The Nissan Heritage Collection, located in the basement of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, is home to a remarkable assortment of production and concept vehicles that played a significant role in Nissan’s operations in the United States. Among the notable vehicles in this collection is the Datsun Fairlady 1200 Roadster, which holds a special place in the rich history of Nissan sports cars in the U.S.
The story of Nissan’s sports cars in the U.S. began in the early 1960s with the introduction of the Datsun Fairlady 1200 Roadster. While it may not have achieved remarkable sales volumes, this small convertible marked several important milestones for Nissan in the American market.
Prior to the Fairlady 1200 Roadster, Datsun had already been selling cars in the U.S. since 1958. However, these were limited to trucks and passenger cars, and no sports cars were available through the brand’s small American dealer network. The Fairlady changed that, becoming the first Datsun sports car to be exported to North America. This significant step was championed by Yutaka Katayama, a legendary Nissan executive and sports car enthusiast who is often referred to as “Mr. K” and is widely recognized as the father of the Z sports car.
One notable aspect of the Fairlady 1200 Roadster is its name.
It was the first car to bear the “Fairlady” badge, a name that would continue to adorn Nissan’s sports cars (outside the U.S. market) for decades to come. The origins of the name are quite poetic: Katsuji Kawamata, the Chairman of Nissan Motors at the time, saw the Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” during a visit to the U.S. and was inspired to name a car after the popular stage production.
Underneath its sleek and curved bodywork, the Fairlady 1200 Roadster was based on the mechanical components of the contemporary Datsun 223 truck. It featured a 59-horsepower, 1.2-liter inline-four engine paired with a four-speed manual transmission. The car boasted a four-seat interior and notable mechanical features such as drum brakes, torsion bar front suspension, and leaf spring rear suspension.
The Fairlady 1200 Roadster was just the beginning of Nissan’s journey to capture the attention of driving enthusiasts.
It paved the way for the more powerful Datsun Fairlady 1500 and, in 1969, the iconic original Z sports car, known as the “Fairlady Z” in its home market. The arrival of the Z marked the start of a seven-generation lineage of sports cars that continues to this day with the latest iteration of the Nissan Z.
Currently, access to the Nissan Heritage Collection is available exclusively through private tours, allowing enthusiasts and visitors to appreciate the impressive collection of vehicles that have shaped Nissan’s history.