Autopolis

The cars we loved.

1975-1979 Datsun 200SX: Proving That Looks Aren’t Everything


1976 Datsun 200SX

1976 Datsun 200SX

The 70’s was a great time for Datsun (or Nissan as it would later be known in the States). It had a few hits including the new Z car and the beloved 510.  The 510 line of cars and its offspring had become the bread and butter for Datusn by the mid 70’s. It had evolved into the 610 and later 710, getting larger and losing some of what made the 510 special along the way (like a rear independent suspension). When word came that there would be a new model in the true spirit of the old 510 coupe, there was a lot of excitement in the automotive press.

200SX Ad

200SX Ad

What materialized during the auto show circuit of 1974-75 proved to be a disappointment for those looking for a sexy coupe along the lines of a cheaper Z car or even a newer 510 successor. The new for 1977 200SX was based on Datsun’s new S platform intended to be a low price sporty car along the lines of a smaller Japanese version of the American personal luxury coupe (Thunderbird, Monte Carlo, etc.). Size wise it fit neatly between the 510 2 door and the 810 Sport coupe.

Mechanically it was nothing special. Its rear wheel drive layout featured a 2L overhead cam engine that produced about 90hp. Like many cars of the era, it had a live axle leaf spring rear suspension and MacPherson struts up front.

On paper it all sounded nice, but when equipped with the 5 speed manual transmission it could only manage to reach 60mph in 13 seconds.

Not at all a sports car, Datsun sold the 200SX as a “sporty car”, as to relive itself of any expectations of performance. It did use the same drivetrain as the 510, but lacked its driving dynamics. Handling was not ideal due to the short wheel base, heavy front end weight bias and skinny 13in wheels. Somehow the 200SX was used in racing, even being featured in an ad with noted Datsun driver Paul Newman. Critics were hard on the 200SX , but not from a mechanical or performance standpoint (it was actually about average as mid 70’s cars go) – they hated the styling.

The 200SX’s styling was polarizing (at least to most of the automotive press). Even by 70’s impaired aesthetics standards, the 200SX was strange looking. Looking like a like a cross between a Citroen SM and a AMC Matador, the 200SX looked like nothing else in Datsun’s line of cars. The odd design language borrowed heavily from Citroen, but added angularity. In some ways the 200SX was ahead of its time, with cut off wheel arches, and wrap around tail lights. The combination of pronounced character lines slicing the wheel wells and the giant “A” shaped C pillar was enough to universally tag the 200SX as ugly. Ugly or not, it sold well. Over 150,000 were sold from 1977 to 1979 in just America alone. In fact America accounted for 2/3 of all 200SX sales. Not bad for a car that was supposed to be ugly.

Part of the reasons for the high sales may have been due to the well-appointed interior featuring a high end AM/FM Clairion stereo with space for a future cassette module. The dashboard was oval shaped and had all the gauges for sporting pretensions. Most importantly and more likely the sales of the 200SX defied the critics because it was simply a better built car than the Vegas and Mavericks out there. The primary competition for the 200SX was the Celica and Scirocco, two cars that were more expensive, but in a performance league above the 200SX.

The Mazda Cosmo was closer in spirit, but was not as mechanically sound due to issues with its rotary engine.  There were few changes from 77 to 79 aside from safety and smog induced bumpers and emissions controls. In some ways the larger bumpers resulted improved looks for the 200SX, but power had been reduced and the model was soon to be replaced by a far more appealing car in 1980.

The first generation 200SX represent an odd beginning in the history of an otherwise well liked sports coupe. Datsun’s designers seem to have lost the bet that the future would catch up with the first gen 200SX, but the car is not as strange looking now as it must have looked when new. With that said, it’s still not the most attractive late 70’s Japanese import, but by far not the ugliest car from the era. Had the public listened to the critics, we may never have received the improved 200SX cars that came after. For that reason we owe a debt to the odd looking 1977 to 79’ Datsun 200SX.

1977 Datsun 200SX (US version)

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26 comments on “1975-1979 Datsun 200SX: Proving That Looks Aren’t Everything

  1. Michael D
    March 9, 2012

    Wonderful story, I owned a 1978 200SX. Two more interesting facts about this car. It had an unusual shift pattern, First gear was down to the left (where 2nd gear normally was). Additionally, when in reverse, the car beeped like a commercial truck.

  2. Michael D
    March 9, 2012

    Another thought about the 200SX. I find it odd about the comments regarding it’s zero to 60 performance. Consumer Guide reported that “peformance peppy and gear shift offers light shift action” I found this car to be pretty peppy compared to other simiar cars of it’s type that I drove, including the plymouth sapporo, toyota celica and the later 200SX which I also owned. The biggest problem I found was that this car was particularly prone to body rust. If fact it had rust under the doors, wheel wells and back lid after only three years.

  3. John Burgher
    November 16, 2012

    Where can I find front struts for my 200sx?

    • autopolis
      November 17, 2012

      I’d try junkyards first. Many have use a inter-connected database to find parts and ship them to your location. There may be other Nissans that use the same struts from the 200SX also. Good luck

  4. Jason
    February 28, 2014

    I actually like the first generation Datsun 200SX. It may not be everyone’s favourite styling for the car, but I like it.

