The Nissan Midsize/Compact: An Evolution

By: Ethan White
(Ethan is the writer for Autonoch and a contributor to Average Car Enthusiast.)

Once the cheapest car on the US market, the Nissan Versa is known for being as basic as transport can get. The Versa was designed to be well…versatile. But did you know that the Versa’s roots can be traced back to 1929?

That’s right, 1929. That ancient car was called the DAT Type 10 (and later the Datsun Type 10). DAT stood for Durable, Attractive, and Trustworthy. The Datsun Type 10, and later, Type 11, fit into a category of half-liter cars. The Type 10/11 had a .45L inline 4 cylinder making a whopping 10 hp (About as much as a gas-powered go-kart). In 1936, Datsun came out with Type 15 which was quite similar to the Type 10-14 models. It had smoother lines to reflect the interest in aerodynamics as well as a power increase to 11 hp. Datsun paused production in 1938 and focused on military vehicles.

Datsun_Type_11
Datsun Type 11 – Wikipedia.org

After the war, Datsun changed up their game and made the DA series of small passenger vehicles. The DB series was later added as a larger version, along the DC as a sporty version, which could be seen as the ancestor to Nissan’s Z performance cars (That’s a story for another day though). In 1950, the DA was replaced by the DS series. Also, as a companion to the DB series, a wood-paneled wagon model was sold briefly called the DW series.

At this point, we reach a new era, this is the era of what we call the Bluebird. The Bluebird was Datsun’s compact vehicle offering from 1955 to 2001. No, it wasn’t all one car, but a slow evolution. If I had to guess, the car was completely different every three or four generations. The first generation is known as the 110 series. It had two facelifts, the 112 and then the 113. The 110 Series was designed to compete with the Subaru 1500 and the Toyota Crown. If you look closely, you can see design similarities between this car and the Austin MINI as the two companies worked together designing their compact vehicles. The 110 was also sold as the 120, a heavy-duty two-door van. After the 110 series, we see the introduction of the 210 series in 1957, which was the first Datsun compact to be officially called the Bluebird. You can definitely see the MINI influence in this model, especially in the front fascia. Logically, the next generation would be called the 310 series, and indeed it was.

Interestingly, the 310 was marketed with what is the best automotive trim name ever. It was called the “Fancy Deluxe” and was marketed toward the female driver. It had a butter-yellow exterior, a high-heel holder under the dash, curtains, a mirror in the driver’s visor, an automatic clutch, larger mirrors, and instead of a clicker so you knew if your signal was on, it played music. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video of this in action.

Datsun 1200 Fancy Deluxe
Datsun 1200 Fancy Deluxe – Nissan-global.com

Now we reach two of my favorite eras of the Datsun compact. The first is the Datsun 410 that was introduced in 1963. Between this generation and the previous, there was clearly a huge design change. The 410 looks leaner, smaller, and more agile. It also spawned the smaller Nissan Sunny, which is the direct line to the modern Nissan subcompact, the Versa.

Now we come to my favorite vehicle in the entire range: the 510 series. The 510 series was debuted in 1967 and was offered in a sedan, wagon, coupe, and pickup format. I have a more comprehensive article on this specific series on my site, so let’s not dive too deep here. The 510 is one of few cars where the cooler version was sold in North America only. That cooler version was the larger-engined at 1.6L. Today, the 510 has gained quite a following and a steady price increase, combined with the unusual desire for modified examples, it has become a great investment for people looking to get into the world of classic cars.

Datsun 510
Datsun 510 – Bringatrailer.com (@Old510ballz)

With the introduction of the 610, we see the Bluebird series get a visible size increase. It was designed to be more luxurious than previous models though, so it makes sense. The 610 was made to compete against Toyota’s Corona Mark II, which was sold right alongside the Toyota Corona Mark I. Soon, Datsun came to their senses and returned to compacts with the 710 which was sold with the 610, not as a successor. Next was the 810, it had squared off features compared to the 610. For the first time in the history of the Bluebird nameplate, you could get one without an L-Series engine. The new engines were the Z-Series engines and were more robust than the previous set. Interestingly, the other successor to the L Series engine was the RB series engine, which most enthusiasts associated with Nissan’s Skyline and Skyline GT-R. Anyway, the final car in the “X10” series is the 910. This is the last RWD car in the series as well.

Datsun 610
Datsun 610 – Pinterest.com (@iamthatjerk)

While many might claim that the 910 was the Nissan Stanza, they’d be incorrect. The Stanza was front-wheel drive and joined the 910 on the market in 1983. The Stanza became the Nissan Bluebird U12. The car was offered in a top trim called the Bluebird Maxima, which later diverted to the full-size Maxima. Around this time, we see the introduction of modern Nissan. There hasn’t been a truck version of the Bluebird since the 810 and we now have the Nissan Hardbody or simply, the Nissan Pickup. Through the 90s, Nissan continued to play around with the name evolution. The U11-14 making a mess of the 90s. With the U13, we get the Altima trim level and then comes the L30 in 1997, finishing off the year.

Nissan_U13_Bluebird
Nissan U13 – Wikimedia.org

At this point, something interesting happens. You see, all the Japanese compacts jump to midsize. So for our purposes, we will look to the Nissan Sentra as the next link. So we will jump over to the B16 (2007) Sentra. From there, we go to the current B17 Sentra. So there we are, the Nissan Compact: 1929 to 2019.

In the past, the Nissan Compact has dominated the market though today it has been pushed to the back with the all the new options on the market. The best thing for Nissan would be to debut a new Sentra as they are losing sales numbers rapidly due to the age of it. The current Sentra has been around since 2013 and with only minor facelifts, compact customers are looking to more modern cars. The Corolla has just received a redesign and its modern styling have already given it a lead over the Sentra. The Civic, Focus, Cruze, Forte, and Jetta are all years ahead of Nissan and the sales show it. If they were to make a new Sentra, I would suggest that a Sentra wagon be sold, just like previous Nissan compacts. Now this wagon probably shouldn’t be sold in the US but in other markets, it would surely succeed.

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