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Datsun cherry

Published: 16th Apr 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Datsun cherry
Datsun cherry
Datsun cherry
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Dare you buy Japanese asked one motoring journal. Well, we did and picked a winner with Datsun’s cheery Cherry

Cherry was one of the fastest 1-litre cars on the block and so reliable

In the market place there is money; under the cherries there is peace, so said one learned Oriental, whose name escapes us! The cherry is a small, red, heart-shaped fruit and motorists certainly fell in love with the Datsun car of the same name, when it arrived on our shores back in 1971. This reliable little motor certainly gave owners peace of mind – even though the sweet little thing caused mayhem to the British car industry!

BC – that’s before Cherry – Japanese cars appeared to pose no real threat, but after witnessing the swift death of our motorcycle business, we should have known better from the Land of The Rising Sun. Cherry was a warning shot, which the likes of Chrysler and British Leyland stupidly ignored.

Jap cars were nothing new on our roads by the early 1970s, of course, but a stylish, well-engineered and packaged Mini-priced, front-wheel drive family car was, and certainly a major departure from the orthodox Orientals us Brits were used to laughing about. Datsun showed it could make a serious sports car, the 240Z, just two years previously and so, in complete contrast, it had a go at making a good, honest family ferrier. And succeeded!

Known as the 100A, the Cherry came as a smart three-door-fastback-like saloon in two and four-door styles, plus there was a more angular estate for 1972. And, while they looked compact, they were actually Escort Mk1-sized.

All were powered by a conventional ohv engine of 988cc, claimed to deliver a commendable 59bhp, via a four-speed box. The chassis was well advanced for its time, with struts up front and an independent rear with coil springs (beam rear axle on the estate). The brakes, however, were all drum on the basic car, but this was soon changed on the Deluxe model and the Datsun was well equipped for the £766 asked, which was a tenner cheaper than a Mini Clubman.

The 100A was supplemented by the 120A in 1973, boasting 1171cc and a bit more kit (and hefty prices thanks to exchange rates) but the Datsun already had the replacement F10 range lined up a year later, for converted Brits, with a longer wheelbase for more space but less style and character.

The third generation N10 (now known as Pulsar in certain markets) ran from 1978-82 with a full range of saloons, estates and hatchbacks essentially still using the F10/F11 chassis as the base. By the 1980s, the Japanese had well and truly invaded our roads and consigned the likes of BL and Chrysler to the scrapheap.

Cherry picking…

It’s hard to imagine it now, but back in the 60s and 70s, you were looked on as frankly odd if you ran a foreign car, let alone a Japanese one. Datsun’s cheery Cherry helped change all that.

Here was an Austin 1100-sized car at Mini prices that looked bang up to date, was well kitted out and was backed by friendly and accommodating dealers who weren’t simply after your money.

And, of course, there was the reliability aspect which was the final clincher for many motorists fed up with breaking down. Whereas your neighbour’s old Brit banger spluttered and wheezed into life first thing in the morning, the Cherry started on the button. While Cortinas ate their camshafts, and Austin 1100/1300 shed their sub frames, the cheery Cherry rarely let its owners down – apart from rust, maybe, but what car didn’t corrode back then? The Datsun’s equipment levels put many more upmarket rivals to shame, with a standard heater, high-backed sports seats, two-speed wipers, electric washers, electric engine cooling fan and, soon after, an AM radio and heated rear screen; no wonder the average motorist was swayed.

Not that the Cherry didn’t appeal to the enthusiast, either. Indeed, contemporary road tests of the era heaped praise on the 100A, especially the performance which was simply sparkling for a 1-litre economy car. Hitting 60 in under 17 seconds, and trucking on to almost 90mph, this was Mini Cooper territory, with none of the insurance hassles for young drivers and 35-40mpg, too.

There again, the Cherry did boast a sports-style twin-choke carb as standard – one reason why young drivers in the know went cherry-picking over an Imp, Mini or Escort and put up with the high noise level, hardly helped by the very low sporty gearing and the Datsun’s Mini-like weight no doubt. Considering it was Datsun’s first attempt at front-wheel-drive, it did a remarkably good job. Autocar’s 1971 test said the Cherry could corner almost as fast as an Austin 1100 and the ride was certainly better – as good as the Fiat 128 which was a real yardstick at the time. The weekly also rated the gear change as the best it had ever experienced in a fwd car and, thanks to a silky smooth throttle, further hailed the 100A as a remarkably easy car to drive, making it a popular learner car, so we seem to recall.

What about servicing? Here’s what Autocar had to say: “One very good feature of the car is its underbonnet layout, a real object lesson to anyone who thinks a transverse engine layout must mean some things are difficult to get at. In the 100A there are no snags at all – changing the oil filter for example, is about a 10 second job.” Try that on an Austin 1100! Of course, with a Cherry you didn’t have to much else to do outside normal servicing work anyway, because they were so darn reliable. Small wonder buyers went back for more from the Orient, such as Datsun’s own Sunny, Toyota’s Corolla and the Honda Civic (which ironically went on to become the base for the Triumph Acclaim and help keep BL alive)... There were plenty of eastern offerings for buyers to cherry pick by the decade’s end!

When The Car Was The Star

The evergreen Datsun 100A Cherry rarely had a starring role in British films or TV; it is one of those cars that require the heavy use of the DVD pause button. You might spot a Cherry saloon in the background of The Sweeney or The Professionals or note that particularly handsome blue estate in the safari park scene of The Omen. Perhaps its finest hour is its driveon role in An American Werewolf in London but be warned – it’s as fleeting as Rik Mayall’s scene in the Slaughtered Lamb…

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