No other vehicle has had as long a production run, or the popularity in South Africa as the Nissan Sunny truck, or as it was more popularly referred to, the Nissan 1400. In fact, the “Sunny” designation has never been used in the South African market- what was known as Sunny’s elsewhere, were badged as Sentra’s in the SADM.
(our mechanic resides in South Africa, and in this case we're thankful! he gives us a thorough opinion on the little truck.)
The Sunny Truck From Up Close.
First referred to as the B110, the Sunny truck first made its appearance in 1971, but it was never sold in the US because of the “chicken tax”, which imposed a 25% levy on potato starch, brandy, dextrin, and small trucks imported from Germany and France, even though the Sunny truck was of Japanese manufacture- but that is another story.
Based on the same platform as the B110 cars, wagons, and coupes, and using the same mechanicals, the truck version was an immediate hit, especially in the Australian, South African, and New Zealand markets. This was no doubt due to its low floor price, but as time went on, price started featuring less as the legendary reliability and low running costs of these little trucks became known.
Although production ceased in Australia in 1985, the little truck continued in production in South Africa, where it was produced in the Nissan plant in Pretoria, (now Tshwane), for a total of 37 years after its introduction into SA in 1971. Its long production run in SA was no doubt due to the fact that it had no competition in its market segment apart from that offered by a similar small truck manufactured by Mazda which could not compete in the reliability stakes.
Changes And Upgrades.
For the first twenty years or so in South Africa, the B110 was as basic as it was possible to make it, but changing market conditions led to the introduction of power assisted disc brakes on the front wheels, a raised roof line to accommodate tall farmers, who were the second biggest group of buyers, a five-speed transmission, and the upgraded 1400 cc engine in 1989.
In the Japanese market however, changes included the installation of catalytic converters in order to comply with emission controls, but for the most part, these changes were the only major ones- all other changes were merely cosmetic, with a changeover from round headlights to square, replacement of the stainless steel grille with a plastic version, some minor interior upgrades to instrumentation and a centrally located parking brake, and the replacement of the original steering wheel with a more modern, padded version.
From a purely reliability perspective, there is little doubt that both the B110 and B120 (1400cc) versions count among the best vehicles Nissan has ever produced; however, the little truck suffered from some serious issues that were never resolved, although they had nothing to do with the drive train.
First, and foremost, was the fact that since it was built on a car chassis, it could not always cope with loads, despite the marketing slogan, “Put the money where the load is.” Part of the problem lay in the fact that the chassis could not flex sufficiently to absorb the loads the suspension transferred to the chassis. Being without a step-ladder frame, the rear shock absorbers were attached to a thin, weld-on cross member under the load bed, which meant that over the long term, this cross member started suffering from metal fatigue, and being out of sight, the first sign that something was wrong when was the shock absorbers poked through the load bed.
Reliable repairs involved the type of work that could only be performed by properly equipped body shops, and thousands of Sunny trucks passed through the hands of body repairers because of this. However, despite this obvious design flaw, Nissan never reinforced this area, but then again, if you never carried heavy loads, it was unlikely to affect you.
No Hand Brake!
Another problem involved the hand brake: it just did not work, and the reason was the design of the rear brake backing plate. Under tension from the hand brake cable, the backing plate deformed, and instead of the brake shoes expanding to lock the rear wheels, the outward expanding movement of the brake shoes was absorbed by the deforming backing plate.
The net result was a completely ineffective handbrake, and it is not an exaggeration to say that in South Africa, if nowhere else, the traffic police collected millions in fines because of the 275 000 Sunny trucks that were sold here, not a single one had a functional hand brake. Nissan also never resolved this serious problem, and drivers were forced to either live with it, or buy something else.
On the whole though, the Nissan Sunny truck lived up to its name, “Kannie Dood”, which translates into “refuse to die”, which is borne out by the fact that it was possible to routinely find Sunny trucks with 5-, and 600 000 miles on their odometers- and in daily use.
What To Look For.
Today, Sunny trucks in good condition can cost more than they did when they were new, especially in standard form, with prices of around $10 000 for a high quality vehicle. For this price however, you want a truck that is free from rust, which apart from the previously mentioned issues, was a common problem, especially around load bearing areas.
From long personal experience with these wonderful little trucks, this writer fully recommends any stock Sunny truck, provided there is no rust, or repaired rust damage present, although he leaves the issue of the non-functioning hand brake to the ingenuity of the buyer to resolve!