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UPDATED 29/6/04

Datsun has it's roots way back in 1912, when an auto-combine named DAT produced it's first prototype. In 1931 the DAT was replaced by the Datson (son of DAT). The name was changed to Datsun, as 'son' had negative connotations in Japan. After the war, Datsun produced Austins under license.
In the late 1950's, however, Datsun became interested in sports cars. At that time, their sporting pedigree consisted of several sporting versions of their mainstream cars; usually nothing more than two-door roadster versions, more sporty than sporting.
The early Datsun sports models had short production lives, and frequent specification changes. For this reason, they can be viewed as virtually experimental models. The first of these vehicles was the SP211, available from 1959. It was a fiber glass 2+2 convertible, with the 34bhp 998cc engine lifted right out of the contemporary 210 sedan.
The Datsun DC3 which shared the underpinnings of the 5147 pickup!
This was quickly replaced by the SPL212, which used the Bluebird's 1189cc 40bhp engine. This, in turn was superseded by the SPL213, with output raised to 55bhp. The three models had a combined life span of 3-1/2 years. Total sales numbered just 500.
The next Datsun sports car was the Fairlady SP310, a much more sophisticated model using the lessons learnt from the earlier cars. The curious name apparently came about due to Datsun's president having paid a visit to London where he fell in love with musicals, particularly 'My Fair Lady' (Datsun history is full of names like this - the Cedric is named after a character in 'Little lord Fauntelroy') It was launched at the Tokyo motor show in 1961, and went on sale the following year. Unfortunately, the SP310 hit the market just before the MGB, and was eclipsed by the British model, selling only 7000 units.
The SP211
The SP310 was exceptionally unusual in that it was a three seater, with the third passenger sitting across the car behind the front seat passengers. This curious seat was rather cramped, and was discontinued in 1963, by which time power had risen to 80bhp. Again, Datsun put constant development work into it's sports model, with the SP311 appearing in 1965. This version was outwardly the same, but used a new 1595cc 90bhp engine, front disc brakes, and an all synchromesh gear box bringing the car into the MGB's class. This new model was christened the Fairlady 1600 (At the time most Datsun models where named for their engine capacity). In 1967, another updated version came out, the SR311 Fairlady 2000, which was a cut above the MGB in performance and specification.
It used a 1982cc engine, producing 145bhp, with a 0-60mph time of about 9 seconds.
The SR311 Fairlady 2000
Several SR311's where sold in Europe after interest was generated by Datsun's entries in the 1968 and 1969 Monte Carlo rallies.
Datsun put all of the lessons learnt from these vehicles into the production of their new sports car, the 240Z. German industrial designer Count Albrecht Goertz was contracted to design the new model. It was Goertz who designed the BMW 503 and 507 sports cars (the 507 was the inspiration for the retro-styled Z8 super car), helped develop the Porsche 911, and worked with Nissan/Datsun on the ill fated Silvia of 1964. The Silva was an attractive, modern 2+2 coupe, but only 550 where produced before the slow selling
The Silvia
model was axed. Nissan would resurrect the name later with much greater success.
The design work for the 240Z was already well under way when the Silvia was introduced in 1964. Goertz's concept for the 240Z was very modern and very stylish. It's front end was very much like the Corvette Stingray, with a very similar grille, and pop-up headlights. It also featured a pronounced point in the bonnet. The tail was sharply cut off in the manner of Italian cars of the day, and the dimensions where close to the 911. Interestingly, this concept had a conventional boot rather than a hatch back, while still having much the same shape as the 240Z. Numerous technical problems killed the project off.
Albrecht Goertz's prototype

In 1966, Datsun resurrected the project, and despite the best efforts of their styling team, where unable to produce a car as good looking as the Goertz prototype. Therefore, they sensibly resurrected it, and made several changes. The pop-up headlights where replaced by deeply recessed round lights, the point in the nose was blunted, the bonnet was extended to the very front of the car, rather than sitting in a cut out, the boot became a hatch, and rather ugly steel-wheel and hubcap combinations where fitted. The rest, as they say, is history.

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