Datsun Rising

In the Philippines, the topic of “vintage Japanese cars” usually revolves around two marques: Toyota and Mitsubishi. While Hondas curiously drop off beyond the EF Civics for some reason, there is one marque that I feel shouldn’t simply fly under the radar. After all, it did bring us one of the most reconisable Japanese classics ever.

Happily, there’s one group that doesn’t mind flying under the radar, as long as they get to drive their cool, non-mainstream vintage Japanese cars.


If you’ve still no clue as to what marque I’m talking about, and can’t remember what those little pick-ups are, we’re talking about Datsun. Before 1984, all cars exported by Nissan were primarily sold as Datsuns, then in 1985 the “Nissan” brand took over. Three decades of distance from the name change have pushed the “Datsun” name into relative obscurity – save for one car – clearing the way for both Toyota and Mitsubishi to take the fore in vintage Japanese iron. The guys over at Datsun PH however, remember the brand extremely well, and are slowly gathering up every Datsun owner and lover in the country.


While the small meet-up was overwhelmingly filled by B120 pickups, there were a couple of surprises, one figuratively bigger than the other.


It was a lazy Sunday morning that the guys of Datsun PH chose to meet on, but the small parking lot of the upscale condominium complex they’d chosen as their meeting place was anything but lazy. The buzz of small carburetted engines filled the air as members slid their Datsuns into parking spaces. It was a clear day, and the atmosphere was cool; more than a meeting of people who shared a passion, this was a meeting of old friends, with the Datsuns and coffee as the set pieces. The slammed Bb you see at the end of the row is also a member; apparently his Datsun wasn’t quite in running condition, so he brought his other car.


Because most of the cars present were B120 pickups, and because vintage Japanese pickups haven’t really “arrived” yet in the Philippine scene, let’s take a look at these underrated little trucks first.


Yes, you are always free to say that these are just old pickups, but that also means that someone’s always free to politely ask you to quiet down. These little pickups have handsome lines, and the combination of their small size and body style makes for a very unique look in today’s world, where every pickup has to exude machismo and aggression. That being said, these cars are not without character. Take for example, the one above. The discoloured headlamps hint at the stories this car has to tell, and the wheels tell you of how much love accompanies each one.


With the simple body lines, it’s easy to take a B120 pickup and make it a reflection of your personality, and with the relative lack of community surrounding these cars, there has yet to emerge an “accepted” way to do up a  B120. Either leave its working character intact like the grey one above, or turn it into a tribute to surfer culture, like this orange one. Mind you, this is not just a tribute; the owner is a real surfer – hence the weathered surfboard hanging out on the roof – and used to take the car regularly up to La Union. Even if the owner has currently chosen another car for long-distance driving duties, his B120 still retains every bit of its laid-back surfer vibe.


Or how about a tough street cruiser look? Blacked-out headlamps on a black grille pair with the clean white body and slightly protruding wheel fitment to create a toughened-up vibe for this B120, even without bolted-on fender flares. I think it’s the sharp contrast of that full-width face that allows the little truck to achieve so much with what are basically tinted lamps and spot-on fitment. It almost looks like a reduced-scale muscle car if you squint.


Or, you could look to far-off lands for inspiration for your B120. This B120 is wearing an Australian grille and headlight assembly, and belongs to JP, the same guy who owns the beige B12 California we featured earlier. This is his other project car, and it’s currently a work in progress. Like the B12, JP is looking to turn it into a period piece, and isn’t looking to modify it very much.


The Australian grille really does make a great deal of difference to the B120’s lines. The horizontally-slatted grille that the Philippines got carries a strict no-frills attitude about it, while the more decorated Australian grille makes the whole truck look as if it came from a different era.


Of course, there’s always he option of fully restoring a B120 and bringing it up to spec for cruising in modern times, which primarily involves fitting air conditioning, and maybe beefing up the cooling system to deal with traffic jams. Wearing a differently-detailed grille with white stylised “Datsun” lettering and a bit of a crest in the middle, this B120 looks every bit like a car out of the late sixties, even if the model was only launched in 1971.


