Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
13 January 2023 4 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL
Photos: Anglia Car Auctions

Price: Auction
Mileage: 16,784
Condition: Ripe for picking
Advert: Anglia Car Auctions

Cars seems to be one of the few products criticised for being too competent. You wouldn’t slam your tumble dryer for simply getting on with the task of drying your clothes. Few people would moan about their dishwasher’s lack of excitement. Reliability, competency and robustness are attributes to be appreciated, if not applauded.

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Things are a little different in the automotive industry, particularly in the UK. Ever since the first Japanese cars started to arrive in significant numbers in the 1970s, many of the country’s cars have been chastised for their lack of flair and excitement, which fails to acknowledge their dependability.

Speaking in 1973 about the growing popularity of Japanese cars, James Ensor of the Financial Times said: “Part of the secret of their success is that they build a very simple car, which is very easy to put together, very easy to build, they have relatively cheap labour and they’re able to turn out a car that satisfies 50 per cent or 80 per cent of the market for a very low price.”

As Antony Ingram pointed out in last week’s Unexceptional Classifieds piece on the seventh-generation Toyota Corolla, people continued to buy its rivals in greater numbers, despite the Japanese car being “Just what the public ordered”. All too often, the Corolla is dismissed as a ‘white good’, when in fact it’s probably all the family hatchback you could ever need.

Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL for sale

It was always a similar story with the fourth-generation Datsun/Nissan Cherry, launched here in 1982. Turbo and Europe GTi models aside, the Cherry (N12) was labelled ‘boring’, ‘unremarkable’ and ‘unexciting’. 

Take this opening paragraph from an Autocar review in January 1985. Writing about the Cherry 1.3 SGL, the reviewer said: “Someone looked at our road test car and said: ‘Oh dear, the Nissan Cherry must be the world’s most boring car.’ They may be right at that, but don’t get us wrong – we wouldn’t want to say that just because a car is boring, it is necessarily bad. In fact, the Cherry is a hard car to fault at all, other than through the general lack of excitement derived from driving it.”

The test stems from a time when owning a new car was no guarantee that you’d be able to leave the driveway on a damp morning, so the fact that the mag’s Cherry “started every time at first tun of the key” was a reason to be cheerful. Japanese cars fired up, while the rest suburbia was alive with the sound of expletives and hammers on starter motors, along with the smell of WD40. Still want that fanciful European hatchback with its lashings of flair?

Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL auction

“No-one buys a Cherry for its performance,” said Autocar, before praising its acceleration and top speed, which beat or matched many 1.3-litre rivals. The Cherry’s engine produced 60bhp at 5600rpm, enough for it to hit 60mph in 12.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 93mph.

Those rivals were the Alfa Romeo 33, Fiat Strada 70 CL, Ford Escort 1.3 L, Lancia Delta 1300, Renault 11 GTL, Vauxhall Astra 1.3 SL and Volkswagen Golf C Formel E. Your heart would pick many of them over the Cherry, but your head would be turned by the Japanese. Four decades on, the Cherry would be our pick for the Festival of the Unexceptional.

Which is why this 1983 Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL is so appealing. Although there are no details to support the auction listing, the photos speak for themselves. It’s described as being a one-owner car with just 16,784 miles on the clock and the reddest (RADdest?) interior you’ll find in the Anglia Car Auctions January sale. It’s as though Clifford the Big Red Dog has exploded with excitement.

Datsun Cherry 1.3 GL red interior

The last MOT in June would suggest that it’ll require a full set of tyres before its trip to FOTU in July, which is almost 40 years and one month since the Cherry was registered by the former Nissan dealership Coredale in Cromer. The three Dunlop tyres look like they’ve been on the Cherry for a very long time.

We’re speculating here, but the BBC Radio Jersey and Air UK stickers could hint at a connection with the Channel Island. Was the owner a pilot for the now defunct regional airline? Maybe a second-home owner? If that’s a Jersey coat of arms on the grille, it could have been used sparingly on the sunniest spot in the British Isles.

It’s encouraging to see that the Cherry has been sent for an MOT test every year since 2006, when the online records began. There are just two ‘fails’ to its name, although the car has travelled just 4500 miles in the past 17 years.

BBC Radio Jersey and Air UK stickers

It’ll require some light cosmetic work before its FOTU debut, but everything looks original, right down to the Nissan mudflaps and Datsun rubber mats. This Cherry is from the era when the Datsun name was being phased out in favour of Nissan, which is why it says Nissan on the front and Datsun/Nissan on the back. The process began in 1981, when the company started putting Nissan badges on its export-market vehicles; by 1984, the Datsun name had gone from the UK.

“There’s nothing exciting about the Cherry’s interior” and “There is nothing particularly distinctive about the Cherry’s styling.” The opening lines from a couple of the sections of the Autocar road test might not inspire you to place a bid, especially considering the £3500-£4500 estimate, but this Datsun is ripe for FOTU and it might even get cherrypicked by the judges. Being boring has never looked more appealing.

Read more

Bland of the rising sun: 13 unexceptional cars that put Japan on the map
Top Eleven Unexceptional Japanese Cars
Best of the fest: Revisit all the winners of the Festival of the Unexceptional

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