R.A-S.H: The Datsun Pulsar


Welcome to episode four of the series that Newsweek has quoted “…is to the world of Car Brochures what the violin is to classical music”.

In the late 1970’s and the early ’80s there were myriad small family cars each trying to persuade the masses from the big beasts of burden that Mum and Dad had formerly crammed their kids ‘n junk into. They were all much of a muchness, really. But that’s not what the manufacturers wanted us to think.

Today we’re turning Japanese, albeit with a distinct Antipodean accent. It’s the Datsun Pulsar.


The Pulsar, we were led to believe, was:

“….A new breed of hatchback”

“….there hasn’t been a hatchback that put sportscar enjoyment into such a luxuriously practical, safe and inexpensive form”.

Now, back in the early 90’s my Auntie had one of these, albeit in UK market “Nissan Cherry” form. She never noted it as luxurious and certainly never stated that it put her in mind of a sports car. She would use terms like shitbox and crappy little rust-bucket; and not long into her ownership of said conveyance the suspension mounts rusted from the chassis rails, the floor fell out and she would soon sweep the remaining pile of orange dust into a skip and try to forget the entire episode.

And that was the crypto-exotic “Coupe” version, which this brochure suggests that New Zealanders were never blessed enough to receive.  However, what they did get featured:

“…sporty, wind-cheating styling…..(that)….brings a whole new dimension to this class of car”

Yup. By the time this 1982 model came about there were only, oh, about infinity different five-door hatchback cars with front-wheel drive on the market, so clearly Datsun had stumbled across a formula they did well to keep to themselves. It was sheer one-upmanship that saw them go ahead and take the trouble to give the Pulsar;


“…Sleek lines. Sheer style. Solid construction. And inside, luxury, comfort and space in a combination you won’t find anywhere else.”

Yeah, except in cars. Lots of cars. Few of which, though, could claim to match the Pulsars interior beigeness. Not to worry, though. There’s all that sporting prowess to dwell on, remember:

“Performance buffs will thrill to the sporty exhaust note of the new Pulsar. And revel in its uncomplaining response to the demand for instant acceleration in each of the five gears”

Yes, the 1.3 litre, 74hp four-cylinder, overhead-cam engine was:

 “A new breed of engine…..(that)…drives Pulsar with the punch of a sportscar”.


I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these machines trundling around. It’s surprising that more haven’t been preserved, being that Datsun were so sure that Pulsar marked a pivotal moment in car design.

But hey, at least I own the brochure.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, who in this case is desperate to leave these dark days behind them>

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24 responses to “R.A-S.H: The Datsun Pulsar”

  1. Devin Avatar

    So in grade 8 we had an assignment to write a "descriptive paragraph" where we would describe something. I, naturally, decided to take the piss and wrote a heap of hyperbolic nonsense about the substitute teacher's Buick Skylark.
    It read a lot like this, right down to ascribing sporty adjectives to a car with no sporting qualities.

  2. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    Too bad this doesn't show the three door model with the remotely operated rear pop out windows. They were cable operated by a pair of levers near the handbrake that were very similar to VW Beetle heater controls.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Some other cars had those, and now I'm trying to remember which ones.

      1. Kris_01 Avatar

        First gen Caravans, actuated by a knob on the roof.

  3. dr zero Avatar
    dr zero

    I learned to drive in an 1983 Nissan Pulsar, metallic mint green, grey interior. Not so many rust issues in the Antipodes, so it wasn't the worst car my folks' owned (that was the Australian built Ford Laser – from the same plant that gave the US the Mercury Capri).

  4. mdharrell Avatar

    I'm quite enjoying this series. Not only is Rusty expertly curating and presenting the highlights, but as a result I'm getting much of the benefit of these brochures without needing to add to my own pile of them. Yay!
    I'll probably keep picking them up at swap meets anyway, of course. It's only a small pile so far….

    1. skitter Avatar

      I rarely have anything to contribute to these posts, but also love them and hope they continue for a long time.

  5. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    – Brown, brown, brown.
    – It's brown and browner.
    – Brown was a '70s color. This is a 1978 car. It's very interesting, it's in good condition…

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Actually an '82 brochure, the last year of the N10 version Pulsar. Which I think makes the hyperbole all that much better — "…so groundbreaking, so class-leading, that we've already got a better replacement in pre-production!"

