2 September 2019

Historic classic rides #1: Nissan Cedric 330/ Datsun 220C

(Credits to Wong Ye Yong on Facebook)

For this particular piece, I decided to write about old cars in Singapore that I have not seen personally before. Previously, I preferred to write about cars that I had photographed as it felt original. However, I was also attracted by the variety of rides that existed before my time, which subsequently became extinct. I figured it could be a nice history lesson of the old cars that existed before some of you were even born, and it was also due to popular demand. Let me kick off this series with the Nissan Cedric 330/Datsun 220C taxis!

The 330 was the 4th generation of the Cedric range and was first introduced in 1976. It still carried a distinctly American styling, as Japanese designers were still relying on continental cars as inspiration. In export markets including Singapore, it was known as the Datsun 200C/220C/260C/280C, with reference to its engine capacity. As with previous generations of Cedrics, they were also popular as taxis as seen in the picture. These units were powered by a 2164 cc SD22 diesel i4 engine, allowing it to reach a theoretical top speed of 170 km/h. It was more likely, however, that their top speed was controlled in some way. The Cedric 330 was 4690 mm long and weighed 1420 kg. It was first sold here in 1976 by Tan Chong Motors, our local Nissan dealer, where it was made available for civilian use too.

Production of the 330 ended in 1979, where it was replaced by the 5th-generation 430. These cars here belonged to the Singapore Airport Bus Services (SABS), which also operated a fleet of buses that ferried tourists from Changi Airport to various hotels. SABS was first formed in 1977, where it was under the management of Singapore Bus Services (SBS), which is the bus company that we know of today. While the bus services were well-received, this was not the case for the taxi branch: many Singaporeans had the misconception that it only carried tourists, and the fact that it was not licensed to enter the CBD during morning peak hours also hurt its reputation.

SABS had a fleet of 200 taxis and drivers could rent them at S$31 per day [S$61 in today's money]: the drivers would pay only for the fuel while SABS bore the maintenance costs. Compared to its competitors with rental rates between S$36-38 [S$71-75 today], it was attractive to potential drivers. There were special taxi stands for SABS taxis, where they could pick up passengers during the evening rush hour. However, SABS incurred much losses over the years and it faded quietly off the radar some time in 2004.

This concept was rather interesting during its time but with the rise of ride-hailing services, such a service would not last long today. Nonetheless, it is a unique piece of history that many people may not be aware of: I had to read up about SABS online initially. Furthermore, none of the Datsun 220Cs have survived today, as with most Japanese cars of that era. It would have been lovely to see one still hanging on all this while...and I hope that this was informative for you!

PS: if you have old pictures of your own car/family car (ideally already extinct in Singapore), you are welcome to send them to me and I'll try to feature it!

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