The Thirties: Expansion in the Shadow of War





The Osaka Plant late 20's early 30's

The 1930's saw Dat grow from a marginal company to a Japanese powerhouse under its new Nissan moniker. Nissan would play a major part in Japans imperialist war efforts, supplying the military transport that brought victory in Japans 1931 invasion of Manchuria. The 1930's also saw the arrival of the Toyoda family, owners of the Toyota Automatic Loom Works, and creators of the early Toyota automobiles. The 30's also saw the expulsion of American automakers, like Ford, who had been producing cars in Japan, but were no longer welcome in the new protectionist and imperialist Japan.

In 1930 DAT returned to the world of cars with the prototype model 91, which went into production as the Datson, shortly after the company's takeover that year by the Tobato Imono Company and its president Yoshusike Ayukawa.


1930 Datson

Ayukawa and William Gorham had been friends for years and had always dreamed of starting a truly Japanese automobile industry. With this in mind, William Gorham made a visit back to the US to recruit some American expertise to help teach the Japanese. While in Detroit, Gorham visited a recently closed Graham Paige plant. After consultation with Ayukawa, he arranged to purchase the production line from the factory, which was shipped to Japan and set up as the first production line in that country. Gorhams newly designed car, the Datson, was the first to roll off the new line. The Datson, like many other Gorham cars, was adopted widely by Japans taxi companies.

Datsun made a huge range of commercial vehicles, including buses


Unfortunately the name "Datson" sounds very similar to a Japanese word or phrase that means "to lose money", so the name was changed to the Datsun we've all come to know and love. Tobato Imono Co. came up with the name change to Dat-"sun" in order to use Japans rising sun motif for its emblems for the 1932 model year... and in a bizarre twist, as a way to use the "sun" name protect it from bad luck.(a hurricane had recently destroyed a newly completed factory). Datsun's would also adopt a rabbit as its hood ornament in reference to the "datto" translation.


1933 version of the basic Datsun

TIC sold the factory in Osaka in 1933, merged with Nihon Sangyo Co., and restarted operations in Yokohama under the slightly recycled name of Jidosha Seizo, which was then changed to the Nissan Motor Company in 1934. Nissan was how Nihon Sangyo was known on the Japanese stock market, its trade symbol was "Ni-San", hence the name Nissan. Ayukawa retained his position at the helm of this new automobile company.

In its early days, Nissan helped keep itself in the black by producing replacement parts for Ford and GM, who were in the process of being expelled from Japan by the new militaristic government. But by 1935 Nissan had a full production line of vehicles on the market: roadsters, sedans, phaetons, trucks, buses, and coupes were being cranked out at a plant in Yokohama. All were basically William Gorham designs.



Datsun minicar, versions of which were raced

One of these vehicles was a Nissan "version" of the Austin 7, which was primarily used by Japan's taxi companies. This car nearly got Nissan in hot water. Herbert Austin imported one to England from Australia in 1934(about 30 of these cars were imported to Australia in chassis form, with bodywork added locally) to see if there were grounds for a lawsuit.
He discovered that the Datsun differed from his Austin in many ways, including elliptical rear springs and a worm gear rear end. (According to a source, this car is still in a museum in south central England).



Assembly line circa 1935, plus an early mini truck


1936 saw the introduction of Graham-Paige designed automobiles to the Nissan line. It also saw the limiting of production at Ford and GM Japan, with eventual close of both operations in 1937.


Nissan model 70


Ayukawa and Gorham had a bit of a falling out over the Japanese military's influence on Ayukawa. The Japanese Military wanted Nissan to abandon automobiles and build Military trucks, not what Gorham had in mind so he bowed out for a while. Nissan launched a series of 6 cylinder luxury autos based on the Graham-Paige "Crusader". Nissan actually bought and imported the tooling and dies for these cars from the American company. These 85 horsepower monsters, first sold as the Nissan Model 70, were available in either sedan or phaeton body styles. These cars were the first to use Nissan as the brand, instead of Datsun. They continued in regular production until 1940.


Automobile production trickled to a drip by 1938, thanks to a Japanese government subsidy policy that encouraged the manufacture of military vehicles(we know where this one went), and didn't really restart until after the war.

William Gorham saw the war coming and sent his two boys off to America. Japan was his home now, and he and his wife officially became a Japanese citizens in 1940 or 41. He continued to consult unofficially for Nissan during the war, even though he spent most of it under house arrest. Nissan paid him a salary right through the war.

Nissan was very involved in the Japanese war effort. Using what they learned from the Graham Paige designs, Nissan produced the model 80, a 2 and a half ton truck designed for military service. This 2 by 4 twin axle truck was very underpowered and only had a top speed of 48 miles an hour. This truck was used very successfully in Manchuria, moving troops and supplies for a rapidly advancing Japanese army. Instead of improving on the 80, Nissan actually went backward with the model 180, a similar slower vehicle. In addition to heavy trucks, Nissan also built aircraft engines for the war effort.

In 1944, Nissan renamed itself Nissan Heavy Industries, a name it technically held until 1949.



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