Power came from a 69hp A12 1171cc over-head valve push rod engine driving the rear wheels. If that sounds familiar, that is because it was later carried over to the B210 then the larger B310 12OY, bringing its service life to more than 10 years before Datsun/Nissan moved on to front wheel drive layouts. And if one were to go further down the family tree, it is also the predecessor of the 1.5-litre A15 unit that pulls the very familiar Nissan Vanette which was just replaced after more than 2 decades of production. Click to read Part 1 here!
On paper those engine figures can easily be a big turn off, but mated to a short ratio gearbox on a 700kg chassis, it gets up and goes better than expected. Another advantage of this is that one rarely needs to downshift lower than third in urban runs thus making urban driving relaxing. On the other hand those 4 close-ratio forward gears do makes the engine feel restrained at highway speeds.
Behind the wheel, it does feel a bit like navigating a ship. Fitted with a huge but thin steering wheel, things get no better due to its large amount of turning free-play. Nonetheless in urban runs, weaving through traffic and parking lots is easy thanks to the skinny 155/80/R12 wheels, even though things can be a bit hairy on open roads when encountering something like a passing Plusliner bus or crosswinds.
In terms of passenger comfort, the 1200 is considered ancient by today’s standards. Fitted with leaf springs behind, it handles load much better than coils that it is unlikely to bottom out under full capacity. However this also means that poor surfaced roads are best dealt with slowly and easily, otherwise passengers especially those in the back will have one of the roughest rides ever experienced in cars.
So, the 1200 may not deliver magic carpet-like ride quality, but it does shine when a trusty tough workhorse is needed. For starters, the engine is fitted with a timing chain which practically lasts forever. Then unlike modern front-wheel driven cars, its front-mounted rear-driven layout equals zero cases of worn CV joints and turning circles of less than 4.5meters a breeze. One other advantage was that it had less rubber bushes in the suspension system, thus was a lot more robust over rough roads.
Like many other Japanese cars of the 70s, chances for mechanical or even electrical failures are very slim as they were very simple in design and built to last. For instance, my father’s 1200 was driven over 450km to and from Kuala Lumpur a few times during my college days even though it was already 33 years old. The only upgrades prior to that were a hydraulic brake for improved stopping power and a cooler Vanette-derived radiator. Throughout that period, all it had was the usual 5000km mineral oil-spark plug service and a tire change. It only failed trice there, one from a spoilt fuel pump fitted since brand new; second when the carburetor required cleaning after getting clogged; and third after it failed to start because I meddled with its distributor’s timing.
Today, I realize how much we are pampered by modern cars. In the 1200 you had to wind the windows manually when it pours; you had to be ever prepared whenever a large vehicle is about to overtake and the stares just by driving through a hypermarket car park just because of its uniqueness. But whenever the temperature drops, the road ahead clears up and I am not in a hurry, I come to appreciate how one can be so involved yet equally fun to just drive.