Datsun 120Y why, why why?

The humble Datsun 120Y — a car habitually rated in the top 10 of “worst-evers” — is now one of the most sought after Japanese classics.

With its coke bottle side styling and loud, vibrant colours the 120Y is definitely a car of the 70s that has polarised opinion since its release.

A few years ago automotive writer Wayne Hinchcliffe wrote of the 120Y: “It was under-powered, thank god, because the brakes were useless and the handling downright dangerous.

“At least when you crashed it was at slow speed. Unfortunately, it was very reliable, so there are still a few around.”

And let’s hear from the Daily Telegraph’s cartoonist , TV commentator and author Warren Brown who wrote : “Like prickly pear and cane toads the 120Y was an introduced species that was impossible to eradicate.

“With a shape clearly based along the lines of a green-grocer cicada you couldn’t kill this frightful little car with a stick.

“It was also available in a variety of some of the most horrendous colours imaginable. My favourites were a ghastly baby-poo-green-mustard and the old 70s favourite burnt orange. ”

My family owned a burnt orange 120Y, bought new in March 1974 — right off the showroom floor.

I wanted the two-door fast back coupe but as this was my mother’s car she won the day —a sedan it was.

It was an automatic and for the next 15 years it gave trouble free motoring and excellent fuel economy.

Mind you, its tiny 1.2-litre struggled with the automatic transmission and the non-power assisted front disc brakes had a lifeless feel and required a hefty application of both feet to stop quickly.

Not that the word “quickly” really ever applied to a 120Y.

The cross-ply nylon tyres struggled for grip in the dry and just went away and hid at the first sign of rain.

It is the only car that I’ve driven that understeered and oversteered at the same time.

For a car that is a lightning rod for disaffection, it is now considered a classic by younger generations.

Don’t take my word for it.

A recent online advertisement started with the words “this is a classic”.

The owner went on to say it had, wait for it, 321,000km on the clock!

The asking price was $5000.

Some you can pick up for under $2000.

But be quick.

David Burrell is the editor of

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  1. With a little tinkering those cars were awesome drives in stickshift.
    I put my own ti sleep last year after 47years. I got it hand me down from me Mom around 1979.
    Dellortos and cut Electramotuve cam with massive milling of the head had that car beating many a v8 and rotary and even L18 transplants. Not to mention 2.0 Escorts and Cortinas…in the quarter mile mind you.
    And when we first got it I found it ugly and as the years went by with the right lowering and rims…oohlala what a beauty.

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