Here’s yet another way to do up a B120: give it the JDM treatment. This one has been this way for the past five or so years, according to JP, and wears a Japanese-spec grille. Funnily enough, the dominantly horizontal detailing on the grille makes it look like an original Mini Clubman, although no original Mini can hope to come close to the carrying capacity of the B120.


The heat of the day mattered little to these guys, and there’s little reason to believe that it should. Everyone was here to have a good time, and the heat wasn’t going to get in the way.

Mustard and ketchup.

Mustard and ketchup.

You’ve probably already picked it out in the second picture, but parked among the B120s was the real surprise of the day: a Datsun 2000 Roadster, otherwise known as the Datsun Fairlady.


Yes, the famed Fairlady. Before the eternal 240Z took the Fairlady name to great heights, the name was first used on a series of sports cars produced from 1959. This one, of the SP311 generation (most likely an SRL311, for the left hand drive 2000cc models), was the second of the series to carry the “Fairlady” name, and the first to not be based off a truck platform.


Even though the 2000 Roadster saw considerable success in racing, it never really quite gained the popularity that the later 240Z attained.


Oh what’s that in the background?

It’s a bit of a shame, really, because the 2000 Roadster is such a pretty little car. From this angle, the European styling influence is obvious, with the peaked rear fenders and chromed round tail lamps.


This makes sense, since Japanese car design of the period was still finding its own identity, and derived cues from the West. No matter, because the basic proportions that the 2000 Roadster follows have always been good.


Fairlady 2000 Roadsters could be optioned with a twin-carb two-liter straight-six with 150HP, which is the motor this car seems to have. One should not scoff at the modest power figure, because in a car that’s this light, 150HP is a lot, and more than enough to out-accelerate most cars on the road.


Inside, it’s all business, with the only jewelry being the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel and the beautiful white on black dials.


The owner regularly tracks the car, which is why you’ll see a big red switch on the dashboard and no interior carpeting at all. Rest assured that this is one Fairlady that’s still in shape despite her age.


She was a pretty big hit too, with the owner bringing it up front for everyone to see.


Of course, there can be no talk of Datsun’s Fairlady without talking about the one that everybody knows…


…which is, of course, the S30 Fairlady Z, alternately known as the 240Z. Launched to give Datsun a real presence in the US market which it so wanted to penetrate, the S30 Z was more or less a runaway success, able to match the performance of the expensive Europeans for a fraction of their prices.


That the S30 also looked so good was just the icing on the cake. Seeing the SPL311 and S30 together really punctuates just how different these two cars are. Even more surprising is the fact that there was no real break in between the end of the SPL311’s production and the launch of the S30.


There wasn’t a lot of other people milling about the area, which seemed to suit these guys perfectly. I got the feeling that they weren’t really there to attract a crowd – at least not yet – and were really just there to soak up the companionship.


Soon though, it was time for the S30 and its owner to leave…


…but not before some group shots.


Most of  these guys are veterans of the car club scene, and are looking to keep Datsun PH as relaxed a club as possible. That means no counting of attendance and no real schedule of when things will happen, the biggest downside being that it then becomes a little difficult to get your members to come together. Datsun PH, with members all over the country, is finding this problem particularly difficult, but for the most part it doesn’t really bother them.


And really, I don’t think they have a reason to be bothered by it too. What shone right through the entire time I was there was that these guys very simply loved their Datsuns, and that they formed Datsun PH just as a way to find and bond with other people who share their love for the storied old brand.


If anything, the guys and cars of Datsun PH prove why Datsun shouldn’t just fly under the radar. If Datsun PH has its way, then pretty soon it won’t be just the S30 240Z you’ll think of when you hear the name “Datsun”.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag


Have a Datsun? Or perhaps love Datsuns? Then head on over to Datsun PH’s Facebook page here.

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