Monday March 11, 2019
In the words of Gary King, his two Datsun Sunny 120Ys offer ‘reliability and driveability really, as they are such an easy car to drive, the clutch is so light it’s like a throttle, and the gearbox is so light you can use your little finger to change gears. They keep up with modern traffic and are fantastic on fuel’. And his 1977 Coupe and his 1975 Estate are now some of the rarest cars on British roads.
Of course, in the 1970s, a Sunny represented the first new Japanese car for many families instead of an Avenger, an Escort, a Toledo or a Viva. The 120Y was made between 1973 and 1977, and 45 years ago the Coupe would have set you back some £1,296. The price included a radio, a clock and a cigar lighter and while Motor complained about the décor – ‘most of us found the interior styling fussy’ – most owners appreciated the 120Y’s individualistic flair.
Its lines reflected American cultural influence on post-war Japanese car design, and while the Sunny was not especially suited to Route 66-style cruising (the top speed was a shade under 88 mph), it was more practical for Fine Fare visits than your average Plymouth Barracuda.
This is not Gary’s first Coupe - ‘I owned one back in 1983’ – and he acquired this example in 2013 ‘from a friend who had bought it two years earlier whose dad worked for a breaker’s yard’. The 120Y was due to be scrapped, but it was fortunately saved – ‘My friend bought a house, and then a baby came along, so then I was asked if I would like to buy it and finish it - which I did!’.
The Sunny’s present condition reflects ‘a year’s work, off and on. It’s all original other than the two front wings which are replacements that were already on the car when I bought it’. The standard public responses to the Datsun tend to be either ‘Wow, never seen one of those for years’ or ‘I passed my test in one of those’.
Indeed, by the late 1970s, nearly 20% of driving schools employed the Datsun and Gary remarks ‘they are just so easy and smooth to drive’.
And if owning a 120Y Coupe is not enough, it was joined a few weeks ago by the Estate; ‘One of four left in the country’. Gary also owned a Sunny wagon in the 1980s, and he remarks ‘the estate has such a tight turning circle that I used to call it my London taxi. The Coupe has a normal turning circle - don’t ask me why they were different!’.
Both Datsuns have approximately 76,000 miles on the clock, and Gary thinks ‘the Coupe has been cared for more than the Estate – it’s is in excellent condition, although not 100% as I’d like it. No doubt I’ll get around to restoring it too’.
The 120Y was at one time the second most popular imported car in the UK, and the thought that the Estate’s survival rate is now down to single figures is on a par with realising that most episodes of one of your favourite TV show have now been wiped.
When I was lad (cue flashback) this type of Datsun was almost as familiar a sight as the Watney’s Red Barrel logo and Cider Quench ice lollies. And seeing the King fleet is to appreciate the growth of popularity of Japanese classics. And – why do modern cars no longer have such stylish hub-caps?