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Nissan's little champ bows out

The longest era in South African motoring history has come to the end with the news that the iconic Nissan 1400 bakkie has reached the last of its production life.
And what a good run it's had, having seen generations of the Volksie Beetle, the original Mini, the Morris Minor, the Ford Anglia, the hugely popular Valiant, and a whole tribe of Ford, Chevrolet and other Yank-tanks come and go.

For close on 37 years the 1400 has been the baby workhorse and inexpensive plaything for thousands of South Africans. During its life span 275,000 of these tough half-tonners were sold fresh from the showroom floor and they just kept on going to be sold again and again to a succession of happy owners.

Not for nothing did it earn the nickname of “die kanniedood kruiwa”, which, roughly translated, means “the wheelbarrow you just can't kill”.

And if you want proof of that just take a drive anywhere in this country and the chances are good that you will see one on the road. Many of them have been bent, battered and abused but there are still some beautifully maintained examples around who obviously get pampered and polished regularly by their loving owners.

Nissan said a sentimental farewell to its favourite child recently and quite aptly produced another long-standing South African favourite, the wrinkle-rocker band The Bats to perform at the 1400's good-bye party.

“The Nissan 1400 bakkie has been the cornerstone on which Nissan's commercial reputation was built in South Africa,” Chris Schell General Manager Light Commercial Vehicles at Nissan South Africa, told a large group of South African motoring journalists who had been invited to drink a toast to legendary bakkie.

“The Nissan 1400 is truly an icon in South Africa's motoring history and will be remembered for years to come as a true ‘Champion of Africa',” he said.

The Nissan 1400 made its debut in South Africa in 1971. The original Datsun 1200 evolved into the Datsun 1400 in 1980 and became known as the Nissan 1400 in 1990.

In both the Standard and Champ guises it has stood strong as one of the most affordable commercial vehicles on the South African market for the last decade. During this period if you wanted to buy any other rear-wheel-drive bakkie you'd have to spend at least an additional R40,000.

“It's a vehicle that has stood the test of time and one that has been with us through all the memorable historic events in South Africa,” says Schell.

“Before the days of the internet, the cellular phone and even the colour TV, the Nissan 1400 was a trusted partner of South Africans. While fads like bell bottoms, Rubik cubes, Star Wars, Nintendo, dos computers and stone wash jeans came and went the Nissan 1400 bakkie remained ever present.

“Nissan always knew that the 1400 bakkie enjoyed a solid reputation in the market place but looking back, the unprecedented production run and loyal cult following that developed is a truly momentous story,” he said.

“Many of its drivers talk about the 1400 bakkie as if it is a friend that you can rely on and trust anytime and anyplace. We want to hear these incredible stories. After all, what better way to say farewell to this trusted workhorse than to hear the stories of those who have been so well served.”

As part of its roll-out Nissan South Africa is inviting past and present owners to submit their Nissan 1400 stories, movies or photos describing their fondest memories of the 1400 to a special website,

The winner will walk away with number one of a special build-order of only 150 Heritage Edition 1400's. The Heritage Edition “specials” will sell for R89,100.

The numbered units will carry Heritage Edition decals, a certificate of authenticity, rubberized loadbox, nudge bar, tow bar, bucket seats, spot-lights and a tonneu cover.

At a glance history of the Nissan 1400

1971: The Datsun 1200 introduced in SA
1976: Renamed Datsun 120Y bakkie
1979: 40 000 unit sales recorded
1980: Datsun 120Y Improved to 1400cc and named Nissan 1400
1986: Sport and De-Luxe derivatives were introduced
1989: 100 000 sales recorded
1990: Introduction to the current Nissan 1400 Standard Bakkie
1993: Introduction of the Champ derivative
1995: 150 000 sales unit celebration
2004: 250 000 sales unit celebration
2008: 275 000 unit sales recorded
2008: Nissan 1400 farewell/Heritage Edition
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About Henrie Geyser

Henrie Geyser joined the online publishing industry through, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food, and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
Wally Oelofse
I did not have a champ, but a DATSUN standard bakkie 1400-
I do like this bakkie alot. I have a 1983 bakkie. It is reliable and economical. I like the champ, did not drive it, but many of my friends had it. It is easy to park and you can save much money because of economical fuel consumption and service that is trouble free. I recently for R684 bought another clutch kit and it works better. I also fitted 3 new tyres, for the front and my spare wheel. I drive this bakkie until this day. It is 25 years old.I am happy with these reliable and economical bakkies. From Wally
Posted on 28 Sep 2008 17:35