The origins of the Datsun Stanza can be traced back to 1973, when the Nissan Violet was introduced in the Japanese domestic market. The Violet was split into two models in 1977, one of them being the Nissan Stanza. Here, however, the car was launched as the Datsun Stanza. It was basically a rebadged version of the previous Nissan Violet A10. The name ‘Stanza’ is Italian for apartment or room, which refers to the car’s introduction as a family car.
In the Nissan line, the Stanza was one spot lower than the Laurel. It was first launched with a 1.4L A-Series engine, but this was quickly upgraded into the 1.6L engine that was present under the bonnet of the Datsun Stanza for most of its production life. The US market got its own unique 2.0L engine.
The car got its midlife facelift in October 1978, and its internal designation from there on would be the A11. This facelift introduced a number of changes, including the replacement of the L16 engine with the cross-flow Z16 engine. The car was offered in five body styles, namely two-door and four-door sedans, three-door and five-door hatchbacks, and five-door estates. The car was assembled completely here during its production run from 1978 to 1982, and it filled the gap between the Datsun 200B and Nissan Sunny. The car was available in 3 trims: base level GL, mid-level GX, and the top-end, sporty SSS.
When it was launched, the Datsun Stanza was slammed by negative reviews from critics for its unadventurous styling and drivetrain, but it turned out to be a hit in the market. Among the 3 trims mentioned above, the Stanza SSS coupe is the rarest of them all, with very few models produced. The GL and GX models are the most common types produced in 1982, and they were based on the shape and specs of the more successful 1600 that came before.
The Datsun Stanza is derived from the 200B, with the main differences being in the wheelbase. The Stanza has a wheelbase of 2400mm, and the 200B has a wheelbase of 2500mm. It also had a longer overall length and a new suspension that was stiffer than before and less prone to transmitting engine noise to the cabin. The L-Series 1.6L engine delivered 69kW of power and was mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox and an optional Borg Warner 3-speed automatic transmission. The drive ratio of the car was 3:7:1, as compared to the ratio of 3:8:1 for the 200B.
The large steering wheel and the plain but firm seats played a big role in making the Datsun Stanza a stable ride. The engine and transmission noise was muted to a large extent, and the car felt rather solid when driven on the road, despite its small size. In fact, it gave the feeling of being larger than it actually was in terms of stability and road harshness suppression. It only showed its actually lightweight nature when it twisted around the corner and held to the road. It could be controlled rather easily and with precision on gravel, but the steering felt a bit numb when driving straight.
One of the best parts of this car was its weight. It weighed almost 230kg less than the Datsun 200B, but it got an engine with less power and capacity. These two factors allowed it to be more frugal with fuel, and fuel economy turned out to be one of the car’s biggest selling points.
Like any car manufactured during the 1970s and early 1980s, the Datsun Stanza lacked the features that most people take for granted in their modern cars. Air-conditioning was an option, and the car used a recirculating ball-type steering system that dated back to the 1950s. Plastic trims are everywhere, as was expected from Japanese cars of that era. However, despite the Spartan interior, the Datsun Stanza feels more cohesive than other Datsun interiors before it.
The main competitors for the Datsun Stanza were the Ford Escort and Holden Gemini. Even today, all the cars enjoy almost equal popularity and solid followings. Unlike its competitors, the wagon version of the Datsun Stanza was never introduced outside Japan and the US. In terms of specifications, the Datsun Stanza seemed to have an edge over its competitors. It had a better power-to-weight ratio than others. The Gemini was at 15.4kg/kW, the Escort 1600 at 21.2kg/kW, and the Stanza at 14.4kg/kW. The Stanza also beat the competition in terms of weight, with 988kg for the Escort, 944kg for the Gemini, and 905kg for the Stanza.