DATSUN: Nissan’s American Origin Story | Up To Speed


(engines roar) – We’ve got your Roadsters, Dimes, and Zs. We’ve got your safari, rally, and Mr. K. Plus, some badass cars dominating SCCA. On today’s show, it’s the legendary sorry. On today’s show, it’s the
legendary Japanese brand that stole our hearts,
then changed its identity. This is everything you need
to know to get up to speed on Datsun! (James mimics electric guitar whining) Datsun is also kind of
the history of Nissan. But while the company
itself was called Nissan, some of the cars it made
and exported out of Japan were called Datsuns. So, for today’s episode, I’m only gonna cover its early beginnings, and the popular models, and people that made it a
huge success in the U.S.. Sorry, Aussies. We know
you love Datsuns, too. What up, Marty and Moog? Let’s freakin’ hang. The company that brought
Datsun cars into the world started in Japan over 100 years ago, as– (James huffs) Kwaishinsha? Kwaishinsha? – [Man Off Camera] Sure. – Come on. Kwaishinsha Motor Car Company. Their first car was built around 1914. This car needed a name. So, it was given an acronym
made up from the initials of the three dudes who gave
the company the most money. D-A-T. Shortly after they started, the company got its first
name change operation, to go from Kwaishinsha Motor
Cars to Dat Motor Cars. I assume, because, it’s a hell of a lot easier to say. For about the next 15 years,
they mostly made trucks, because people didn’t
buy many cars back then. But, in 1931, they got back to it, and this one was smaller
than the original Dat. So, they called it the Datson. Just like Nolan is the son of me, and I am the son of nobody knows. But, the business of building cars was just as hard back then as it is now, and in 1933, they merged
with Jitsuyo Motor Cars, and for some other mundane reasons, it all eventually came to be
called Nissan Motor Company. (James huffs) The new company pointed
out that son, S-O-N, roughly translates to, and I’m not being 100% literal here, loser! In Japanese. While sun, S-U-N, had a brighter and more sunny connotation, and could also be considered a reference to Japan’s national flag. So, they changed the cars’
names from Datson to Datsun, and the 1937 Datsun Type 15 became Japan’s first
mass-produced vehicle, and the rest is history. So, that’s it. Thank you for watching. See you next week. – Wow. I mean, his energy was pretty good, but I don’t know. It definitely leaves me wanting more. – I’m just kidding, you guys. That’s not all. We got a whole
bunch more to talk about. – Oh God, you do. You’re the king! You’re the king, man. Over the next two decades,
Nissan made airplanes, engines, and a lot more trucks for
the Japanese military, and some small passenger
cars, badged as Datsun. They sold trucks to the U.S. Army. For the Korean War, they
even built Austin 7s and Austin A50s under contract. In short, they were becoming successful. So, when it came time to
expand the business worldwide, the rapidly-growing U.S. of A. looked like an especially
great place to do it. The decision was made to keep
calling the cars Datsuns, because Americans wouldn’t
associate that name with that nasty war, like they might with Nissan. Plus, if they failed, the Nissan name would escape unscathed. They smart. That’s smart. A Datsun Bluebird was shown
at the 1958 LA Auto Show, and went on sale in California, renamed the 310, later that year. Mitsubishi imported the
little cars for Nissan, and there were Datsun
dealers across the country by the end of the next year. In 1960, Yutaka Katayama, a.k.a. Mr. K was installed as the Vice-President of Nissan’s North American operations, in their new California offices. Mr. K was a bit of a rogue employee, and sending him to the U.S. would get him out of
the other execs’ hair. That decision might have
ultimately made the biggest impact on Datsun’s success in the U.S., and you’re gonna see why in a minute. (clock ticks) Sales went well over the next few years, and Nissan started using the world’s first specialized car carrier to
meet increasing American demand for the new Datsun 410. And Datsuns were establishing themselves as affordable, reliable small cars. They were also about
to establish themselves as badass! Lightning! Lightning!
Lightning! Lightning! Lightning! Lightning!
– Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! – Did you just say thunder? – Yeah. Do you like it? – I love it. – Thunder! Thunder! – Lightning! Lightning!