    • autopolis
      February 28, 2014

      I do to, especially the hatchback, although both versions were nice looking. As a kid I remember the neat chimes and talking door features of my neighbors hatchback.

      • Jason
        February 28, 2014

        I like the coupe version of the 2nd gen 200SX.

  5. Jason
    February 28, 2014

    What I’ve never liked about the 70s is the emissions controls requirements imposed on cars sold in North America. I like to breathe clean air as much as anyone, but the requirements imposed on car makers was, and still is, unrealistic, at best.

  6. Guyster
    June 16, 2014

    Am I the only person who sees similarities to the Kenmeri Skyline? Rear end not withstanding, or the way the body creases go. But the rough overall shape and window set up on profile is there.

    • autopolis
      June 16, 2014

      It looks like they used the basic greenhouse design the C110 and applied it to the Skyline and our SX. I really thought it was cool when Hotwheels made a diecast of the Skyline from this era.

  7. MikeG
    November 11, 2014

    My ’79 200 SX died when the frame and body rusted out in the New England winters. I jacked the car up one day and the rusted frame simply bent at the jack. Whenever I worked on the motor I’d snap a bolt. We always said the car was made with low quality metals (I am paraphrasing to be polite), but who knows. It was a fun car!

    • Jason
      November 12, 2014

      Unfortunately, Japanese cars of the 70s weren’t very good in terms of body and frame protection from rust. They had good engines and transmissions, but although they were generally attractive, they were crap.

  8. Todd
    November 12, 2014

    Oh boy… that is MY 1977 200sx taken by me (the brown one at the end of this page)… somehow I’ve seen this and other pictures online and all I did was post it to my own website many, many years ago! Pretty nice… it’ll always be clean now!

    Here is the other picture of it I took:

    and here for your amusement…
    http://www.v6-s12.com/History.htm

    I owned his 200sx for 16 years, overhauled the engine, changed out the very heavy headliner and never-ending tried my best to find parts in junkyards… like the front A/C console with all it’s little springs that broke… I had to finally throw up my hands and sell it and by my 1991 300zx N/A 2+2 which I have now… I never have any issues getting up any hill now. Love the old S10’s though, this was my first Datsun and was very reliable with the stock timing chain.

    N-Joy!

    • autopolis
      November 13, 2014

      Thanks for “approving” the use of your image. These are great looking cars that were styled a bit ahead of their time. I think future generations will come to recognize that.

  9. Michael D
    December 12, 2014

    Here is a picture of my 78

    • autopolis
      December 14, 2014

      For some reason I couldn’t see the attachment:(

  10. jerry
    January 29, 2015

    Looking to buy Datsun 200sx 1977-79 if anyone is selling one levidavidson1@hotmail.com

    • jamie vercauteren
      December 12, 2016

      have a 77 200 sx stick for sale

  11. Kevin Gould
    February 4, 2015

    I owned a 5 speed 1978 model, and the performance specs indicated puzzle me. The 2.0 L engine used in mine was essentially the same as the truck engine. I seem to remember reading the specs on it as 119 HP, decently heady stuff at a time when some Camaro’s were only doing 135. I raced it up main street incessantly – completely thrashed it. My friends used to 1/4 mile, and I would run a 1/4 in around 16.5 seconds. 0-60 times were between 8 and 9. I remember beating the occasional Camaro (305 I’m sure), a couple newer gen 200sx’s, Sunbirds, Celicas, running near my buddy’s Ford Comet. It would bust the tires in 1 and bark in 2/3 on a hard shift. The only mod I ever did was remove the belt from the air pump. I know the automatics were terrible, which was normal for the time. Perhaps the specs indicated are for the automatic?

    • Kevin Gould
      February 4, 2015

      Canada, btw…..in case it matters.

    • Raymond Bazinet
      June 18, 2015

      I sure would love to find one I could buy. I used to own one. I loved that little car. Five speed, 2000ccs . Would blow the doors off a Camara 305 v8 anytime. If someone has one and wants to get rid of it, my email address is bazinetray@msn.com

      • jamie vercauteren
        December 12, 2016

        have a 77 for sale

  12. Raymond Bazinet
    June 18, 2015

    Where can I get one

    • jamie vercauteren
      December 12, 2016

      have 77 5 speed for sale

  13. Greg
    February 3, 2016

    I bought one new in 1978. I loved that car. Blew the engine with 100,000 miles. Dropped a 510 motor in it for another 20,000. Got $350.00 in trade on a new 84 Cutlass.

  14. Todd
    September 11, 2017

    I owned this ’77 200sx for 16 years and enjoyed it… This IS the picture I took in Northern Arizona of my 200sx. The cons for this car was not enough parts made by nissan to fix things that broke like the idiotic springs that broke, in between the heater/ac plates on the front console. As well as rust after coming back from 5 years in Oregon. And low power… under the hood showed 110hp but it felt barely 90hp.

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This entry was posted on July 9, 2011 by in 70's Cars, Datsun, Nissan and tagged , , .
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