The Carchive: The Datsun 280C


So, it’s now Friday afternoon
And it came not a moment too soon.
Lets take time to explore,
A car brochure from yore,
While eating tinned pears with a spoon.

It’s time for the Carchive, which this week means visiting Japan in 1980 to bask in the sheer magnificence of the Datsun 280c.

Click the images for in-your-face massiveness.

“Presenting the superb new Datsun 280C. A luxury saloon and estate car of exceptional quality and refinement- the latest in a line of prestige top-of-the-range Datsuns.”
C is for Cedric.  That was the friendly name that these sedans had etched into their body parts elsewhere on the globe. This was a big, square Japanese sedan of unflinchingly conventional design, yet one which still manages to intrigue.
Reading this brochure gives us a tantalising reminder of just how far the Japanese Car has come. It also reminds us how the word “luxury” isn’t universally translated the same way.
“Here is a car designed to create a lasting impression of quality”
The 280C appealed to a very narrow, yet very loyal spread of the British population. In the late 1970s, while the durable, inexpensive nature of small Japanese cars made them very attractive to a lot of folk who had grown tired of home-grown products,  expensive, complicated machinery from the same origin was of a far more niche interest.
That the cars in this brochure have been photographed against a backdrop of the very most traditionally constructed structures you’ll ever find in the UK was almost certainly deliberate, without any consideration given to irony. In fact the photos were taken in the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, home to a menu of restored and recreated buildings which combine to create an atmosphere almost sickeningly chocolate-box.
“The 280C estate combines executive style and luxury with the practical advantages of a spacious load carrier”
Twin rear wipers! A magazine called “Fast Car” I once bought religiously (to satisfy my juvenile interests in day-glow orange Vauxhall Corsa’s with 18 inch alloy wheels and plastic bodykits, whose engines had been fettled by their owners- misleading them into believing that the addition of a K+N air filter would somehow boost a 1.2 litre engine to NASA levels of power, while in reality the whole wretched heap struggled to move under the ballast of 300kilos of sound system of the lowest feasible quality) ran a simple maths formula which enabled you to calculate the exoticness of any given car.
It’s very simple, you take the number of exhaust outlets of a car and divide by the number of windscreen wipers. A Lamborghini Countach (four exhausts, one wiper)  scores 4. A BMW M5 (four exhausts, two wipers) attains 2. The poor 280C Estate, though…. one exhaust, four wipers, a tragic ratio of 0.25.
“There’s an immediate impression of quality and refinement, with wood grain effect facia panelling and colour co-ordinated trim”
There was no denying these were pretty richly equipped by European standards, with air-con, central locking, power glazing all round (six windows on the Estate!), and, hurrah, opera windows on the Sedan. No shortage of things to play with, the cassette player even having a mechanical tape counter. What there wasn’t, though, I believe I’m reasonable in asserting, was any inherent class whatsoever.
The buyer of this car might have been a little anti-establishment. Not for him the genteel, conservative image of a Rover, nor even the solid, hearty, Christian values of a Big Vauxhall or Ford. This man wore an expensive Japanese wrist-watch, so why not an expensive Japanese Car? It was big, it was flashy, and it apealled to the moderately moneyed but status-hungry small-time businessman in the exact same way as the gold-plated faucets in his faux-marble bathroom.
These have all but disappeared from British roads, with the eminently reliable* telling us that there are a grand total of 5 licensed 280c’s of any variant still out there. Swathes of the population were wiped out by rust and indifference, and a great many found their demise on the banger-racing ovals.
Mind you, I find it very hard to imagine an Infiniti Q70 lasting any longer.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Nissan. It was sunny when I took the photos. Felt weird)

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  1. tonyola Avatar

    Actually, according to the brochure the station wagon has one really cool optional feature – side windows behind the doors that lower electrically into the fenders. I can’t think of another wagon that has that.

    1. dead_elvis Avatar

      I assume that’s what “power glazing all round (six on the Estate!)” meant. But yes, very cool feature.
      Anyone who keeps unlidded glasses of OJ in the center console cupholders deserves the resulting mess.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Judging by the time period and intended customer base, those might be Harvey Wallbangers…

  2. Maymar Avatar

    I don’t know if it’s perspective, or just vintage car proportions, but that steering wheel looks unnaturally close to the driver’s arm rest.

  3. salguod Avatar

    I assume that no version of this was sold in the USA. It looks similar to, but not the same as, the contemporary Maxima.

  4. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    These cars might have been reliable mechanically but they rusted faster than even Italian cars of the time.
    And their dynamics were truly awful, consisting of understeer piled on top of understeer and no throttle adjustability at all.
    I find it funny that people refer to older big european cars like 5 and 7 series or W126s or Jaguars as barges when they actually handle better with a hundred thousand miles on their clocks than these things did new. Dynamics no better than a much older Mk3 Ford Zephyr or Vauxhall Cresta. These and the Toyota equivalent are the real 80s barges.
    And yet within seven years we would have the thoroughly credible MX5, LS400, Skylines and Supras showing the world that the Japanese could match anyone and not have to make crap like this.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Yeah, I forgot to mention that they were awful.

  5. mr smee Avatar
    mr smee

    I love all the big inline-6 Japanese sedans, wish I could collect the set – 810, 929, Cressida. Those roll-down rear-quarter windows are brilliant, a bit like the Mercury breezeway window in spirit.

  6. Alff Avatar

    If the name “Cedric” were going to be hung on this car anywhere on the globe, wouldn’t it make sense to do so in the country where the name was born?

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Aye. Though, I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Cedric in my life.

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