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Early Fairlady: 1960 Datsun SPL212

1960 Datsun SPL212

When most of us think of Datsun, we picture Z-cars or light duty pickup trucks, but before the American market was flooded with either, Datsun was selling a limited number of their small roadster known as the Fairlady. These cars were built to compete with the small European sports cars that were selling so well in America, but at a much lower price. They were surprisingly good cars, especially given how affordable they were. Being a new brand to the market, sales didn’t really take off until a few years after their introduction, so there aren’t many of these here in the States. This 1960 Datson SPL212 is one of only a handful built and is likely one of only a few left on these shores. It is going to need a complete restoration, but it’s being offered without a reserve and bidding is still low. Check it out here on eBay in Apple Valley, California. Thanks goes to Jim S for the tip!

Datsun SPL212 Interior

Recorded production numbers for the SPL212 are all over the place, with some claiming only 200 were built with others saying as many as 600 were built, but fom what I have been able to piece together there were about 280 or so of these left hand drive versions built. Whether that number is accurate or not, one thing is for certain, there weren’t very many built. Sadly it seems few have survived the years unscathed. Many have either rusted to nothing or been modified. This one might need a complete restoration, but it still has its original drivetrain and appears to be structurally sound.

Datsun SPL212 Motor

The Datsun brand was a subsidiary of Nissan and was the name used for most of their exported vehicles. Nissan didn’t have much experience in building sports cars, but they did know how to build durable and strong motors. When they finally decided to pair one of their rugged engines with a lightweight roadster, the product was a good combination of performance and dependability. This Fairlady still has her original E series 1.2 liter inline four, but it currently isn’t running. The seller claims it is turns free though, so hopefully it won’t take much to get running again. Seeing as most of their engines were interchangeable, it isn’t uncommon to find these earlier vehicles with a later engine installed, so I would be sure to check the numbers closely to make sure it is truly the correct unit.

Datsun SPL212

These early Datsuns have always fascinated me, as they are good looking little cars and are rare enough that you don’t see too many around. Restoring this one might prove difficult, as I doubt there is much in the way of parts supply for them. Hopefully this car has all of its trim and hard to find bits, or it could prove to be a nightmare to finish. From what I have read about these cars, they sound like they were quite fun to drive. This one should make someone an interesting and challenging project, but probably isn’t for everyone. So would you take on this unique project or would you go with something a little more common?


  1. MH

    I would love to have a car like this. All my friends have mg or triumphs. Very rare find. Parts=good luck.

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  2. Will

    I think I would worry a lot less about any missing trim and worry about the missing door. Where are you going to find one of those? It seeks like its missing the windshield and tail lights as well. Impossible to find parts and a low resale value in relation to said parts. I would sell it too. Its virtually impossible to restore without a pile of cash.

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  3. Rolymo

    That engine looks very much like the early Austin 1200 series that was fitted in A40 Devons and Metropolitans of the same time period, As Austin sold a whole load of tooling to Datson when the Devons ceased it could much easier for parts than you think if the running gear is the same

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    • Carl Beck

      Type “E” 4 cylinder, OHV, 1189cc, 48hp @ 4800RPM, 611 lb/ft torque @ 2400RPM. The Type “E” was a larger development of the Type C – Stone Engine. Stone was an American Engineer hired by Nissan to develop a new 1.0L 4 cylinder for their production cars in 1956. 1.0L because of Japanese Taxes on larger displacements. Given the cost of tooling up for an entirely new engine – Stone suggested that they shorten the existing Austin unit – and thus the Type C Stone engine was manufactured on the old Austin machines.

      Type C 1957 988cc 34hp
      Type E -1958 1189cc 48 hp

      Note – I can’t find the exact details – so don’t know if they actually shortened the block {small cylinder bores} – or they just shortened the stroke. {which would seem to make more sense}.

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    • Richard V

      Years ago when I owned my British car repair shop I had an MGA come in that had a Datsun cylinder head fitted, it bolted right on and worked flawlessly. I was amazed.

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  4. DT

    This is a very rare car,I am familiar with the Fairlady 1200,this predates the Fairladies Ive seen before. Apple Valley is desert so this may be very restorable.I would buy this at a reasonable price.All Japanese cars were copies of British cars in the begining.Nissan had a 240z restoration project going on for a while,so some parts may be available.Brush up on your Japanese.

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  5. DLM

    The Datsun 240Z was called a Nissan Fairlady Z.

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  6. kman44

    I remember the first Honda car to appear in Vancouver Canada. I was given a chance to drive it and it was a lot of fun. A tiny car but I folded my 6’5″ frame in and buzzed around town. I say buzzed because the tiny ending, (motorcycle derived?), revved up to the teens to make up for the lack of grunt. It was a little red roadster but I can’t recall what it was called. Never saw one again so I don’t think there were any takers among the dealers at the time.

    If anyone knows more about these tiny buzzers, I’d like to hear. Thanks

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    • Carl Beck

      If it was little Coupe – must have been a Honda 600/Z600. Chain Drive motorcycle engine. An economy car.

      If it was a Sports Car – either a roadster or coupe – might have been a Honda S600 or S800. Really advanced DOHC/Hemi Head engine for the time {64/65} and very nice styling – although way to tiny for North America.
      Google either one.

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      • kman44

        Thanks, Carl. It was the sports car. convertible top – which I did not put up.

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    • DT

      Hondawize…The Zcoupes and 600sedans were front wheel drive….the s800roadsters and fastbacks were produced before the Zcoupes and the 600sedans. The earlier coupes(roadsters)s800’s were chain drives because they were rear wheel drive.

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  7. Montu

    Datsuns introduced into nz in the ’60s. That motor 1189cc was used from 1970 on here. Datsun 1200. Very tuneable. A special was assembled in nz(600) that was fitted with twin delortta side draughts. Have one of that model. Bet successful here in motor sport. I would defiantly take that on. No sweat about making door in nz. Great repair and reproduction coys here in nz. A lot of American clients

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  8. scott

    A good investment for the guys at Gas Monkey Garage. Only a facility + staff of vintage car mechanics who have $$$ will bring this baby back to life. Other wise salvage the motor & donate the body to a Carnival act for destruction.

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  9. MikeH

    “Car does not appear to have ever been taken apart”—but it’s missing the left door [how do you lose a door?] and the right door looks to be a replacement. All the trim pieces, save the grill, are missing and not mentioned–but the car has never been taken apart.

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  10. Carl Beck

    The original article above ends with the question: “would you take on this unique project or would you go with something a little more common?”

    Not so common – but something far more complete. In 1958 Nissan send a pair of Datsun 210’s to Australia for their first International Rally. The team was headed by Yutaka Katayama. One car finished 1st in class the other 4th as I recall. Both were among the few that even finished.

    So I’d go with this one – very rare and far more complete.

    See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4BlXP4GAxs

    See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gcyXc7g9NQ

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  11. gunningbar

    Montu is right. Fabricating a door is VERY do-able. Down under they ve had to “make do” and know how to do anything….google John Britten and his Daytona motorcycle….great story…..”donate the car to a carnival?” A clowns suggestion.

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  12. DT

    Amen ..Windshield and suround maybe harder to fabricate than the door, but this car is very restorable and worth a lot of money when completed.Early Japanese cars were very heavy duty,these cars were made using truck parts.Its not always about the money,this would be a lot of fun to fix up and drive.Motor is probably the least valuable part on the car.

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  13. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    This Datsun sold for $4,050 with 25 bids!

    Like 0

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