50 years of Japanese cars in the UK

Posted by Black Duc On Monday, October 13, 2014 0 nhận xét

50 years of Japanese cars in the UK

The Daihatsu Compagno was the first Japanese car to be officially sold here, a warning to British industry that went unheeded

Daihatsu Compagno front

Around the time of the 1964 British Motor Show, one announcement from Dufay (Birmingham) Ltd, a subsidiary of a London-based film-stock manufacturer, was overlooked in all the excitement surrounding the latest models. Most public attention was directed towards the Mini Moke, Sunbeam Tiger and, depending on how you defined excitement, the FC-series Vauxhall Victor, so it was easy to overlook the news that Dufay had agreed to import a range of small saloons made by Japan’s oldest car maker.
The first imports arrived in May 1965, making the Daihatsu Compagno the first Japanese car to be officially sold in the UK. Four versions of the Compagno were imported but regardless of whether you chose the two-door 800 Berlina, the Estate, the four-door Berlina or the Vignale-styled 1000 Spider, Dufay promised that they “have everything!”.
The 800 cost £799 17s 4d, a figure inflated by British import duties, making the Compagno an expensive prospect for a 1965-vintage small car because it cost about £200 more than the comparable Ford Anglia 123E Super. However, the equipment list included a heater, tinted glass, whitewall tyres, fog and reversing lamps, reclining seats, wing mirrors, a cigarette lighter, a clock, electric screenwashers and even a radio with an automatic aerial.

The Compagno featured a heater, reclining seats, a cigarette lighter and a clock
Sadly, few buyers called Muswell 2901 for further details, for when production of the Compagno ceased in 1970 a mere six British-market versions had been sold. Dufay had sold Japanese cameras but had no expertise with retailing cars and it would not be until nine years later that Daihatsus officially returned to the UK.
The original two-door 800 press car survives to this day as an example of a wasted opportunity, for the Daihatsu had more than enough showroom appeal – it was truly a car for “the carefree and the cautious” alike, with its “jaunty low-slung bucket seats”. The Italianate styling was more elegant than the cuboid lines of the Vauxhall Viva HA and the four-speed column gear change was not unpleasant to operate. There was also a surprisingly capacious boot and if the Compagno’s separate chassis and live rear axle lacked the sophistication of the Morris 1100’s engineering, then so did the Triumph Herald.
The Compagno 800 did need more motorway performance, as the 797cc engine could coax a top speed of only 66mph, resulting in the Compagno 800 becoming one of the few cars that can be outperformed by aRenault 4. Suburban Graham Hill clones would have been more at home with the top-of-the-range Spider, which was not just the only fuel-injected Japanese car of that time, but exceptionally good-looking into the bargain. And what other car could have offered “kitten-quiet, tiger-quick power”?

The Daihatsu Compagno's 797cc engine gave it a top speed of just 66mph
When the Daihatsu first arrived in the UK, Japanese cars were already rivalling British models in several European and Commonwealth markets – a 1963 Australian motor magazine gloriously proclaimed that theNissan Cedric “was no cissy”. An Autocar test of the two-door Berlina from August 1965 sniffed that the “long-threatened Jap invasion of our motoring scene” was “essentially well made, but technically unadvanced” – yet this was the key to the success of so many cars that came after the Compagno, from the Toyota Corolla to the first Sunderland-built Nissan Bluebirds.
The Compagno deserves to be remembered as more than a footnote in British motoring history, for when the press demonstrator CHB 8B was registered on October 23 1964 it was the harbinger of future Japanese commercial success. Besides, anyone not totally enthused by the combined British/Spanish market brochure stating that “the Compagno Berlina 1000 De Luxe has got it!” is quite possibly dead.
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