives in Australia today, and it's story is pretty interesting too. The car pictured here is owned by Lance Dixon, who is a Melbourne luxury car dealer. He currently sells Alfas, Bentleys, Hummers and a few others, and he used to own dealerships selling numerous other cars including Ferraris, Maseratis, and Datsuns. In 1972 Lance ran an advertisment in the local newspaper saying he was wanting to buy old Datsuns. One person who replied to his ad did indeed have an "old Datsun", and when he went around to have a look he found an overgrown, badly rusted, but still restorable Datsun 13. Lance spent the next year restoring the 13 to original condition, it's condition so good that it won first prize in the pre-1957 class in Concours d'Elegance in Melbourne the next year. For those of us old enough to remember the Australian ABC television show Torque, the very last car the host Peter Wherett is seen driving in the last episode of the series is Lance Dixon's Datsun 13. A fitting tribute to an extraordianry, and largely forgotten, chapter in Australian and Japanese motoring history. 
The rather grainy photo above is of the Australian built Datsun 13.

A lonely Datsun 13 in England 
There is only one Japanese car in the magnificent National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in England. Sitting to one side of this breathtaking collection of cars is a jet black baby Datsun. It has an interesting story to tell. 
 In 1934 Sir Herbert Austin was not a happy man. Sir Herbert had steered his company, Austin of England, into a highly successful business. Much of that success was due to Austin's little baby car, the Austin 7, which would go on to sell well over a quarter of a million units. The Austin 7 was also built under licence in several other countries as well. It was sold as the Dixi in Germany, the Rosengart in France, the Bantam in the United States, and as far as Herbert Austin could tell it was being sold in Japan as the Datsun, the problem being that Sir Herbert wasn't receiving any money from Japan. Sir Herbert sent his minnions to work, he wanted to get his hands on one of these "copies" and bring it back to the mother country so he could accertain whether the Datsun was a copy of his Austin 7, and to take the appropriate legal action. It was always going to look a bit suspicious with Austin buying a Datsun in Japan and importing it into England, but he found another way. As you will have read above, Datsuns were going into production in Australia, so an Australian built Datsun 13 was bought from Down Under, and shipped back to Austin headquarters in Longbridge. 
 Close inspection revealed that the Datsun was similar in dimensions to the Austin 7, and even their engine capacities were similar, but even a quick look at the other mechanicals reveals that they are very different cars. They ran different suspension systems, different final drives, and different steering. The best they could have surmised was that they were cars built using the same concept. Possibly the thing that lead Sir Herbert to give up trying to take legal action was the evaluation of the Datsun by his own engineers. His engineer stated that 'unlike the European and American versions of the Seven it was a badly finished vehicle and the ride most unstable.' If they had managed to get their hands on a proper Japanese built Datsun things may have ended differently. As we read above, the Australian built Datsun 13 was something of a mobile disaster area. 
 So, did Datsun copy the Austin 7 ? No. 
Did Datsun built a car that mirrored the concept of the baby Austin ? Undoubtedly yes.  
The World Engineering Congress was held in Tokyo in October 1929. Over 500 people attended the Congress, including about 50 from England. A. H. Wilde, chief engineer of the Standard Motor Company Limited in Coventry, gave a presentation called "The British Light Car" which gave the visiting engineers detailed specification of the Austin Seven. Masujiro Hashimoto, the man who started DAT and who was still heavilly involved with the company at the time, was at the World Engineering Congress. Hashimoto's family donated his books to a museum after he died, and amongst those books was Mr. Wilde's presentation on the Austin, with all it's specifications. In 1929, the same year as the World Engineering Congress, design began on the Dat 91 prototype, which evolved into the baby Datsun. All a coincidence? Not likely. While the Datsun obviously isn't a copy of the 7, it's pretty certain they adopted the baby car concept, and the "Son of Dat" was born. 
 Nissan have publically stated that no Austin parts or designs were used in the pre-war Datsuns, but in the 1960s in an interview Noriyoshi Gotoh, one of the designers of the Dat 91 prototype, was asked if any particular vehicle influenced his design, and his response was "It was not the Austin Seven. There was a Benjamin in nearby Kyoto. It was an unique 750cc French car with a gearbox in unit with final drive. Having examined it closely we purchased it in the end". Apparently the Datsun was more French than English. 
 The little Datsun that sits in Beaulieu has travelled the world, but has never been on the road. The car was purchased in Australia, shipped to Europe, dismantled, reassembled, and then put in storage. It has never been used for it's intended purpose. 
The photo shown here is of the Datsun 13 at the National Motor Museum

A Japanese sales brochure for the Datsun 13 range.
 
 

1934 Datsun 13     
Specifications      

Length - 2710mm      
Width - 1175mm      
Height - unknown      
Wheelbase - 1880mm      
Weight - 400kg      
Top speed - 73kph 
Transmission - Floor
change 3 speed


Engine Specifications 
Model - DAT 
Side Valve 4 Cylinder    
Capacity - 747cc     
Bore & Stroke 56x76mm     
Power - 12hp@3000rpm     
Torque- unknown    
Compression - unknown     
Carburettor - unknown 
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Final drive - unknown
 

Model Variations
 
Datsun 13 Sedan 
 A four seater sedan version was also built. The sedans had rear hinged 'suicide' doors. These were popular as taxis in Japan at the time.
 
Datsun 13 Roadster 
 A very pretty roadster version of the Datsun 13 was also available.
Datsun 13 Phaeton 
 The phaeton body continued to be built, and now had the spare wheel recessed into the body at the rear.
Datsun 13 Van 
 A commercial vehicle delivery van version was also made, with twin door on the back.
Datsun 13T Truck 
 New to the model range for 1934 was the Datsun 13T truck. The truck was a more basic design and did not have the Datsun 13's love heart grille. There is more about this truck on the Datsun 13T page.

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