Friday April 27, 2018
In my early years, I was initially convinced that the Datsun 140J Violet was an American car and looking at the brochure photos, it is easy to understand the confusion of my younger self. That “Coke Bottle” styling seemed highly reminiscent of the Chevrolets or Plymouths you might see on The Streets of San Francisco - and then there was the fascia. ‘Forget ergonomics!’ the dashboard seemed to proclaim, with its air vents apparently placed at random, switches emerging from odd nooks and crannies, plus those stylised instruments.
This year Nissan celebrates 50 years of selling cars in this country, employing the Datsun badge from 1968 – 1983, and we will be marking this milestone with a separate article. In the 1970s you were less likely to see a 140J than a 100A Cherry or as 120Y Sunny but the original Violet more than deserves a blog in its own right. Thus, is partially because its name reminds me of a Thora Hird-style sitcom character, but mainly because it is one of several light-medium Japanese cars such the Mazda 616 and the Toyota Carina A10 which helped to change the face of British motoring.
It is also worth repeating how comparatively unusual foreign vehicles were in the UK prior to 1970 – just look at the street of virtually any film made up to that date – but Datsun was to become one of the most familiar imported marques. In 1971, 6,800 examples had found a home in Britain but when the Violet was launched two years later the figure was more than 60,000. Car magazine was not a fan of the latest model – ‘we can see no earthly reason for buying a Datsun 140J’ was the not awfully encouraging opinion in October 1974 – but many drivers were attracted by the standard fittings and the straightforward running gear. This advertisement fronted by the familiar character actor Jack Watling gives an impression of its appeal to British motorists appeal – ‘a well-equipped car for under £1,300’: https://www.hatads.org.uk/catalogue/record/f1bbf9cc-621e-466a-8381-ca6848d6d061
At that time, a reasonably priced saloon with two-speed wipers, reclining front seats with head restraints, tinted glass, and even a radio as standard was unusual - and Mr. Watling does not even draw attention to the rather incredible hub caps. For the medallion man, there was the 160J SSS Coupe with independent rear suspension, pillarless styling, a twin carburettor 1.6 litre engine and an agreeable air of flamboyance.
In early 1976 the Violet saloon gained slightly more conventional styling – the original lines had proved controversial in its homeland – and an Autocar test of that year concluded that ‘for the driver who wants a simple and by all reports reliable car, the 140J would appear to make a great deal of sense’. For £2,252.12 (the 1970s was the era of hyper-inflation), a 140J still represented considerable value for money. As for the 160J SSS, what young executive worth his/her flares could have spurned the chance to own a fastback with five speed transmission, a rev counter and some exceptionally fake-looking “wood” trim?
The original Violet was replaced by the more conventional looking A10 series and I think I last encountered a 140J when Ben Elton was still regarded as being an “Alternative Comedian”. It almost makes one want to travel back in time to the 1973 Earls Court Motor Show…