The Carchive: The Datsun E20

20140518_233026 It’s Tuesday, it’s about lunchtime, so it must be time for another strangely structured metaphorical sentence about digging something up from somewhere and analysing its worth in the light of the inexorable passing of time. Welcome back to The Carchive. Last week we were all about workhorses. We had a sniff of a Suzuki and a dose of Daihatsu. These were small, nimble, rugged machines that reached the parts that bulkier machinery just couldn’t. Today we’re talking Van. Just your basic, white bread panel van. It’s the Datsun E20. “Presenting the spacious new E20 panel van from Datsun” The Datsun E20 had a number of identities. It was variously badged as a Datsun or a Nissan, sometimes called Caravan or Urvan, or the Homy for all you hip-hop van drivers. Mechanically it was made up from bits from the regular Nissan parts warehouse, these bits all just being configured in such a way as they might work in a van rather than a car. This meant certain compromises had to be made. In the ’73 – ’80 generation the gearstick had to be almost a metre long in order to render the gearbox operable. It was, but only just. 20140518_233053 “Outstanding load capacity and a modern, well equipped cab” In fact the internet heaves with allegations that the E20 of the late ’70s was a generally pretty bloody horrible thing to be at the wheel of. There was no assistance to the steering and the gearshift was more vague than the manifesto of a minority political party. By the standards of today there were practical limitations, too. Look at the height of the load floor, for example. Significant heave-age would be required to load bulky items; there was a very real risk of breaking your spine before you even attempted to drive it. However, by the time this brochure was released UK spec E20s had moved to a column shift (a massive improvement) and the dashboard looked like it had been moulded out of milk chocolate, which makes up for all those shortcomings. 20140518_233106 “ As a tough, hardworking load carrier it takes a lot of beating” And I don’t really care if it was the best or the worst van of all time. I care about the way it looked, because I think it looks terrific. It looks like a scaled down version of a European touring coach from the ’80s, even though it dated from ’73. It seemed to be aero-styled, even if purely by accident. The lower dash, too, was every bit as stylish as any of the Nissan cars of the time (although, curiously it looks more like the front end of a ’73 Toyota Crown….). The next generation, after ’81, seemed to be a stylistic backward step. 20140518_233120 The Internet reckons that these things rusted quite alarmingly at the merest mention of precipitation which may explain why I can’t remember ever seeing one in the flesh. In fact, I can’t recall having ever seen a Nissan commercial vehicle and thinking “gosh, that’s a good looking van”. And that’s why I’d make a terrible van driver. I could have the worst, most disastrously incapable van, but I wouldn’t care if it was purty. (All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me in the kitchen, using a telephone. ‘Scuse the digital noise and general shoddiness. Copyright probably belongs to Nissan. In the ’70s a freight plane full of Japanese gearbox components exploded in mid air. Onlookers were heard to remark “Look, it’s raining Datsun Cogs)

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