The cars we loved.
When Japan was rebuilding its industry after World War II, many of its car builders made bike-cart like contraptions that were best suited for slow-moving high density traffic. As Japan’s economy improved, its largest car builders began to expand into sportier models to accommodate a populace that suddenly had more money to spend on everything. Nissan had just established a sporty reputation with the Datsun Fairlady Sports 1200. It became something of an international sensation in the public and the automotive press. The success of the Sports prompted Nissan to consider expanding its sports car line up with a more refined all season coupe that had all the sporting virtues of the Fairlady, but with a bit more sophistication and technical prowlers.
After all, Nissan like the rest of the Japanese industry was eager to prove its ability to build advance cars that could compete on the world stage. Another up and coming company Yamaha, secured a contract with Nissan to build a prototype and work started in 1963. American based German born designer Albrecht Goertz would oversee the design with Nissan’s own design team. Goertz was responsible for the lines of the original Nissan 240Z. Like the famous Z car, his first Nissan project code-named CSP311 would have modern lines that recalled an European not Japanese design heritage.
Nissan was not happy with the finished prototype and promptly ended its association with Yamaha and Goertz in 1963, but not before Goertz influenced Nissans development methods. At his insistence, Nissan developed a 1:1 scale model of the Silvia to refine its shape. This was the first time a Japanese car company had built life-sized models of a car while in development. It sounds strange today, but Japanese car companies had been building small-scale models of products before final production to that point. There was evidence that the designers considered a convertible, but a hardtop became the one and only configuration.
What’s In A Name?
The Silvia would make its public debut in 1964 at the Tokyo Motor Show. Called the Datsun Sports Coupe 1600, the little coupe created a sensation in a nation eager to get into the mainstream of the post war automotive industry. When the car reached production, some marketing materials referred to it as a Datsun Sports Coupe, while others used the Silvia name. Silvia seems to have won out in the long run, as the car has the name stamped just behind its front fender.
With Goertz and Yamaha behind it, Nissan set out to build the Silvia at its new factory. The process was a slow one, mostly because many of the panels were hand formed, making each car slightly unique. Only 554 cars were built between 1965 and 1969. Nearly all of them right hand drive and sold in Japan with a few making it to Australia. Most of them were made in 1965, a year where more than 400 were produced. The simplistic design with its Jensen Interceptor-like front end, long hood and short sloping trunk, has aged better than most cars of the era. It was attractive and modern looking in the same way that the Chevy Monza was being that it had little or no ornamentation. The 14” wheels looked large and purposeful while suggesting performance.
Modern Simplicity with Advanced Performance
The simplicity of the exterior was repeated inside. The Silvia was a two seat car with a small stowage area behind the seats. Though a tight fit for anyone larger than a medium, there were supportive bucket styled seats. No cup holders here, but a console and a well laid out dash had all the essential instrument displays. A three-point wooden steering wheel topped it all off with an added a touch of class.
The Silvia was not just a looker, as it had an advance inline four-cylinder engine with a OHV design and twin Hitachi carburetors. It produced 69 to 96 hp (depending on who you ask), an impressive feat for a 1.6 litre, even by today’s standards. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a four speed manual transmission.
1965 may have been the year that the various municipalities began using the Silvia as a highway patrol car. At the time the populace was beginning to buy faster cars that could outrun the typical police issue Bluebird sedans. The Silvia was one of the fastest cars on the road in mid-60’s Japan where most domestic cars struggled to reach 50 mph. At just over 2,000 pounds the rather small Silvia could reach easily reach triple digits.
When production ended in 1968, the Silvia name was retired until 1974. After that the Silvia name would work its way to becoming one of the longest running car lines in Nissan history. The Silvia CSP311 would be replaced as Nissans top sports car by the 240Z. Its development spawned a rush to market performance cars from Toyota and Mitsubishi as the Japanese auto industry matured. Today first generation Silvias are extremely rare. 5 are said to exist in the US with one recently being sold for $50k. Interest in cars like the Silvia are bound to increase as more people become aware of the impressive pre 80’s technical and design legacy of Japanese cars.