Datsun B210

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Datsun B210

1973 - 1977
4 cyl.
1200 / 1400cc
69 bhp
4 spd man / 3 spd auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
1 star
Nissans Datsun 1200 replacement - the B210 - continued that company's penetration into the small car market here in the USA. It ran on the same old mechanicals but sported a new body and included a new hatchback coupe and station wagon in the model line-up. And Nissan claimed the bigger B210 had improved performance and greater economy than its predecessors.

Nonetheless, the company was pinning its hopes on the B210 to capture an even bigger share of the light car market. The B210 followed the pattern set by the 240Z, 240K and 610 series - going from the square look to the long hood fastback styling. The B210 was also longer and lower than the old 1200 cars and all had sharply convex grilles with a small frontal area. Nissan claimed around 32 to 34 miles to the gallon economy with the new cars.

Nissan also claimed that engine vibration and wind noise was significantly reduced by using special mountings reduced by eliminating front window quarter vents. The interior was re-designed, too, and the instrumentation was now housed in an elongated concave panel with white-on-black instruments. Safety features included a disc-drum braking system with a tandem master cylinder - the front and rear brakes were divided into two autonomous systems.

The gas tank was located vertically in the boot behind the rear seat squab. If a leak occurred after an accident, a drip tray prevented gas entering the passenger compartment by deflecting it into the trunk, hopefully for evaporation. In the coupe and the station wagon, the tank was under the floor, but well forward of the rear of the vehicle. The door-locking buttons were the same as the child-proof and thief-proof type installed in the larger Datsun 260C and 610.

The headlight reflectors were designed to give a direct beam rather than diverse light and direction indicators were recessed in the front bumper with repeaters attached to the leading edges of the front guards. The B210's 1171cc engine was the same as the previous year's 1200 and was fed by twin-barrel down-draught Hitachi carburettor with manual choke control.

The suspension was virtually the same with independent struts with coil springs, tension rods, shockers and stabiliser bar at the front, and semi-elliptic leaf springs with double acting shocks at the rear. The rear springs were lengthened at the rear to compensate for the increase in the overall lengthening of the wheelbase, being 52.1 inches up 1.5 inches on the older 1200. The front track was widened slightly, too. Helper springs were added to the station wagon's rear suspension. The four-door sedan and the two-door coupe were available with four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission - both had floor-mounted controls in a centre console.

The fastback coupe had a fold-down rear seat and a fully-opening hatch-type third door at the rear. The hatch was supported by hydraulic balancers, like the 240Z. The four-door station wagon was available with four-speed, floor-mounted manual transmission. It had a fold-down rear seat and a full-width, full-height lift-up rear door. Rear seat squabs in the coupe and station wagon could be collapsed level with the floor for extra luggage space. Overall length of the station wagon and sedan was up 4.7 inches to 155.5 inches. The coupe was 5.1 inches longer at 156.9 inches.

Datsun B210 Safety

It seems strange to many that the Japanese were the first ones to do it, but the Datsun B210 was the forerunner of a whole new breed of safety-conscious small cars. The days when economy cars were designed and built with a strict eye on both manufacturing and running costs were slowly disappearing as the effects of the big safety crusade in the late sixties started to take hold. It seemed ironic to many motoring commentators that a manufacturer should release a car with so much emphasis on secondary safety at a time when the world had forgotten that issue and moved onto a new one. The Datsun B210 was conceived during the world-wide clamour for safer, more solid car construction, when gas was in plentiful supply and road congestion and pollution were the major issues to be confronted.

So the B210 hit the scene 176 lbs. heavier than its predecessor, with more bulk, less performance and higher fuel consumption. But even though it seemed to have been developed with all the wrong priorities for the swiftly-changing world of 1974, the B210 and its ilk would prove to be the winners in the long run. It remained, in relative terms, an economy car, yet it made more concessions to safety than the petrol-miserly flyweights which commanded the spotlight during the 1970s fuel crisis. And on the other hand, it offered reasonable standards of comfort which helped to force the argument its way when being compared to the overweight, inefficient lumps that fell into the "family" car category.

It was, in many respects, a sensible car in that it was designed to perform its function of providing comfortable, safe, reasonably fast transport without compromising too much on the economy angle. When Datsun got around to replacing the somewhat hoary, but successful 1200 series, the brief for its successor was a simple one; the design should anticipate future structural requirements on body safety, it should be styled simply in order to age gracefully, and it should use proven, reliable running gear that could be supplanted easily when the trends of pollution control legislation showed more positive direction. The B210 fitted into that category perfectly.

