The Datsun 1200 Was Powerful in its Own Right

Car enthusiasts love to talk about powerful automobiles. Yet, in our haste to discuss cubic inches and acceleration times, we often forget that there is more than one definition for the word “power.” This is unfortunate, because in many ways the most powerful vehicle ever driven on American roads wasn’t a Mustang, Corvette, or some slick Italian model. It was a boxy little contraption that no one in their right mind would consider a race car. It was the Datsun 1200, and, in a nation going through the tumult and trials of the 1970s, it showed Detroit what real power, the economic kind, looks like. From 1945 until the early 1970s, Ford, GM, and Chrysler dominated the domestic auto market. Returning GIs wanted their share of the post-war bounty. That included a home in the suburbs, electric appliances and, in a land beginning to brim with highways and byways, that quintessential symbol of American prosperity: a new car. Detroit’s big boys were more than happy to meet the nation’s insatiable appetite. As the years went on, however, their mission to build great cars took a backseat to enhancing their bottom lines. That meant building ever-larger vehicles that changed substantially with each model year. It also meant cutting corners when it came to quality. After all, why sell a family an automobile every six or seven years when you can put them in a new set of wheels in half that time? RELATED: See Photos of the 1971 Datsun 1200 By the '60s, many people knew that Detroit was losing its edge. In his book "Travels with Charley," John Steinbeck mentions that he chose a new 1960 GMC pickup for a cross-country trek. He says that he did so because America’s automakers still built good trucks, while the same could not be said for their cars. America went through gut-wrenching changes during the Vietnam decade. But some of the old scars on the national memory were beginning to fade. In particular, animosity against our old foes Germany and Japan was declining. Taking note of this fact, VW began a major push to sell the Beetle in the US. Against all expectations, the little car proved wildly successful. Watching the German’s success with rapt attention were the Japanese, who had made giant strides in the quality of their automobiles since the 1950s. By 1970, driving a car made in Japan was not only respectable, in many circles it was considered a sign of high intelligence. RELATED: See Photos of the Datsun 510 Race Car That’s where the Datsun 1200 comes into the picture. Introduced to domestic buyers at the beginning of the decade, it offered features like McPherson struts, available disc brakes, and a peppy, trustworthy 1.2-liter engine. Americans fed up with Detroit’s so-so offerings began to take notice. Then came 1973, the year that everything changed. During that 12 month period, the oil-producing nations of the Middle East imposed an embargo on American shipments. The reaction in the States was catastrophic. Gas prices shot through the roof, motorists waited in station lines for hours, and in some cases people were shot dead for fuel. The embargo was also the breakthrough moment for Japanese cars in the US. In 1973, the government ranked the Datsun 1200 as the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the country. The little car could get better than 30 miles per gallon on the highway, whereas most domestic makes averaged around 13 MPG. The 1200 was also mechanically reliable and reasonably comfortable. RELATED: See Photos of the Iconic Datsun 240Z For buyers at the time, those facts were all that mattered. The Datsun 1200 became the most powerful vehicle in the country virtually overnight, rivaled only by the VW Beetle and Toyota Corolla. The Big Three had lost their grip on the domestic car industry, and things would never be the same. ____________________________________ Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide