The Datsun 120Y is a third-generation Nissan Sunny, and it was also known as the B-210 in North American markets and the Sunny in other international automotive markets. The car debuted amidst the 1970s oil crisis, and its economical engine made it an instant hit during the time.
The car was available in 6 body styles during its production run across the world; these included the two-door and four-door sedan, the three-door and five-door wagon, and a two-door van and hatchback. Even today, the fastback styling of the Datsun 120Y is still quite popular. It differed from the previous generation in many ways, including the presence of a full hatchback door at the rear instead of a tiny trunk lid.
The Datsun 120Y would continue its strong sales numbers for years because of its status as a fuel-efficient economy car. This was especially so in North America, where the Datsun 120Y beat most cars because of its fuel economy and low cost. The light weight of the car made it one of the least expensive cars available, with its small A12 or A14 engines, basic interior styling, and OHV technology. The car also won a lot of praise for its stunning exterior design, though the hatchback coupe and sedans were a little less popular. Some models also got tight-fitted chrome bumpers, but the US models had larger collision bumpers as part of their new safety standards at the time.
The Datsun 120Y also proved to be popular in New Zealand where it was launched in 1974. In fact, Nissan NZ even ended up assembling some of its own models at its CKD plant in Auckland until the new Wiri plant was opened. The five-door wagons and four-door sedans were built locally with coupes coming from Japan. Here and in New Zealand, regular production and sales ended with the end of production in Japan in 1978. Only Nissan South Africa continued production after that, but just for two more years.
When it was introduced, the Datsun 120Y was criticized for having very few differences from its predecessor. It was not seen as much of an improvement, which was expected since the car retained the same B110 platform of the previous-generation 1200. The only difference was that this car tended to be a little over-styled, and the A12 engine was revised. The car got a mid-life facelift in 1976 with almost the same styling.
The Datsun 120Y is powered by an A12, 4-cylinder, 1.2L engine that delivers around 50kW at 6,000rpm. The fuel economy was at almost 18km/L. The engine also got a Nissan Anti-Pollution System (NAPS) special catalytic converter. Nissan also launched a number of other sub-models with the same B211 platform, and they could be identified with their side badge. Over the years during and since its production life, the Datsun 120Y has carved itself a record for reliability. Few other production cars can withstand the kind of punishment the 120Y can. It did not have an outstanding performance, and it did have some areas where it needed to be improved, but the car was steady and reliable to the point of being persistently alive even if it is neglected for a long time.
One of the best parts of the Datsun 120Y was its all-synchro, 4-speed gearbox, which was tight and very easy to use, and thankfully so because the car needs constant gear shifts. The gears could be effortlessly changed with little resistance, and this made the Datsun 120Y even more pleasant to drive. The engine was very free with its power, although the car occasionally ran out of break for a little bit. When this happened, the car would take some time to catch up and get back on track. Even when poked hard, the car delivered good fuel economy records.
The Datsun 120Y lacked most modern features. The instrumentation up front included a tachometer and a speedometer, while optional features included a laminated screen, push-button radio, and reclining bucket seats. It must be noted that these options were quite expensive back in the day. Standard features include carpet and little else. Most of the interior got low-cost plastic from the trim to the dash.
Nevertheless, the plastic felt solid and good quality. There was no air-conditioning at all in the car, which is why it was so strange to find the car getting black trim colours. One good thing about the car, however, was its efficient ventilation system. The airflow could be increased in the car by a huge margin by opening the hinged side windows.
Legroom is good in front but not that great at the back. The rear bench is comfortable enough for short drives, but neither the car nor its seats are meant for long drives on the open road. The seats are comfortable and firm, but the Datsun 120Y is meant to be driven for short distances around town only.
The Datsun 120Y is one of the most reliable cars among its competitors, which includes the Toyota Corolla. It lacks in the interior equipment and performance, but the car was frugal with its fuel consumption and extremely reliable, making it a great pick for a used car.