Some considered the B210 to be a rather bland design, but that was mainly because that was the way car builders were being pushed. In the early 1970s it was not good enough to have a car that only looked bigger and sleeker; it also had to be stronger and better designed in the areas that counted. It had to be able to withstand rigorous crash-testing programmes and it had to provide a passenger environment that was safer right down to the primary level than past designs. The 176 lbs. added to the B210's body weight went mostly into structural reinforcing and the inclusion of meticulously-calculated crumple zones at front and rear.

The car had extra box-sections extending out to the nose, a specially located and specially designed "airbox" forward of the windscreen which added rigidity to the central structure and new, box-section door apertures. The floor pan was strengthened, with new, stronger seat support members and the fuel tank sat snugly low-down behind the rear seat. The doors of the coupe model, while not exactly qualifying for description as "intrusion barrier" design, were more heavily reinforced. Stylists have given the B210 some family identification by adopting the same basic themes as used in the 610 series and the Violet. It had the lean, slabby look favored by Datsun.

Wheelbase has been given a stretch, bringing it up to 92 inches, while body length and width were up by five inches and two inches respectively. It all had the effect of enlarging the car visually to the stage where it looked much bigger than the 1200 and could, to the uninitiated, be mistaken for the bigger Violet model which was sold in the UK. Practical benefits were to be gained, too, as both leg and shoulder room were improved. The driver in particular got a better deal through the increase in seat travel from 5.5" to 6.3" - an increase which took less of a toll on rear seat passengers than it might have in the 1200. Shoulder room also showed the benefits of the two-inch increase in body width, while headroom was up marginally in the front – there was no detectable difference in the back. It was all a matter of an inch here, an inch there, and while the B210 was obviously based on the 1200, those inches did help to make it all a little more liveable. Datsun designers tarted up the instrument panel to help complement the new suggestion of spaciousness. Naturally, it didn't work any better than the plain, cold plastic fascia of the 1200, but it did convey a slight suggestion of luxurious flamboyance and helped to make the interior feel more inviting.

On the Road

Because the running gear was essentially straight out of the 1200, it was understandable that the B210 showed some evidence of its breeding. There was the same "hollow" sound from the engine and the same light, quick and positive gearbox. What was perhaps surprising was that the body hadn't gained anything in 'feel' or sound Insulation from the toughening-up programme. Despite Datsun's attempts to improve door lock operation, there was no suggestion in the way the doors closed that there was any more strength or quality in the car's construction - you still got much the same tinny 'clang'. On the highway, the B210 picked up plenty of road noise and then distributed it acoustically around the passenger compartment - blending it all with the roar of the slipstream from badly-sealed windows and doors.

Strangely, however, at higher speeds the car settled into a relaxed cruising gait where all the noise blended (almost) unobtrusively into the background. What could be annoying on short, suburban jaunts proved less wearing on longer highway hauls. The same thing applied to the seating. On short suburban trips the seats almost felt like a wooden park bench. But when you had to spend some time in them, you would emerge with no ill-effects. The handling qualities of the B210 were pretty much an extension of what you would have expected from a bigger, heavier version of the 1200. When you got down to analysing it, the 1200 was a pretty quick little car around a tight circuit - save a few hang-ups from the semi-elliptic rear end - and the B210 followed the same basic patterns. Probably its biggest fault was the vague, insensitive steering which did nothing to complement the basically good road holding. UK cars came with 155-section radials as standard, so it was a pretty sharp handler once you learnt to feel your way past the steering wheel.

In placing so much emphasis on safety, Datsun couldn't afford to ignore braking and on the B210, as a matter of course, was fitted with disc front brakes as standard equipment. These gave the sort of stopping power that other small cars had been boasting for some time. Although they were rather small of diameter at 8.37", they handled what was still a relatively light car quite adequately. So improvements all round over the outgoing 1200, but how did it stack up against the old model in the performance stakes, given it carried over the same 69 bhp 1171cc pushrod engine that had been carried over unchanged. Considering the extra weight, the B210 still accounted pretty well for itself in cut-and-thrust city traffic and had a certain amount in reserve for highway work.

Once again, the 1200 was always among the quickest performers in its class and the heavier body didn’t seem to have affected it to any great degree. It would work its way up to almost 90 mph with a little time and encouragement and there was no difficulty passing slower cars on long gradients. Standing quarters were in the high nineteens and 0-60mph came up in around 15 seconds. The B210 may have been a long time coming and some people were probably disappointed at its uninspiring specification and its bland appearance. It was a nice, plain, unpretentious car that did all that it should have adequately. Some were no doubt disappointed that the replacement for the 1200 was not a much better car – but the B210 was a sensible, middle-of-the-road design.

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Also see:

Datsun 120Y (AUS Edition)
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