There are survivor cars, and then there are survivor cars. This is the latter. Look closely at the design (while simultaneously pretending you haven't read the title of the article). What does it remind you of?
A lot of things, we're betting (a Checker? An old Mercedes-Benz?). It's no surprise that Nissan designers were "inspired" by numerous American and European vehicles when penning this luxury sedan. But it may surprise you that this was actually the first Nissan model offered in America. That's right -- at a time when Datsun dealerships were just opening in the U.S., about a hundred Nissan Cedric 1900s were shipped to this country. And today we're going for a ride (at Lime Rock Park, no less) in one of two known remaining examples of this model on the continent -- and therefore the earliest surviving Nissan believed to exist in America.
Let's back up a little bit: Just when did Nissan get into the luxury-sedan business?
While the first Datsuns we're familiar with were very much compact cars, the Yokohama-based Nissan Motor Co. had been making passenger cars since the 1930s, shortly before a series of mergers with other companies that united DAT Motors with Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. But it didn't take Nissan long to come up with its own designs, and one of its first luxury cars was the Nissan Cedric "30 Series." Launched in early 1960, it was essentially an earlier version of our 1964 example. The Cedric was facelifted for the 1962 model year, gaining a front fascia that is perhaps more reminiscent of the Rambler than anything else, and that's the version of the Cedric you're looking at above.
Styled by Pininfarina, the Cedric seemed to combine decidedly American proportions and styling with European details, such as the Ferrari or MG-like taillights. The overall appearance of the car, especially given its wraparound windshield, still comes off as being influenced by American cars of the time.
The "30 Series" Cedric that premiered in 1960 was available in various flavors, including a wagon, and boasted a quite impressive range of engines. The base engine was the 1.5-liter inline-four Nissan G engine, though given the car's size, the 1.9-liter inline-four was a more popular choice in most export markets. In addition to those two powerplants, the Cedric also offered a 2.8-liter inline-six engine on the Cedric Special -- a long-wheelbase variant of the sedan -- in addition to a 2.0-liter diesel engine.
Owner Walter Miller bought this example in northwestern Pennsylvania just over a month ago, and the day that we met up in historic Lime Rock Park in Connecticut was actually the day that the car received its shakedown cruise after being dormant for a number of years.
“Before today, I drove this car one day, for like 15 miles,” Miller laughs.
The Pininfarina styling evokes American cars from the 1960s, for the most part.
To answer your next question, the shakedown cruise this car took to get to Lime Rock was about 212 miles one way, with the odometer cresting over the 74,000-mile mark on the way to Connecticut. Miller even managed to average 24 miles per gallon on the way here. And just how did he find this example?
"It was a pretty cool story: The guy who I bought it from was the dealer who sold it new. This guy is 85 now. He sold it new, and then he bought it back in 1980s. And he had it from 1980s on and gave it to his son."
This Nissan Cedric spent some time sitting in a field in Pennsylvania, before being stored in a garage and almost forgotten. But how did this 1964 Nissan Cedric 1900 even end up in the U.S.?
During the early 1960s , the Nissan Motor Co. began actively exporting its offerings, opening up dealerships in the U.S. using the Datsun name. In fact, right until the opening of its first U.S. dealerships, Nissan had been selling most of its cars in Japan and elsewhere under the Datsun brand, Nissan being reserved for its truck range. Asia and Australia were the main export markets for the Cedric, but the U.S. also received a few cars, believed to total less than a hundred. While most Datsun dealerships at this time were based on the West Coast, a Datsun dealership in northwestern Pennsylvania received a couple cars. And this is one of them.
“It was kind of weird 'cause they marketed it in the United States as a Datsun Cedric,” Miller says. “When I registered it, I could have registered it as a Datsun or as a Nissan, but the whole car is badged Nissan, so I thought historically it really is a Nissan. The VIN tag says Datsun on it, but all the badges say Nissan.”
We'll write off this disconnect between the marketing and the actual branding to the wild west days of imports, but it's worth pointing out that this car was sold only as a Nissan worldwide. And as only about a hundred were brought into the country, if you were buying one of these new, then perhaps the issue of badging wasn't all that important to you.
