For Japanese car enthusiasts on a budget in the early 1970s, the Datsun 1800 SSS delivered legitimate sports car thrills without the often unreachable price tag. Produced from 1970-1972, the rear-wheel drive 1800 SSS disproved the notion that sports cars had to be expensive and impractical.
With its rev-happy 1.8 liter engine, finely tuned suspension, sleek fastback body, and affordable price, the “Super Sport Sedan” lived up to its name. This seminal JDM (Japanese domestic market) sports coupe demonstrated Nissan’s expertise in accessible performance long before the ZX and GT-R.
Let’s examine why the 1800 SSS left such an impression during its brief but exciting production run. For Datsun fans, it represented a special formula unlikely to ever be repeated.
Datsun 1800 SSS High-Winding Engine Loved to Rev
Powering the 1800 SSS was a 1.8-liter OHC inline-4 based on Datsun’s A18 engine but with a longer-stroke crankshaft. This boosted displacement from 1.6 to 1.8 liters for a nice bump in torque while retaining the eagerness to rev the smaller motor.
Tuned carburetors helped the 1800 SSS engine put out 130 hp in the Japanese market model – an impressive output for a naturally aspirated 1.8 liter at the time. Peak power arrived high in the rev range at 6,400 rpm before hitting the 7,000 rpm redline, encouraging drivers to wind it out.
While not extraordinarily powerful by today’s standards, the free-revving motor provided a fun, engaging experience many owners remember fondly. Combined with the 5-speed manual gearbox, keeping the engine on boil was easily achievable for an exhilarating drive.
Handling to Rival More Expensive Sports Cars
Complementing the high-strung powertrain, the Datsun 1800 SSS delivered sharp, balanced handling that belied its affordable price. The fully independent suspension used MacPherson struts up front and Chapman struts at the rear for agile cornering reflexes.
tuning by an expert team at Nissan Motorsports produced a finely dialed chassis with minimal body roll. The rear-drive 1800 SSS was neutral and controllable at the limit with its near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. All this capability allowed the 1800 SSS to compete on road courses with rivals costing twice as much.
Braking performance also outpaced the average economy car thanks to front disc brakes, a rarity for Japanese vehicles then. Combined with the potent engine and suspension, the 1800 SSS provided a complete, engaging performance package.
Distinctive Fastback Coupe Styling
The Datsun 1800 SSS stood out from more mundane economy car contemporaries thanks to its attractive fastback design. The long hood and sloping rear roofline gave it a purposeful, performance look. Small bumpers and minimal chrome trim resulted in a clean, uncluttered appearance.
Signature styling cues like the black hood scoop, narrow C-pillar, bright lettering on the C-pillar, and dual exhaust tips distinguished the exciting 1800 SSS from humbler Datsun sedans. Available colors including vivid orange and green hues added to the sporty appeal. The interior also felt special with its woodgrain dash trim and full instrumentation including a tachometer.
While not as sexy as a Jaguar E-Type or Alfa Romeo, the 1800 SSS coupe’s styling aligned with its enjoyable performance. Form followed function nicely.
A True Driver’s Car for the Masses
Unlike the European sports coupes of its era catering to the wealthy, the Datsun 1800 SSS brought legitimate sports car enjoyment to regular buyers. Its reasonable price around $3,600 made it attainable for the typical Datsun 510 or 240Z owner. In an age of luxury excess, Datsun kept thrills accessible.
But affordability did not hamper the 1800 SSS driving experience. With its revvy engine, agile handling, quick steering and sporty suspension, the car delivered an authentic sports car feel. Mileage around 25 mpg also meant affordable fun. Along with the Datsun Roadster convertible, the 1800 SSS became a workingman’s sports car with few compromises.
A Uniquely Japanese Formula – Datsun 1800 SSS
The Datsun 1800 SSS formula of an exuberant drivetrain, suspension perfection, low curb weight, and lightweight body construction mirrored Japanese sports cars to come like the Mazda RX-7 and Honda S2000. Nissan tapped into a Japanese tradition of maximum enjoyment from minimal displacement and complexity.
Rather than an overtly powerful engine, the 1800 SSS relied on momentum, gearing and high revs for speed. This formula encapsulated the Japanese enthusiast spirit and driving philosophy. Unfortunately for fans, tougher emissions regulations meant the low-displacement, high-revving engine concept faded by the mid-1970s, leaving the 1800 SSS a standout.
Datsun 1800 SSS Lasting Legacy
Produced for only three model years before tightening emissions rules ended production, just over 20,000 Datsun 1800 SSS sports coupes were built. That makes the spirited, affordable performance coupe a rare JDM classic today sought after by Nissan enthusiasts. Values continue to rise, with pristine examples fetching over $20,000.
The 1800 SSS occupies a special place as an attainable Japanese sports car offering a pure driving experience. Its lack of complexity enhances the charm for enthusiasts today. For Nissan, the 1800 SSS set the template for affordable performance models to come under the Z and GT-R banners. The 180 SSS may fly under the radar for some, but for Datsun fans its magic endures.
This iconic JDM sports coupe achieved a magical combination of really happy power, poised handling, and lightweight precision unlikely to ever be repeated. For those lucky enough to own or experience an 1800 SSS, this rare classic lives on as a high water mark.