Reminiscences about the virtues of simplicity

It's a question that is often discussed among car buffs: Why can't one of the motor manufacturers make a simple, basic, tried-and-tested, no-frills vehicle, get the build quality right and just keep it in production, unchanged, for 20 years? In that way they might make it affordable to many people who can now only dream of a new car.

It's a question that is often discussed among car buffs: Why can't one of the motor manufacturers make a simple, basic, tried-and-tested, no-frills vehicle, get the build quality right and just keep it in production, unchanged, for 20 years? In that way they might make it affordable to many people who can now only dream of a new car.

Something like Henry Ford did with the Model T, or Volkswagen with the original Beetle. There are enormous advantages for the consumer in such a strategy - spares are standardised, cheap and readily available in the remotest little towns, mechanics will soon be able to troubleshoot any problem on it, the average owner can repair it with the proverbial "baling wire and pliers" in an emergency.

Today we look at the Nissan 1400 half-ton LDV. It arrived on the local motoring scene in June 1971 as the Datsun 1200 pickup. Its launch price was R1295.

South Africa was in the throes of transition away from American cars and bakkies so popular here up to the 1960s - the Valiants, Fords and Chevs - to the curious little Japanese vehicles.

We know what happened. A combination of rocketing fuel prices and American reluctance to abandon trusted designs saw Japanese vehicles climb the sales charts while the Yanks took a hammering in their export markets.

The Datsun 1200 pickup rode the crest of this wave. Wisely, Datsun/Nissan refrained from tampering much with a winning formula. In 1980 a 1400cm3 engine replaced the original 1200cm3 unit and after the name change in 1982, from Datsun to Nissan, it was known as the Nissan 1400 LDV for the rest of its days. In late 1985 the cab roof was raised by about 75mm to address the insufficient space in the cab for taller or bigger people.

Besides a few other minor changes, the pick-up remained the same through the years. It retained the rear wheel-drive layout with leaf springs, the four-cylinder engine fed by a Hitachi carburettor, and 12 inch wheels.

By the time the last ones came out of Nissan's plant at Rosslyn last year, about 285000 units had been assembled there.

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