As we climb in to take a ride in the Cedric, the car feels very well put together, with the doors closing with a satisfying clunk like a wall safe. The interior proportions aren't particularly expansive, and the low windshield is perhaps one of the few ergonomic miscues. But then again, this is as sedan from the 1960s, and we're pretty sure we could almost fit two of these inside a period Cadillac's footprint anyway. The interior trim is nicely preserved, and the design of the interior can be said to be in line with Japanese and American interiors of the day.
On the road, the Cedric feels firmly planted, giving hints of only minor body lean in the corners. The four-speed manual transmission has no trouble with steep inclines, such as on Lime Rock's turn seven. The suspension feels very predictable, and Miller confirms that this car's chassis was designed with European cars and roads in mind. So, what engine is under the hood of our example?
“1900cc, and it really is pretty spunky. Zero to 60 is under 15 seconds, which is pretty fantastic,” Miller replies. “It looks bigger, but it only weighs about 2,800 pounds.”
We were quite surprised by how quickly Miller managed to get the car into running shape, considering he's had it for only a month. Parts were pretty hard to find, as one would expect, but Miller was able to find that a number of classic dismantlers based in Australia were offering extras. Australia, interestingly enough, is one of the best places to find older Japanese cars, as they were exported en masse to the country and were never really disposed of as they would have been in Japan. So, what was the hardest part to find?
“I got a carb kit, and I had the water pump rebuilt. Well, the water pump kit didn't have a bearing, and the bearing was shot, so the water pump was really leaking. So I sent it to a guy near New York City that, as far as I know, he only rebuilt American water pumps, but he had the bearing so he must have matched it up,” Miller says.
Given the fact that only about 100 of these came to the States, as Nissan was testing the waters, the Cedric didn't really compete with any cars in the U.S. market. And as Miller points out, its chances would have been quite slim if Nissan had decided to import these in greater numbers.
“It was very expensive too, and if you were going to get an expensive car you could buy a Cadillac, or this! So it was stupid, stupid money. So, very few people bought it,” Miller laughs.
We have to admit that the car's packaging was not really geared toward the American market, even if its styling was. If this car was two sizes larger, it might as well look like a Chevrolet or a Buick of the time, but its small front and rear overhangs really do betray its foreign-market origins.
The Cedric was not quite replaced by the larger Nissan President in 1965 model year, as the Cedric itself was renewed for 1965, but it was no longer the largest car in Nissan's lineup. While our example arguably features a mix of 1950s American and Italian styling, the President and the second-generation Cedric effectively previewed 1970s automotive design. The Cedric lineage continued on, well, almost until the present day, though in the 1970s the car also gained the name Gloria as a kind of trim level.
The millionth Cedric was built in 1977, and the Cedric nameplate continued on till the 10th generation -- an amazing run. In fact, North America did see the Cedric one more time, just recently, in the form of the 2003-2004 Infiniti M45, which itself was known as the Nissan Gloria and Cedric in other markets. The Japanese-market versions dropped both names in 2004, as they were replaced by the Nissan Fuga.
Only one other Cedric from the first generation is believed to be in North America: a 1965 automatic-transmission version at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Miller is doubtful that any other of the hundred-odd Cedrics that were sold in America survived into the present day (or into the 1980s, for that matter). Given the car's high price and the relative novelty of Japanese sedans, the U.S. market wouldn't see Nissans in this segment until the late 1980s, badged as Infinitis. Even though Datsun achieved solid success in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn't through luxury or full-size cars.
Miller's plans for this Cedric include a mechanical restoration and perhaps new upholstery for the seats, but he isn't sure if he's going to dive into a complete restoration. The values of surviving Cedrics are relatively modest, and given the paint's fair shape it may make sense to preserve the exterior as is.
It's rare to find a survivor in this condition, and it's even rarer to find a true piece of automotive history. Finding this piece of Japanese automotive history in rural Pennsylvania is something at which we never would have guessed.