Nissan 1400: The next generation

In 1971, while Idi Amin was busy deposing President Milton Obote in Uganda and the Brits were struggling to come to grips with decimal currency, a relatively new car importer launched the Datsun 1200 bakkie in South Africa.

The cheap and cheerful little pickup used an Austin-derived 1,2-litre pushrod engine built under licence, and apart from growing to 1,4 litres in 1980, the motor remained basically unchanged—as indeed did the body—for the next 37 years.

Sales of the little bakkie that would grow into the Nissan 1400 reached a total of 275 000 in that time.
That’s almost 7 500 a year, or 619 a month—a figure that would have most distributors feeling pretty smug for a single model for one month in 2008, never mind as a monthly average for 37 years. The Datsun/Nissan pack mule was around when Charles Manson went on trial for murder, it was still hard at work when Jim Morrison of The Doors was found dead in his bathtub, and it was already well-established when the Watergate scandal broke in June 1972. 

In September 1977, when Steve Biko died in police custody, South Africans followed the news on brand-new television sets, many of which were no doubt delivered in Datsun 1200 pickups after the launch of SABC TV the previous year. By that time the vehicle had been around for almost five years, and in today’s world it would have already been lined up for replacement.

It took 30 years for the axe to fall, though, and in the last two years there were probably more Nissan 1400 pickups sold in South Africa than there were Datsun 1200s traded in the first five of the model’s life. If it weren’t for new legislation imposing safety and emission standards impossible to meet with the old workhorse, I’m quite sure Nissan could have carried on producing and selling the simple rear-wheel-drive vehicle for at least another decade.

The bakkie is going out with a bang, though—Nissan has produced a limited edition of 150 Heritage Edition 1400 bakkies, with number one of the series being given away as a prize in a competition. Visit www.thelast1400.co.za for further information. 

Nissan gave us a sneak preview of the venerable 1400’s replacement at its farewell shindig for the star of its South African show. Due to be launched in the last quarter of this year, the NP200 (standing for Nissan Pickup Series 200) will initially come with a 1,6-litre, 64kW/128Nm, four-cylinder, eight-valve engine driving the front wheels.

That recipe is distinctly more Opel Corsa/Ford Bantam than Nissan 1400, which is, for most people, probably a good thing. I reckon there are still going to be hundreds of customers moaning that they want ignition points and rear-wheel drive in a simple-to-repair and affordable package. Anyway, the new offering looks good, and Nissan says the large bin and 800kg payload that make it more of a one-tonner than a half-ton pickup put it ahead of the pack. It also says that pricing will be keen. We’ll have to wait and see about that. 

I asked Chris Schell, Nissan’s general manager of light commercial vehicles, what the prospects were of developing a more powerful version for the myriad youthful buyers who want to pimp their rides, and he tells me—off the record, of course—that there will possibly be a distinctly livelier version arriving in 2009. I reckon a two-litre, 16-valve engine with 110kW, decent suspension, brakes and wheels, and a bit of a body kit at around R150 000 should crack the nod ...

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