| 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
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
|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
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
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
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
A Japanese sales brochure for the Datsun 13 range.
Length - 2710mm
Width - 1175mm
Height - unknown
Wheelbase - 1880mm
Weight - 400kg
Top speed - 73kph
Transmission - Floor
change 3 speed
Model - DAT
Side Valve 4 Cylinder
Capacity - 747cc
Bore & Stroke 56x76mm
Power - 12hp@3000rpm
Compression - unknown
Carburettor - unknown
Final drive - unknown