Evo India June  2019
Car Features

Datsun experience in South Africa – the largest private collection of Nissans and Datsuns

We drive the made-in-India Datsun Go on African soil, while also visiting a man who has a special affiliation with the Japanese manufacturer

  • Flash mob on the way during the ride
  • Datsun Go
  • Datsun Go
  • Datsun Go
  • Flash mob on the way during the ride
  • Datsun Go
  • Datsun Go
  • Datsun Go

Recently, we were invited by Datsun to South Africa to test drive the Go. However, the highlight of the visit was the visit to the largest private collection of Nissan and Datsun cars in the world. The owner of this unique collection of Nissan and Datsun cars of yore is  Freek de Kock and his collection spans decades and ranges from sedans, hatchbacks and coupes to more recent sportscars and even some pick ups, as well as every generation of the legendary GT-R series.

A collection of 200 Nissan and Datsun cars

That’s not all, there’s a bigger building that houses a number of Datsun cars from years gone by, awaiting full restoration. Altogether, his collection includes over 200 Nissan and Datsun cars — highlighting the little-known fact that Datsun used to be the number one selling brand on the African continent back in the 70s. Back then, roads were almost non-existent and commuting from one town to the next, while not a fair distance, would take forever. No look back at Datsun’s heritage in Africa would be complete without a reference to the 1600 SSS (Super Sport Sedan), which set alight the local rally scene in the 60s and 70s at the hands of legendary Kenyan driver of Indian origin Shekhar Mehta. It performed with honours in the East African Rally in Kenya, winning the event, before handing the same honour over to a Datsun 240Z. The rally wins were proof enough that Datsun cars were really tough and it was this reputation that Nissan rode on when Datsun changed their identity and form to Nissan.

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Debut of Datsun Go

It’s not often that we see a new automotive manufacturer enter a market, let alone one that revives itself. But in 2013, the Datsun brand was back. Launched in India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa, the latter three where the brand had a strong history. The first car to be launched was the Go, which has now received a mid-life facelift. We drove the car in India just last month, you can read our review here. The Go and Go+ models sold in South Africa are built completely in India. When you think about it, the heritage of the Datsun Go stretches back to 1976, when Datsun’s 120Y model did to the South African market what the Go is doing today. It has opened a new market for younger drivers looking for an economical, responsive and stylish entry into car ownership.

“Powered by the same naturally aspirated 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, the Go felt happy cruising at the 120kmph speed limit on South African motorways”

Driving the Go in the rainbow nation

The updated style quotient will help the Go range, which looked pretty smart in the rainbow nation. The mid-cycle update has been applied to both the standard Go and the seven-seater Go+. The updated model, like the one back home in India, gains a fresh front, with integrated LED daytime running lights along with an updated rear bumper as well as redesigned headlamps. The big update is on the inside, where the Go gains a new 6.75-inch touchscreen infotainment system as well as an updated instrument cluster, all of which give the cabin a premium feel that was lacking earlier. Powered by the same naturally aspirated 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, the Go felt happy cruising at the 120kmph speed limit on South African motorways. The engine did feel a little stressed at higher revs and overtaking did require a downshift at times, but that’s something you would expect from a three-cylinder unit that is tuned for efficiency. What was surprising, though, was the stability the Go offered while at motorway speeds, partly down to the 14-inch wheels it now runs with MRF rubber — Indian rubber performing well on international roads. The Go really felt at home in the suburbs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, where we drove it around, dodging traffic and being an absolute breeze to manoeuvre.

Datsun museum

It would have been a great experience to drive the Indian-made Go from our base in Pretoria to Bothaville, four hours away, to visit the Datsun museum, but we’ll probably have to wait for another opportunity to do that. The collection initially consisted of a few older Datsuns, but soon grew when owner Freek De Kock managed to track down several other models throughout South Africa. Apart from a number of 240Zs, there are some 300ZXs, including a rare Cabriolet. He also owns a few SSS models, plus a retro style Datsun, the Figaro.

“Like most collections, there is a star, and here it is indisputably the 1971 GT-R, also known by its Japanese name, ‘Hakosuka’. This rare sportscar is the forefather of the legendary Godzilla”

The star of the museum – 1971 GT-R

Freek’s Datsun/Nissan ownership has humble beginnings. For a number of years, he had a Datsun 1400 bakkie, a compact little pick up. One thing is clear from the way he talks about these little cars that he has a strong affinity with the Japanese manufacturer’s workhorse. Maybe we need Datsun to bring something like that to India to make a connection with the brand. Like most collections, there is a star, and here it is indisputably the 1971 GT-R, also known by its Japanese name, ‘Hakosuka’. This rare sportscar is the forefather of the legendary Godzilla. Freek carefully opens the bonnet to reveal that famous two-litre straight-six engine. The inside of the bonnet sports writing in Japanese from its previous owner, who housed the vehicle in his living room in Japan before Freek brought it here. With the distinctive mirrors on the front fenders, there’s no mistaking the Hakosuka’s presence. There is even an original emergency flare in the cabin which was installed for drivers to get the attention of safety services if they ever needed help along Japan’s mountainous roads, a nod to the fact this is where Hakosuka owners would be enjoying their cars’ handling. To top off the day, we got passenger rides in some iconic Datsun cars, including a beautiful-sounding 240Z, possibly the most iconic car from the brand.

Datsun, as a brand has definitely won the hearts of many owners in the years gone by, none more than Freek. The brand has big plans to connect with the youth in India and other markets they are currently in. They are moving in the right direction with the updated Go in the Indian and overseas markets.

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