Lightning! Lightning! – I can feel the power of Asgard flowing through us, brother. – That was awesome. Things really got
cooking in the late ’60s. From ’67 to ’69, – Nice. – there were debuts of
the Datsun 2000 Roadster, the 510 sedan, and the first of one of the
most popular sports car lines of all time: the 240Z. (engines roar) Not only were the cars
starting to hit with buyers, they proved to be hugely capable. Race winners, too. There was this Southern Californian, by the name of Pete Brock, who was hoping to get a couple of those brand-new 2000GTs from Toyota to build out for the SCC competition. But, this Texan guy, named Carroll Shelby, swiped that deal right out from under him, and left Brock’s BRE
race team without a ride for the ’68 season. However, (engine revs) Brock also saw potential
in the Datsun Roadsters, and thought maybe, he could use them to beat Shelby American’s
fancy new Toyotas that were supposed to be his. After being turned away by
Nissan’s U.S. corporate office, Brock called up a buddy in Japan, who happened to know someone
at the Nissan mothership. Well, that someone
conveniently turned out to be the president of the
whole freakin’ company. Soon after, two Datsun 2000 Roadsters were flown from Japan to LA, just for BRE. They didn’t even come over on a boat! They were put on a plane. First class. They didn’t even make
’em check their bags. They brought their dog, and it didn’tー it’s not a service animal. Dog’s just running all over the plane, and all the passengers
back in coach are like, “Um, excuse me. “This dog keeps biting my child.” And the flight attendants
are like, “Shut up! “That dog belongs to BRE’s
Datsun 2000 Roadsters!” Happened. Happened. Look it up. Happened. Look it up. Google it. (engines rev) Ace BRE driver, John Morton, the guy who invented salt, started winning races in the
2000 Roadster in short order. Mr. K loved sports cars and racing, and immediately saw the value in promoting BRE’s success in
the U.S. to sell more cars. The team trounced Shelby’s Toyotas, and dominated SCCA Club Racing
for the next three years. At the same time that all
this road racing was going on, Pete Brock also got
sucked into the excitement of off-road racing. (audience cheers)
(engine roars) He first built a Datsun pickup for a motorcycle racer, Mary McGee, and crewed for her to learn the ropes. The truck finished, and
Brock returned the next year to take second place himself in a 510. That’s aーthat’s a littleー that’s a car. After that, he came
back with a whole fleet of factory-supported Dimes and a 240Z with big, all-terrain tires. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, racer, Bob Sharp, made a name for himself by winning six SCCA National Championships in Datsun Roadsters and Zs. He built his own Datsun dealerships, just to support the team, and introduced Cool Hand
Luke himself, Paul Newman, to competitive racing. You might know him as
the salad dressing guy. I know him as Uncle Paul. Look it up. The new Zs continued
Datsun’s SCCA winning streak, but 510s saw a lot of track time, too. The 510s were so good that their race competitors
started disappearing, because they were sick of losing. To this day, the red, white, and blue
striped BRE race livery is iconic in both Datsun
and racing circles. I’m gonna show it to you right now. I mean, I’m sure Colby’s been
showing you a bunch of it, but I’m sure you recognize it. (engine roars) Nissan was also the first manufacturer to win back-to-back East
African Safari Rallies, with the Datsun Bluebird 1600 SSS, in 1970, and a 240Z in ’71. In those days, people noticed
who took the overall win in one of the toughest races in the world. Then, this Japanese car maker
came along and did it twice? With different cars? A 240Z even managed third place in the icy 1972 Rallye Monte Carlo. As the ’70s continued, the Z got bigger and bigger engines. That was partly to compensate
for new emissions requirements that sapped hearse purse, but it never hurts to offer– – More power, baby! – Even Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, was a big fan, and he starred in a 280ZX commercial. – [Narrator] Oh, what
is it about the Z Car? – It is awesome. ♪ Datsun we are driven ♪ (jolly light music) – Why do they always portray
him as fat in the movies? You know, he’s just, like,
got a wide head, sure. But, he’s a normal-weighted guy. But, they have Seth Rogen? And Josh Gad? (James exhales) In just 10 years, Datsun sold one million Zs. To put that into perspective, it took GM 25 years to
sell that many Corvettes. The Datsun 510 was known
as the poor man’s BMW, and it had more style and
performance per dollar than other cars in its class. We did a whole episode on ’em, and I’ll leave the link
in the description below, so you can get up to
speedーha haーon the 510. The B210 was another popular Datsun model throughout the ’70s. When the oil embargo hit, we gotta talk about it! Blew up the whole industry! Small, super-efficient imports went to the top of everyone’s list, and the B210 was one of
the cheapest small cars you could buy at the time. To appeal to young buyers
who didn’t have much money, Datsun offered a
stripped-down, low-cost model with 0 options. Side stripes and bee decals. They called it the Honey Bee. They came in white, yellow, and brown, but if you didn’t get a yellow one, what are you even doing, because, I mean, it’s called the Bee. (engine roars)
(tires screech) If you needed a practical,
yet pint-sized hauler, the Datsun truck was it. Starting with the 320 in ’61, and going all the way
through the 1980 720, Datsun pickups were the
best selling light trucks for half that time. SoCal surfers, ha ha, like Matt Powers, especially loved the 620. And best of all, Datsun called them, Li’l Hustlers. But, the march of progress
comes for everything, and in car terms, that
means bigger is better. By the mid ’70s, the 510
gave way to larger models. The 610, the 710, and the 810. Our writer, Sarah, came home from the hospital
as a very fat baby. So fat. Look at this picture. In a brown 810. It lived in the garage,
next to a brown 280Z. Then, Sarah grew up, and built her own brown 240SX. I guess brown car appreciation
runs in the family. By the start of the 1980s, Datsun sales were really ripping, and they had loads of brand
recognition in the U.S.. But, company bigwigs started
to feel like it was time to bring all their products
under the Nissan umbrella, to streamline global
production and advertising, and to help with worldwide
brand recognition. In 1982, they started adding Nissan badges to the Datsun ones on
American market cars. Over the next two years,
they ran print and TV ads to promote awareness of the new name, and dropped the Datsun
badges entirely by 1985. – [Narrator] We’re changing
the name of Datsun to Nissan. – I hope you’re not changing
that great performance, Datsunーuh, Nissan. – [Narrator] We wouldn’t dream of it. All we’re changing is our name. – In the end, it probably cost the company over 200 million bones. And five years later, most Americans still didn’t know what a Nissan was. But ultimately, it did pay off. I mean, I’m wearing the hat. ‘Cause I doubt that you’ll
find anyone in America now who hasn’t heard of Nissan. When we started this,
we had one video a week. Now, we have four. And pretty soon, we’re gonna have seven. We’re working hard to give
you guys more of that content that you apparently like. Make sure you subscribe and hit that bell, so you don’t miss any of it. We even launched a
secondary YouTube channel just for podcasts. So, we’re gonna have a lot
more of those coming out. We’re so, so, so excited about it. All right. I love you. – Yeah, we got thunder shirts coming soon. I gotta get over some hurdles, but definitely coming soon.