David Mullen looks back at a car that changed the face of Irish roads forever
Revolutions seldom happen in times of peace and prosperity and when the third generation of Nissan’s Sunny, the Datsun 1200, hit Irish showrooms in 1973, the world’s motor industry was in turmoil.
In technological terms, a battle was raging between traditional rear-wheel-drive cars and more modern front-wheel-drive fare which had become popular in the Sixties with the likes of BMC’s Mini and Austin 1100.
In the early-Seventies, front-wheel-drive seemed to be making significant in-roads with the launch of Fiat’s 127, 128 and the Renault 5. Volkswagen was soon to launch its Golf and even traditionalist Ford had the front-driven Fiesta in the works.
The ‘family car”’was changing from a rear-wheel-drive saloon to a front-wheel-drive hatchback.
Though Britain had come early to the front-wheel-drive game, in the early-Seventies its larger cars were still quite old fashioned in their technology. The engineering in Ford’s Cortina and Escort was still basic, as it was with Vauxhall’s offerings and cars from Chrysler like the Hillman Avenger and Hunter.
Whilst BMC was a pioneer of new technology, in 1971 it launched the distinctly old-hat Morris Marina and, in 1973, the more forward-looking Austin Allegro, two cars that would define the company and, indeed, the British motor industry in the 1970s.
None of the big British companies of the period were immune from strikes. Even Ford, which had a reputation for paying-well, suffered from a sewing machinists’ strike in 1968 leading to a lot of lasting bad-feeling.