Back in the early 1950s Nissan embarked on a bold plan, they were
going to build their first sports car. The true boldnesss of this plan
becomes all the more impressive when you realise the economic conditions
in Japan at the time. In 1951 the Second World War had finished a mere
half a decade earlier and the Allied occupation forces were still in control
of the country. The major cities had been devistated by the relentless
bombing in the closing stages of the war, and homes and factories were
slowly being rebuilt. Whilst the population was no longer starving, they
weren't exactly prospering either. In 1951 only one person in every 240
owned a vehicle. In 1951 Nissan built a total of 14381 vehicles, the majority
of which were small trucks. It was into this economic climate that Nissan
decided to take it's first steps as a sports car manufacturer.
To design the new sports car Nissan employed the services of Yuichi Ohta.
Yuichi was the son of Hiro Ohta, who founded the Ohta Jidosha car company,
which produced cars in Japan between 1934 and 1957. In 1937 the father
and son designed the Ohta Model OD sports car, with Hiro engineering the
car and Yuichi responsible for the styling of the car. After the war Yuichi
found himself at Nissan, employed as the designer. Yuichi was given the
job of designing and building the new sports car, which was to be designated
the DC-3. Nissan had precious little resources to expend on the sports
car project, which meant Yuichi had to base the car on an existing Nissan
model. The DC-3 ended up using the chassis and mechanicals of the 1950
Datsun 5147 small truck. The 5147 itself was nothing more than a 1937 Datsun
17T truck that was put back into production after the war, with a new engine
new car was designated the DC-3, but went on sale at the Datsun Sports.
It made it's debut on the 12th of January 1952. It was powered by Nissan's
D10 series engine, which was an 860cc 4 cylinder side valve engine that
produced 25hp. It had a 3 speed non-synchro gearbox and cable operated
brakes. Underneath it was pure 1930s truck engineering, with a basic ladder
chassis and leaf spring suspension all round. It's top speed was a rather
un-sports car like 70kp/h.
It's styling could best be described as 'cute' rather than
bold or dashing, or other adjectives used to describe sports cars of that
era. In fact it looked more like a cartoon drawing of an MG TC. The DC-3
used the same bonnet, grille, bumpers and headlights as the 5147 truck,
but was all new from the windscreen back and had front guards that swept
back under the doors rather than finish just behind the front wheel like
the 5147. The car was a full four seater, with two buckets in the front
and a bench in the back.
badges on the car say DATSUN 20, with the 20 being 20ps, the power output
of the engine measured in Pferdestarke (horse strength in German) which
is the measurement unit used then, and still used today, in Japan and some
When it went on sale in 1952 it cost 835000yen, which was somewhat
of a bargain when you consider that a DS-2 Datsun Thrift sedan from the
same year cost 940000yen. Yet is was far from being a success, post-war
Japan just wasn't ready for a locally produced sports car. In all only
50 DC-3s were ever built, and only 30 of them were sold. The remaining
unsold cars had their bodies removed and the rolling chassis' were turned
back into trucks.
Yuichi Ohta did a deal with Nissan and purchased the discarded
DC-3 bodies and bought old pre-war Datsuns and converted them into his
own DC-3s over the course of the next few years. Yuichi continued to work
for Nissan throughout the 1950s, he designed the DW-2 Datsun Wagonette,
the Datsun 210 sedan and the S211 and the SP212, which was the very first
Very few Datsun DC-3s survive today, Nissan still owns one,
and it is on display in the foyer of their head office building in Tokyo.