Probably the only one of its kind locally, we drive South Africa’s oldest-running Datsun...

This 1932 Datsun is not only the oldest one in South Africa, but also one of the first cars produced in Japan under the Datsun badge. Although the company’s history traces back to 1914, Datsun was officially registered as “Datson” only in the early 1930s (the name means “son of DAT”) and the name changed to the current one shortly thereafter. And that means the vehicle featured here was built in the second year of Datsun’s existence.

At the time, the Japanese government allowed cars with engine capacities of no more than 500 cm3 to be driven without a driver’s licence and this Type 11 (of which 150 were sold) and its Type 10 predecessor fell in this category. In 1933, the Japanese authorities revised the rules and hiked the capacity to 750 cm3, leading to Datsun developing a 748 cm3 engine and fitting it to the Type 12.

This specific Type 11 is owned by Nissan South Africa and, for years, was safely housed at the brand’s head office in Pretoria until current custodian Freek de Kock, a respected Datsun and Nissan collector from Bothaville (see his incredible line-up of vehicles here), took it under his care. Nissan SA imported the vehicle in the 1970s and what followed was a full restoration by its parts and accessories department. Freek’s been meticulous in his maintenance of the Type 11, fixing it up to make it driveable again after it was parked for decades. He also replaced the cloth roof. The Datsun even still features an original Pretoria numberplate.

The Type 11 is extremely compact but doesn’t look like many kei cars, its designers having achieved a great sense of style with the exterior design thanks to the sculpted fenders and side steps that we associate with some of the most exquisite automobiles of this era. That’s countered somewhat by this cartoonish yellow body colour, including wheels painted in the same hue, and the extremely narrow tyres and their odd size (4.00 – 16 inch).

Before hopping into the petite cabin, I peek under the car and spot rear-mounted leaf springs with a solid axle and a small differential, while the front features upside-down leaf springs.

The car’s dimensions are even more evident when you open the tiny door (hinged at the rear) and take your position behind the triple-spoke steering wheel. Only a small adult would fit next to me in the passenger seat and that’s with my elbow extended over the windowsill. There’s a single window wiper on the driver’s side and the bare minimum in terms of dials and controls; engine coolant temperature, battery voltage and the speedometer are all that’s displayed. A neat touch is the metal Datsun-badged foot pedals and the elegant curved backrests of the front pews. These front seats tilt forward to allow passengers into the small rear quarters.

You start the 0,5-litre engine by pressing a button sited on the floor and it’s best to remind yourself the brake and throttle pedals are switched round from their placement in modern cars (fortunately the latter is elongated, making it easier to distinguish between the two).

On the move, there’s no question about the engine’s pint-sized capacity but, thanks to featherweight body mass coupled with some patience from the driver, acceleration is leisurely but steady as the car bobs across the road. Cruising at a gentle 30 km/h makes for a pleasurable, although decidedly pre-War, drive and the roof can be lowered (with the help of passengers) while on the move. The tall, kinked gearlever (with a wooden knob) affords a mechanical shift action (first is left and down).

There’s an inherent charm to the basic nature of the Type 11. While it may not get the juices flowing like many classics of the era, the role it played in establishing Datsun as a modern-day maker of simple, reliable fare makes it a heavyweight in the vintage-car market.

What you need to know

In December 1933, Jidosha Seizo Co. Ltd – predecessor of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd – was established in Yokohama with paid-in capital of ¥10 000 000. Yoshisuke Aikawa is named the company's president.