      1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

        I was just quoting Capt Slow, Hamster and Jezza from the BL special where they're looking at the interior of the Princess that James bought. Everything's the same color in this interior too, I just never see that sort of thing anymore.

  6. HSA Avatar

    We had one in around 1979 or something and I can still remember those rear windows mentioned by Slow_Joe_Crow. Compared to other cars available here in late seventies, it was not crappy at all. Like, it wasn't already rusted when transported to the country, and it started without difficulty in -30°C.
    Last time I saw one a few weeks ago in the parking lot of a local hardware/car parts store. I wasn't surprised at all seeing the driver buying a welding machine.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I'm glad to hear you say that. I agree that it's easy to forget the market environment these cars were being sold in.
      <img src="http://pressroom.toyota.com/images/toyota/photo//1998001_1980_Corolla_Tercel_sedan_bw-1-prv.jpg&quot; width="500">
      My mom bought a stripper Toyota Tercel in '81. It might be easily mocked today, but in comparison to the '76 Ford Granada she traded in on it, it was a revelation. She drove it for six years, and I drove it for another five after it was handed down to me. It was very trouble-free over the whole 110K we drove it. I sold it only because I bought another brand-new stripper Toyota: a '92 standard pickup.
      [And yes, that's an offical Toyota press image, showing the Tercel in front of a liquor store. My how times have changed.]

      1. HSA Avatar

        I think the car was good at what it was meant to be – a simple, inexpensive and mechanically reliable small family car. Still it's true that it quite completely lacked all traces of luxury and sportiness. Like most cars of the time, it was prone to rust and I'm quite sure ours got a rustproofing treatment as new.
        While I'm at it, here's once again an unlikely survivor from the land of sleet, slush and snow:
        <img src="http://image.nettiauto.com/extra/carimg/5290601_5290700/datsun-cherry-5290610_l_00ce8aa6dde252d6.jpg&quot; width="500">
        It's yours for just 2,599 € plus shipping… http://www.nettiauto.com/datsun/cherry/5290610?si

  7. Russ Avatar

    Two days ago I saw one of these in traffic in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was wondering if they would ever be considered desirable, like other seventies & eighties Japanese cars are becoming. Then I saw the skinny wheels, and the half hearted styling, and and thought 'Nah'.
    I did have an late eighties turbo version of this, a Pulsar ET, 1500cc of single OHC goodness, turbo, body kit, beige sporty bucket seats, and torque steer galore.

  8. owl Avatar

    According to the DVLA there are 50 Datsun Sunnys of all types first registered 1978-1984 still on the road in Great Britain.
    Blimey, that many?
    I can remember walking past a 78 Sunny Coupe daily when I was a student in Newcastle with holes in the wing (fender) tops from rust. That was 1979…

  9. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    The worse the car, the harder the copy has to work. This is a remarkable example of hard labor. I would imagine that a Ferrari brochure only needs to say, 'You know you want it.'

  10. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    It could be worse… it could be equally-rust-prone with an Alfasud drivetrain.

    1. HSA Avatar

      Wasn't the Arna even worse in that sense? I'm not sure, but my point of "not rusted when transported to the country" was actually a reference to Alfasud.
      There's one (and most probably only one) Arna in Finland. Registered, running and in very nice condition.

      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        Registered, running, and never leaves the garage between October and May, I'm sure. I know the Arna's mechanicals were worse, not sure about its corrosion tendencies.

        1. HSA Avatar

          You might be exaggerating slightly: who would drive an Arna in October?! I've seen it only in July and September.

          1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            Ah, not in August? So the air conditioning's broken, missing, or never installed, too.

  11. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    I'm holding out for the N12 EXA.
    <img src="http://hooniverse.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Scan3.jpg&quot; height="340">

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I'll wait one generation longer so I can pretend it's a tiny Bronco.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        If you want something like that, how about a Simca Matra Rancho/ Talbot Matra Rancho instead?
        <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c3/1977_Simca_Matra_Rancho.jpg/800px-1977_Simca_Matra_Rancho.jpg&quot; width="600">
        Source: Wikipedia