The cars we loved.
When Nissan introduced its Datsun branded 2000 sports car to the US in 1967, they were no strangers to the sports car market in the US. Datsun’s initial “Sport” line of cars were considered slow and underpowered, but had steadily progressed in power and refinement. At best, they had no more mechanical quirks than the mostly English competition that they finished behind in sales. In 1967, Nissan’s new 1600 (1.6L) and 2000 (2.0L) cars would drop the ‘Sport’ parts of their names and simply be known by the numbers that designated the engine sizes of each model. The in-house designation for the 2000 was SR311 for left hand drive cars. Right hand drive models were designated SR312. In Japan the SR312 were known as Fairlady 1600 or 2000, a designation commonly given to Nissan’s top sports cars.
The new 2000 would introduce a host of improvements over previous models like a chain driven overhead cam in its revised SOHC inline 4 cylinder engine. The 8 valve engine produced 135 hp that was channeled through an uncommon for the time 5 speed manual transmission. The new OHV design improved top end performance, making a top speed to 114 mph possible. Despite being only 2,100 lbs., 0 to 60 performance times were high by todays standards at the low 10 second range. The Datsun was not the fastest from a stop, but it was becoming a better value with each new refinement when next to its stodgy European competition. Because of the value the Datsun’s represented, they became popular in racing. The famous Bob Sharp racing group would successfully run the 2000 on the racing circuit, feeding into Datsun’s reputation for low-cost performance. The 2000 was still popular and won many SCCA races long after production stopped in 1970.
Although the 67 models of the 2000 had many mechanical improvements, they resembled the 66′ model with its low speedster style windshield. The look evolved slowly, but was clearly inspired by British sports cars, but with a stately look of its own as if it may have been Albrecht Goertz inspired. Like their European counterparts the Datsun 2000 was likely to be the smallest thing on the road in late 60’s America. Its compact dimensions posed a challenge for many larger people to get into and out of.
Other changes (or lack of changes) would make the 67’ more desirable to collectors than other years of the SR311. For one, 1967 was the only year that the 2000 was not be hampered by looming EPA and emissions rules. A competition kit would be offered from the factory that added a special Solex carburetor and cam. The kit pushed the 2000 to 150 hp., a startling amount of power for a four-cylinder at that time. The 67’ model year saw limited production as only 1000 cars were said to be made. The “competition kit” was only offered that one year, making the 67’ models the best performing and most rare.
Aside from the advanced engine, the 2000 was rather conventional in it’s setup. As a rear wheel drive car, it had a live axle with semi elliptical springs and a double A arm coil sprung suspension up front. A front anti-roll bar and standard front disc and rear drums brakes rounded out the technical credentials. Inside, the quarters were very cramped, but there was full instrumentation with 2000 cars getting a 160 mph speedometer and 8000 rpm tach. In typical Nissan practice, the materials were basic, but the control layout was simple and effective.
From 1968 on, the 2000 would get a host of major refinements that included a higher windshield; new body panels, floor and windshield mounted rear view mirror. Safety EPA and regulations were to blame for many of the changes, but the 2000 stuck with its 135 hp power rating even as it complied with new laws designed to decrease emissions and improve safety. The high-strung engines used two Hitachi made carburetors and required premium gas, but could get gas mileage in the high 20’s on the highway. Much of Datsun’s competition would be using in-line sixes and in some cases V8’s to deliver about the same amount of power that came from Nissan’s 2 liter four.
The 2000 was a much improved car by 1970, its final year of production. It was becoming clear that SR311’s development had run its course. Nissan had learned fast from its European competition and eventually out performed, out engineered and out sold them. Although the 2000 was produced in too small of amounts to impact the market significantly (only 15,000 were made by the end of 1970) it did lay the ground work for the revolutionary 240Z that would eventually take its place as Nissan (Datsun’s) new flagship sports car.