The Datsun 1600 is a sedan that was introduced in 1968. The plain 3-box design did not evoke much interest at the time, but today, its simple and clean lines look great and timeless. In fact, the 1600 actually looks quite similar to the BMW E30 3-Series and Toyota Camry during the 1980s. All three cars look great even today and have stood the test of time.
The car was mostly called a family sedan during its era, but it was clearly a lot more than just that. It had all the qualities and elements needed to be a fast sports sedan, and it proved itself as one. The engine under the bonnet was powerful enough on its own, but it was evident that it also benefitted from being modified to suit the needs of the owner.
To understand how much potential the Datsun 1600 had, it is important to look at the McPherson strut independent rear suspension of the car. At the time of its production, this sort of suspension was quite rare in a low-cost family sedan. What made the suspension even more unique was that the independent rear suspension had ball-splines instead of the conventional sliding splines that would bind under too much torque. The ball splines, on the other hand, kept the suspension friction free and smooth.
For all of this innovation under the car, the interior was rather utilitarian in nature. To be fair though, most cars built during the 1960s and 1970s were Spartan, especially when compared to cars today. There were very few complaints about the car except for a few cosmetic ones, and most critics praised it for being a sound, economical family sedan.
This did not stop the Datsun 1600 from being used in motor sports. The car was particularly popular in rally sports, where they continue to be in high demand for historic rallying. In fact, the Datsun 1600 made quite an impression in Bathurst, a race around the Mount Panorama track that is more popular for the Ford and Holden rally cars than the Datsun 1600. Bathurst began as a comparison between showroom cars on a neutral track for the public, and the 1600 made a lasting impression there. It is also in high demand in the traditional used car market, where people look for cheap but reliable transports that also have a cheerful, classic look.
The Datsun 1600 had an alloy cylinder-headed, 1.6L, 4-cylinder engine that delivered 72kW of power at 5600rpm. This amount of power is quite respectable even by today’s standard, but what made the car so popular was the ease with which it could be tuned and modified for better performance. This engine, combined with the McPherson strut front suspension and semi-trailing, coil-spring independent suspension at the rear was more in line with European sedans than Japanese ones. Although, this kind of arrangement has become commonplace and even out-dated now, it was on the cutting edge when it was introduced.
The engine and suspension, together with disc brakes and 4-speed transmission were really fancy when the top Holden model sold only with a 3-speed gearbox, drum brakes, pushrod engine, and a leaf-sprung rear suspension. Even today, the Datsun 1600 drives better than most other models from that age, despite the fact that it lost its technological superiority ages ago. The engine is not too peppy, but it is ready to be revved hard when required.
The car handles predictably and brakes perfectly, which is great for driving through city traffic. However, the best part about the Datsun 1600 is its look. For a low price, you get good city performance packed in the body of a classic that most would love to own.
Despite all the positive aspects of the Datsun 1600, the one thing it did not do so well was the cabin design. The interior of the car is surprisingly roomy, especially with the station wagon model, but the standard equipment is at a minimum and without air-conditioning, even as an option. This, however, made it easier to turn it into a rally car, and even today, a club rally meeting will probably have a handful of these cars roughing it up on the road.
When the car arrived in 1968, the Datsun 1600 already had a reputation for its high quality, which stood in contrast to the other new Japanese mid-size sedan, its competitor at the time, the Toyota Corona. In comparison, the Datsun 1600 was much more refined with its 1.6L pushrod engine that delivered 67kW of power and 132Nm of torque. In an age where the Datsun name was replaced by Nissan and most of their cars were slower, the Datsun 1600 stands out for its suspension and handling.