Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the Datsun/Nissan Cherry was the market entry car for the company. Unusually for a Japanese car it featured a front wheel drive layout from the very start. The engine design was based on the well proven Nissan A Series engines, but mounted transversely driving the front wheels, like the Mini. Initial road tests were positive, and upon its release could be accredited for getting the FWD supermini concept right the first time. For many people in the UK the 100A became their first new car, and in most cases provided customers with a stepping stone to other Datsun models.

1971-1977 (E10) 1974-1979 (F10) 1979-1982 (N10)  
cherry_homeLate 60’s concept drawing of proposed Cherry (Nissan Global image)

The original incarnation of the car was known in-house by its model code, the E10 and in Europe it was generally well recieved by the car buying public and press alike, despite fairly poor sales in its home market. It was available in a range of body styles and reasonably well equipped, which helped consistantly high sales throughout its life.

The Cherry was a project that had been started by the recently acquired Prince (PMC), who were in the process of developing a small FWD. The Aichi Machine Compnay who Nissan had taken over around the same time also had developed a FWD design, the Cony. This was fairly typical of the progressive Prince, who tended to be more innovative and forward thinking than their conservative Nissan counterparts. Styling proposals were put forward in the late sixties, and using a sideways mounted Nissan A series engine, the car was announced in late 1970.

Japanese brochure/calendar of the sporting Datsun Cherry X1

Other than the FWD set up, the car featured a seperate electric cooling fan, separate lubrication for the engine and gearbox, all round independent suspension on the saloons and coupe and a standard equipment list consisting of reversing lights, twin speed wipers, heated rear window, high back seats and a radio. At the time the FWD revolution was still in its infancy, with only BMC being the best known adaptors of FWD technology.

Despite the innovation and European sales success, the Cherry was never a hit in its home country, and sales of the bigger RWD Sunny always overshadowed the model. This was partly answered by the introduction of several sporting models, culminating in group racing on the more popular racetracks. Several class wins, with impressive power outputs coaxed out of the 1.2 litre engines did help in raising the cars profile in Japan.

Promotional material for the Japanese Datsun Cherry X-1R Grand Prix

Typically for a Japanese car the Cherry grew with every update, as there was the Japanese perception that bigger cars equals more wealth. So as the external dimensions increased, which allowed better interior comfort, improved trim levels, more options and larger engine sizes, the car still used much of the previous models drive train, chassis and body styles. The F10 was introduced in Japan in 1974 but didn’t arrive in the UK until 1976. The original Cherry – the E10 model was gradually phased out in lieu of the new F10, which sported the Datsun 100A/120A FII (F2) badge to help differentiate it from the original however an entry level E10 with a basic specification continued being imported into the UK.

 f10_usNorth American version of the F10

In 1979 the replacement for the F10 arrived, the N10 cherry’s styling had not only started becoming more acceptable to European eyes but also gained a hatchback. Again there was many carry over parts, but the engineering had been gradually modernised and the car was more refined than before. A typical Japanese trait is the constant restyling of the model during its lifespan, new bodies every 4/5 years while the car would recieve many minor yearly updates, such as grill or trim changes following the American system for almost seasonal updates. To illustrate this its closest rival in 1971 when both cars were new, was the Fiat 127. The Fiat sustained an average of 12 years of production with one major revamp, while Datsun had produced 3 different Cherry models over the same period.

 n10_1Styling concept drawing for N10 Cherry

Nissan also decided to introduce the Cherry into North America, where the car was actually priced higher than the 210 (Sunny) model in the Datsun pecking order, perhaps implying that the FWD set up was more desirable and had more sporting ability than the RWD Sunny. It eventually lost its coupe and estate variants as the model replaced by the totally redeveloped N12 3 and 5 door models in 1982. Nissan-Datsun started to wind down coupe variants of their cars in the 80’s but the Cherry did gain a turbo in its final incarnation. A well publicised but ill fated tie up with Alfa Romeo, producing the N12 Cherry in Naples backfired and didn’t help either companies reputation. Both examples were sold in the UK, the Nissan version was sold as the Nissan Cherry Europe and Alfa Romeo sold their version as the Arna. The Alfasuds able flat four engine in a Japanese designed car on paper should have been a success, however the Alfa build quality combined with the cherry’s clean but anonymous styling meant that it was canned after just 3 years. According to the DVLA records, there are just 3 known Arna and 4 Cherry Europes survivors on UK roads to date, and worldwide figures are not likely to be higher than double figures. The Cherry name was finally phased out in 1987, as the new N13 Sunny ranges essentially amalgamated the Cherry and Sunny lines.

 alfa_arnaThe malaligned Alfa Romeo Arna