Datsun Heritage Museum
When most people think of Japanese carmakers, they think of either Honda or Toyota. When compelled, Nissan or Suzuki spring to mind. What about Datsun? Looking back at the brand’s somewhat blemished history, it would be easy for you to disregard its significance in the Japanese car scene, not for Freek De Kock it’s certainly not. This easy-going South African resident is obsessed over Datsuns, so much so that he actually runs his own museum near Johannesburg. The heritage site, in fact, is based in Bothaville which is probably among the quietest towns in South Africa.
Like the town itself, the massive brick building, which houses a fleet of spotless and highly valuable Datsun and Nissan models in days of yore, is totally unassuming. However, it’s when you get in through the doors you would apprehend the sheer passion and enthusiasm that went into creating what is undoubtedly the largest private collection of Datsun/Nissan models.
When asked about the total count, Freek simply goes, “Including all the cars that are under restoration, there are over 200 cars in all and everything that you see under this shed runs and drives”. 200! Let that number sink in. Two hundred rare and valuable machines sharing the same piece of land. It’s mind boggling.
Although each and every car here marks an important chapter in the evolution of Datsun, some of the models are truly rare and special. Take this 1970 Nissan President V8 limousine, for instance. Previously owned by the late Mozambican president Samora Machel, this humble looking machine has a glorious history to it.
Speaking of rare and special, here’s a true Japanese legend, the 1971 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Featuring a 2-litre straight-six, twin-cam engine that redlines at 7,500rpm and a sharp yet gorgeous looking body, this original Godzilla is what dreams are made of. It’s one of the many GT-Rs that Freek has in his collection.
The museum includes some of the most significant cars in Datsun's heritage and traces its growth from the very beginning. This bright yellow car that you see here is the Datsun Type 14, a small car produced in Japan in the 1930s. Then there’s the Datsun 1000 (model 210). Launched in 1957, it had several new features adopted from a tie up with the UK’s Austin Motor Co. To prove the durability of this new model, Datsun’s head of marketing at the time, Yutaka Katayama entered the 210 in the Australian Rally Championship and even scored a win in its class.
This sweet looking four-door is called the Laurel and it’s the first-generation model which debuted in 1968. It was developed to fill the gap between the Bluebird and the Cedric. The same suspension system as the Bluebird was adopted, along with the same petrol engine.
We have to consider the 240Z when we talk Datsun’s heritage. The first generation Fairlady Z, also known as the “Z-car”, was rolled out in 1969 and was sold not only in Japan but in North America and other markets. This 240Z remained in production for nine years all over the world and its global sales was over 5.20 lakh units, the highest on record for sport cars of a single model. Freek walked us through the line-up of 240Zs that he’s amassed over the years, some in showroom nick while others awaiting some TLC.
There are a number of Silvias in here, too. The first-generation Silvia was introduced in 1965 and attracted attention as Japan's first specialty car. Following the S10 and, the S12, the fourth-generation model, was launched in 1983. The Silvia was on the cutting edge, with its innovative styling and lively performance. The S12 was no exception with its bold fascia and fully retractable headlights, a wedge-type silhouette and a high-performance twin-cam FJ20 engine.
The fifth generation Silvia (S13), rolled out in 1988 in Japan with the tagline “Art Force Silvia,” is a great looking coupe. Originally, it came with a 1.8-litre DOHC motor. In 1991, Nissan introduced a 2-litre now-famous SR20 DOHC motor to enhance the power. The 180SX that shared the platform with the Silvia was rolled out in 1989 and also became a big hit.
Now here’s a truly rare car, the fourth-generation Skyline dubbed 2000 GT-R. With a production run of just four months between January and April of 1973, the total number of manufactured cars was less than 200 due to the stricter emission standards. Despite the fact that it didn’t participate in touring car races, this model is still called “Phantom GT-R.” Intake air duct, disc brakes for all four wheels, mesh front grille, flared wheel arches and a rear spoiler as standard equipment attracted a lot of attention. But it was very rare even in those days for people to see this model running.
Moving onto a selection of wild machines that stretched the boundaries of performance when they were created, this is the infamous R32 Skyline GT-R introduced in 1989. It was with the R32 generation that the “GT-R” moniker was brought back after a 16-year hiatus. Under the bonnet was a mod-friendly and extremely durable RB26DETT 2.6-litre inline 6-cylinder twin turbo motor that made 280bhp in stock form. The R32 GT-R also had all-wheel drive with an electronically controlled torque split system which transmitted power to any specific wheel for better traction. It even had a 4-wheel multilink suspension that made the car go round the corners like it was on rails. The R32 is still very desirable and less run, stock models are in big demand across the world.
Last, but certainly not the least, it’s probably the most loved iteration of the GT-R – the R34 introduced in 1999. Powered by a twin-turbocharged inline-six motor and an incredibly clever all-wheel drive system, the R34 was a dream come true for many enthusiasts. As with the R32 and the R33, the R34 was great around corners and had huge potential for making ludicrous power. I’ve read about cars making in excess of 800bhp without stressing the internals.
All in all, it’s an incredible collection of cars and what makes this museum all the more special in my opinion is the fact that it’s based at an unassuming site where the roads are subjugated by farmyard machines and pickups. Talk about being low-key!
Click here to read about our drive experience in South Africa