1975 Datsun 180B Estate
The Datsun 160B/180B (610 Series) Bluebird was a stragically important model in the UK. It was introduced in 1972 and it replaced the virtually unknown 1400/1600 (510 series). It’s main UK competitor was the Ford Cortina, which at the time was becoming the UK best selling car. When the new Bluebird (badged as the 1595cc 160B or the 1770cc 180B) was launched in the UK in May 1972, Datsun were the biggest importer of cars into the UK, so optimism of the cars success was high. It was also the start of a series of a new designs as part of a concentrated sales assault on the british market, with the 2 litre 200L Laurel executive saloon and coupe, the 240K GT Skyline saloon with its detuned 240Z engine, the hugely popular Escort sized Datsun 120Y Sunny and Marina competitor the 140J/160J Violet all arriving in the next 2 years.
The Bluebird range consisted of a 1.6 and 1.8 Litre saloon, a 1.8 estate and the 1.8 twin-carb pillarless SSS coupe. The technical specifications was typically conversative (the Japanese market was still very conversative) with a upgraded RWD combined with OHC inline 4 cylindered engine, derived from the engines from the previous model. The roots of the engine design can be traced back to Mercedes Benz, as Prince (one of the companies Nissan absorbed) was licensed to produce copies of in four- and six-cylinder displacements. While the cars agility and good driver experience were not as evident as the 510, the new more upmarket model capatalised on what the public wanted, a good level of interior furnishing and standard equipment, good fuel economy and the typical ease of driving and maintainance.
Pre-facelift 180B Saloon
Pre-facelift 180B SSS coupe
The Estate version (labeled as Wagon) was only sold in one trim level in the UK (GL specification) and offered with the larger 1770cc engine, with first imports arriving in February 1973. Minor styling updates later that year moved the indicators to the front wings, along with a revised dashboard and general refinements. The range maintained steady sales over the 4 years of imports, with the car featuring in the top 20 best selling UK cars throughout its life, with around 80,000 examples being registered in the UK.
This particular survivor was sold at the Datsun dealer Philens Garages in Cheltenham in 1975, bought new by the owners brother. It was then passed over to him in 1981, who had garaged and kept up to date with servicing and maintenance at the same dealer. He had also bought a Datsun 1500 620 pick up, to resist temptation to use the 180B estate to use as a trade vehicle.
The family used the car regularly taking the mileage up to 45,000 miles including several trips to Jersey. Extra switches to the right of the heating were used for the retro-fitted rear wiper and washer.
He laid the car up in 1990 in a damp free but not entirely leak free garage and it remained there for 23 years. Tax discs back to 1984 were also in the holder.
I recieved news of the car via the Club Datsun UK in the spring if 2013, and due to my relative close proximity to the car I was given the details of the owner and asked to contact him to save the car from scrap. The original idea was to access the car, take photos and sell the car on behalf of the owner within the club. However once it was established that the car was bodily in great order, it was complete, mostly rust free – the inner wings, sills and body panels were all in good condition, I decided fairly quickly that I would take on the car myself. There was a fairly major issue regarding the area around the windscreen regarding corrosion but structurally the car was as good as you can expect a 38 year old car that had only been used for 15 years of that time.
The owner periodically had started the engine but then stopped working sometime in the late 90’s – probabily due to debris from the fuel tank feeding into the engine fuel lines.
The distinctive hubcaps were removed as we had to hammer the hubs to free the wheels, and then we pushed the car out of the garage into daylight to happily confirm my original analysis that the car was indeed a truly rare find in good condition.
The interior was in remarkable condition, the seats were intact, with minimal sagging and some small rips. The extra switches in front of the gearbox were not wired up to anything but may have had something to do with extra lights for the trailer box or caravan the car once pulled.
With the help of Reece Hook, the car was loaded on to a trailer and recommisioning work commenced. The engine was typically in good order, as testified when some fuel was poured into the carburator and fired up after two turns of the key.
The following was replaced and fixed:
- New Ball joint & Track rod rubbers
- Brake hose, Rear brake T piece
- New exhaust, Cooling pipes
- Fuel lines and tank cleaned out
- Rebuilt clutch master cylinder
- Brake master cylinder, 2nd hand clutch cylinder
- Overhauled electrics
It’s first clean after its MOT. This allowed me to inspect the body and check on any missed corrosion – there are minor flaws on the paint but nothing too serious. The main area of concern is around the windscreen – the rubber around the windscreen had perished and water did get to the car when it lived in the garage – but luckily it didn’t collect or penatrate the front bulkhead but the area around the windscreen will need attention at some point. The original tyres were obviously in a poor state, so for its MOT I used the American Racing split rims from my 510 which actually suited the car better. William Lightburn (Datman) supplied most of the parts needed for the car, including the centre caps for the wheels!
I took it to the several events shortly after its first MOT for 23 years, here it is at Santa Pod and typically attracting positive reactions from other classic car guys (particularly the younger retro car scene) so the next step was improve the stance of the car.
It was important that the suspension was done correctly and safely, so rather than chop and pigtail the front springs, I decided to use Al ‘Ramones’ expertise and skill to lower the car.
The adapted coilovers on the original strut. Minor welding and filing was needed. Another common conversion is to use 280ZX struts.
As the Estate (or rather Wagon) model used rear leaf springs, so lowering the rear end was very straight forward using Ford Escort lowering blocks.
Electronic laser wheel tracking was the final but crucial step.
The adjustable provisions on the suspension means that the car could go lower, but at the risk of grounding and scraping the underside I kept it fairly sensible. The ride is obviously a lot firmer now, and has transformed the handling.
We decided to remove the towbar, as it would not be used and the extra weight would be a detrimental towards the fuel consumption. I kept the GB sticker.
I took it to several events in 2014 and more recently in 2017. It continues to turn heads and attract mostly goodwill from people! There are few minor jobs to attend to – I will replace a few engine components, as well as upgrade the wing mirrors – the current ones are fairly useless.
Special thanks goes to William Lightburn (Datman), Reece Hook and Al ‘Ramone’ for their time and skill to help me get this car on the road.