“Datsun made Austin 7’s under licence”
I don’t know how many times I have heard this one but it’s certainly very common. I’ve read it in the media countless times and even heard it from Datsun enthusiasts on numerous occasions. It is however, quite untrue! So where could it have come from? Somewhere along the line, somebody got things mixed up and this myth has existed ever since. I have a couple of theories that may shed a little light on it.
First, a little background. The first DAT vehicles were designed by Hashimoto Masujiro around 1913-1914 but the first Datsun (or Datson as it was initially known) of 1931 was the work of Goto Takashi, who later became a managing director of Nissan. This was the Type 10 which was replaced by the Type 11 as a production model. The Type 14 which replaced it was a development of this original car. The Type 11 maybe did bear a passing resemblence to the Austin 7 but then so did most small cars of the period.
The was a connection between Nissan and Austin but it didn’t come until the 1950’s. Nissan engineers were already looking to the British for new engineering ideas at that time. They were already examining a Morris Minor in 1952 when they were approached by Austin who enquired if they would be willing to assemble Austins in Japan. Nissan welcomed the idea as it’d be mutually beneficial to both parties. Austin get entry to the Japanese market and Nissan gain advances in technology. So an agreement was made and in 1954 Austin A40’s began to roll off Nissan production lines, shortly to be replaced by the A50 Cambridge in 1955. Nissan continued producing Austins until 1959 when they effectively replaced it with their own model, the Cedric.
Clearly though, this was during the 1950’s so while it does have a link to Austin the time frame is wrong. Well, that leads me to another piece of the puzzle. One that certainly does have the correct period.
Sir Herbert Austin was concerned in the early 1930’s that this relatively unknown manufacturer from Japan was copying the Austin 7. So in 1934 Austin purchased and imported to England a Datsun, in order to look it over for patent infringement. There may well have been some confusion as the model imported was a Type 14 which has little resemblance to the Austin. Maybe they had seen the Type 11 initially which had them concerned as it bore a closer resemblance. Anyway, this Type 14 was checked out and satified Austin that there was no copying going on. The car was stored for many years and now currently resides in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Hampshire (pictured).
Clearly, this could have added further to the confusion and it wouldn’t be hard to see how a journalist could have got things mixed up and written the wrong story. But then recently I found something that surprised me. Whilst browsing through some old sales brochure I read something very surprising on the back of a Datsun UK brochure from October 1971…
Datsun UK themselves were printing the myth!! This was quite understandable in some ways as the company had only been around for a year and they probably new little about the parent company in Japan or their history. However, as this was printed by Datsun UK, anyone reading that at the time would no doubt have taken it as being true, especially the motoring media. It’s clear to see how the myth could have hardened into assumed fact but this does leave one remaining question. Where did Datsun UK get it from? Did they just make it up? The investigation continues…