The pillar-less hardtop is one of the most popular body styles amongst fans of old Japanese cars, and for good reason. Most combine stylish lines inspired by 60’s and 70’s Detroit muscle with finely engineered and sometimes quite sophisticated running gear. Many are of interest simply because they were never marketed outside of Japan and those that were often had lower specifications and there was less choice of trim levels. Most Japanese manufacturers have produced a hardtop at some point from the diminutive Daihatsu Max to the full sized Toyota Crown, and Nissan are no exception. For more than twenty years preceding the demise of the Datsun brand name, Nissan produced both two and four door hardtops of many of their models.
Nissan’s love affair with the hardtop began in June 1970 with the launch of the first generation Nissan Laurel, the C30 model. The Laurel came with a four cylinder engine, the G18 and G20, designed by the Prince Motor Company prior to their merger with Nissan in 1966. The Laurel itself was a design inherited from Prince after their merger and as such, it is quite a sophisticated car. Not only did it have the wonderful Prince SOHC crossflow engine, it also had independent suspension all round as well as rack and pinion steering… a feature found on few other Nissan saloons. The main model was a four door saloon but the hardtop was an elegant coupe, quite European looking in it’s styling.
The Laurel was followed into the marketplace four months later by the two door hardtop version of the C10 model Nissan Skyline. The Skyline came in two wheelbases; short, which ran the Prince ‘G’ series four cylinder engines and long, with Nissan’s six cylinder L series, the latter being sold as the Skyline 2000GT. There was of course also the legendary S20 DOHC six powered GT-R hardtop too.
In February 1971 Nissan’s large luxury models, the Cedric and the Gloria, also became available as hardtops. These models had previously only been available as saloons or estates but once the 230 model was launched, both the Cedric and Gloria became badge engineered versions of the same basic car so it became more practical to produce more body variants. As well as a two door hardtop there was also a stylish four door hardtop added to the lineup. None of the models, even the two door had any sporting pretensions, they were all just luxury cruisers.
Towards the end of 1971 the Bluebird line got it’s first hardtop in the shape of the Nissan Bluebird-U (610 model). The 610 was the sixth generation of Bluebird and only the second version to have a coupe in the lineup. The previous model, the 510, had come as a coupe variant but not a hardtop like the 610. Both the 610 and the long wheelbase, six cylinder G610 that followed in 1973 were only available as two door hardtops. All four door 610’s were regular saloons. The normal 610 hardtop came in both ordinary and SSS (Super Sport Sedan) versions but all shared the four cylinder L series engine with a variety of configurations including dual SU type carburettors and even electronic fuel injection. The long wheelbase G610 was sold as the Bluebird-U 2000GT and GTX and still had an L series but it was the L20A six cylinder. The latter model wasn’t an export model so was only sold in Japan.
1972 saw the arrival of two more hardtops in the Nissan range, both models to replace existing hardtops. The first to arrive in April was the C130 Model Nissan Laurel which unlike the C30 before featured styling that was very clearly inspired by the products from Detroit. The hardtop was a two door with a long elegant shape and came powered by a variety of engines from the small four cylinder G18 unit right up to the six cylinder L28 in it’s later years. In the UK market the car only came with a four cylinder G20 engine and only just over one hundred were ever sold here making it one of the rarest models. In Japan this model has become highly desirable and a good example can cost over £11,000. The second hardtop of 1972 was the new Skyline, commonly referred to as the ‘Kenmeri’ after the highly successful TV advertising campaign for it featuring two characters named Ken and Mary. Like the C10 model Skyline, the C110 could be had as a saloon and a hardtop coupe in both long and short wheelbase versions, with the usual mix of four and six cylinder engines. The C110 Skyline shared it’s underpinnings with the C130 Laurel and like the Laurel could be had with either independent rear suspension, or a live axle on leaf springs, dependant on model. Four months after the C110 model’s launch, a GT-R version was added (KPGC110 model) but this time only as a hardtop unlike the C10 which came as a GT-R in both hardtop and saloon. The new GT-R still used the same S20 engine as the KPGC10 before it. Only 197 of the KPGC110 GT-R’s were built and both the KPGC10 and KPGC110 are worth considerable money these days.
Another hardtop unveiled in 1973 was quite unique in that it was the only version of it’s series to come as a hardtop. This was the 710 model Nissan Violet, the first of a series that was intended to fit into the lineup between the smaller Sunny and the larger Bluebird. The 710 Violet came as a saloon and an estate as well as the two door hardtop. Unlike the 610 hardtop which has very similar lines to it’s saloon counterpart, the 710 hardtop had a very different profile with a steeply up-swept side window line. In export markets the car was generally sold in SSS form with a twin carburettor L16 engine and fully independent suspension (IRS), apart from the American market who got an L18 and later an L20B powered hardtop with a solid rear axle. In Japan as usual there were many more versions, from a basic L14 powered Deluxe model up to the SSS-E which has a fuel injected engine and IRS. The Violet model ranges that followed the 710 never featured a hardtop again, although there were coupe versions of all models until the end of the series in the early 1990’s.
The next generation of Cedric and Gloria, the 330 model appeared in June 1975 and like the 230 models before them, they also came as a two door and a four door hardtop in addition to the regular saloon and estate. The range of options and engines became greater than before and fuel injected engines were now available. The 330 series was more opulent than the 230 with luxuries such as power steering, electric windows and mirrors becoming standard. In many ways the 330 models styling actually looked a little more dated than the 230 but particularly in four door hardtop form the car was very stylish.
Probably one of the most unusual of all the Hardtops to come from Nissan was the S10 model Nissan Silvia that came out in October 1975. The Previous incarnation of the Silvia had been a pretty little coupe in the late 1960’s based on the SP311 Fairlady Roadster. The new Silvia was again a coupe with no other body styles other than two door hardtop. Power came from 1800cc and 2000cc four cylinder L series engines and the underpinnings were quite conventional with strut front suspension and a solid axle on the rear. The S10 undoubtedly had the most bizarre styling of any Nissan hardtop. It moved away from the previous American look and adopted a look that was thoroughly Japanese.
After the mid 1970’s the look of Nissan’s hardtops changed considerably. Gone were the funky 70’s muscle car and Coke bottle lines in favour of a slightly squarer look. I’ll cover these cars from 1976 through until the end of the Datsun era around 1983 in part two.