Nissan Silvia CSP311

nissan-silvia-csp311

Sometimes, it's all about the details.

To me, some designs are just perfect for their time; a balanced combination of styling cues, technological innovation, and performance. Sometimes, a carmaker can produce such a vehicle all on their own, but often there is outside collaboration that helps make or break a car.

I spoke before about how Japanese automakers, especially in the 50s and 60s, looked outside of Japan for help. A great example is the BRE Hino Samurai, a little-known sports racing prototype that appeared and disappeared in a great flash of publicity. Hino had sought the help of racing legend Peter Brock for their own circuit racing programme, and ended up capturing a few titles with the Contessa.

Artifacts, if you will.

Albrecht von Goertz, best-known for the BMW 507 Roadster, had resumed his own design consultancy by the late 1950s, a time when Nissan (then Datsun) and other Japanese automakers were beginning to make inroads to the U.S. market.

What they needed, though, was a sports car in order to capture some much-needed attention. Compared to American, European, and British vehicles, the range of Japanese imports did little to excite the average buyer.

Building on the very limited-production (and truck-based) Datsun Fairlady 1200 sold from 1960-1961, Datsun had their first earnest crack at the global sports car market in 1963 with the Datsun Fairlady 1500—or, as it was known in America, the Datsun Sports 1500.

nissan-silvia

It was a time when Nissan was heavily into motorsport. The Fairlady 1500 was heavily raced and, in 1964, the first of the "giant-killer" Prince Skyline 2000GTs made their track debut.

But not everyone is into racing. Perhaps Nissan was looking to Europe, where semi-coachbuilt designs are sometimes sold in limited production. For 1965, the company released today's Car of the Day: a handbuilt, coupe version of the Fairlady called Silvia.

Designed with input from von Goertz, the extremely pretty car is notable for one thing: there are no seams on its body. Sure, there are doors, trunk, and hood—but the rest of the car is blended together. This was done by skilled workers, who finished the car's metal body by filling in the seams and painting over them.

nissan-silvia
nissan-silvia

Power and mechanicals came from Nissan's sports car, upgraded for 1965 and now christened the Fairlady 1600. A 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine pegged at 96 horsepower helped motivate the 977 kg (2,154 lb) car through a 4-speed manual transmission. Performance was good, not great.

Did it ever look pretty, though. Buyers would have to look past the relative lack of performance because it had a massive price tag of 1.2 million jpy. That's about $11,700 in 1965—about the same price as the V12-powered Ferrari 275 GTB grand touring car sold for in that year.

The Japanese police liked the car, however. Despite its hand built construction, it was the first semi-production sports coupe in Japan and a few were purchased as highway patrol vehicles. 

Nissan's follow-up to the car was produced instead by Toyota, and christened the 2000 GT. But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading