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Nissan’s Budget “Kenmari”: X-1R

Both the first- and the second-generation Skyline GT-R – nicknamed “Hakosuka” and “Kenmari” respectively – have sky-(sorry!)-rocketed in price: But here’s an alternative that is every inch as cool for a tenth of the price.

Mind you, a tenth of a Skyline GT-R is still real money, but that’s how us enthusiasts play games with our minds and fool it into a false state of acceptance: A tenth inevitably seems like a good deal, doesn’t it? And that is what we are looking at here. Especially as it shares a good many characteristics with its iconic big brother, the second-generation “Kenmari” Skyline GT-R: It was top-of-the-line, it was built with motorsport in mind, and it’s – uhmm, not pretty.

The “Kenmari” Skyline in all its splendour with flared fenders, wing-mirrors and awkward lines: Cool!

The latter often goes hand in hand with the genre of early Japanese classics: It’s not that they are ugly – it’s just rather clear that they were still in the process of defining themselves as an automotive nation. During this process, they stumbled when designing cars as a whole, and struggled to pen anything with a clear idea and vision behind it – as the Italians mastered it.

As I said: Cool – but not traditionally pretty. Nor for that matter, unconventional pretty!

The Japanese take often involves overly complicated lines, strange proportions and even stranger detailing. Which, paradoxically, lend them a charm and appeal all of their own. Sort of like a puppy with feet too big in relation to it’s body…

That is indeed one of the things I like about early Japanese classics. And boy, do I like the Skyline “Kenmari”, which has a LOT of this! Yet you could easily argue, that my budget alternative has even more of it, and therefore represents an even better way into an early Japanese classic – take a look for yourself:

A Nissan promotional shot of the fabulous little Cherry X-1R. Look how it literally infuses happiness into the innocent owner.

See? Strange proportions, flared fenders and all – it truly mimicks the “Kenmari” and manages to pull it off with not so much as a hint of irony. True, you don’t get the legendary 24-valve, twincam, straight-6 of the “Kenmari” with its melodic 160 horsepower, but with all of 80 hp the X-1R was certainly no slouch either. Bear in mind, the Cherry was a compact car, and more importantly, light on its feet. And we all remember how these little Datsuns could be wound up towards 7000 rpm too, don’t we?

Twin carburettors and a factory 80 horsepower was actually quite respectable for the little X-1R.

In fact, Nissan took their little X-1R racing too, sporting some great seventies liveries along the way. Ironically, that is more than what the “Kenmari” achieved, for while the second-generation GT-R was naturally developed for racing, and destined to take over from the Hakosuka’s glorious race career, the oil crisis of 1973 intervened and Nissan pulled the plug on the whole race program just before its first race. However, that didn’t stop the smaller and nimbler Cherry x-1R! It raced and successfully too: The small 4-cylinders were very tuneable and according to Nissan’s own information the final versions with fuel injection developed all of 160 horsepower – putting it on par with the road-version of big brother “Kenmari”.

Another official press shot: As cool as the Skyline – and as awkward. Oh, those hubcaps!

I am also pretty sure that the X-1R by now is even rarer than the “Kenmari”, which has for quite some time enjoyed the status of one of the truly great and collectable Japanese classics – and even (or perhaps because of this?) has a spiritual succesor within the current Nissan lineup. In fact, I don’t recall having ever seen an X-1R in real life. But as I like rarity just as much as coolness, I am all for the X-1R. Furthermore, if you should so wish, I am in no doubt that the little Nippon coupé also lends itself almost perfectly to join the restomod trend so full personal and individual touches. The often over-interpreted JDM-style would almost be too obvious, as the X-1R was in fact purely a Japanese-Domestic-Market model never to be exported. So the X-1R is actually the true essence of JDM. Below is a gallery of tasty examples from real life to brochure cars, and I love every one of them. I am pretty sure I would enjoy any variant of the first generation Cherry – even if it wasn’t the rare and range-topping X-1R full of attitude and high spirits.

Credits for B/W scans of the Manga X-1R:

Unfortunately I am surely not the only one, and you could easily argue that even a tenth of the price of a “Kenmari” is a lot for what is after all just a Nissan Cherry. If this is still too much for your Nissan-tastes, don’t dispair. For all practical purposes you could find yourself as much enjoyment behind the wheel of a period Datsun Sunny 1200 GX saloon fitted with the same engine. That is – the engine of the X1-R, mind – not that of the “Kenmari”. But still: 80 horsepower of the best revzipping Japanese kind is surely enough for some good old classic car grins, isn’t it?

The same peppy twin-carburetted engine could be had in the 1200 GX saloon, which is admittedly also a rare beast. But should you be willing to sacrifice originalty it would probably be feasible to fit a hot engine in a saloon of more humble origins.

Should you not agree with that, as you think you require more oomph to have some fun, well – there is even a solution to that: Breathe upon it then – 100, 110, 120 horsepower and what have you? A very fine Q-car for you right there, Sir! As I like to say: There is a classic for everyone.


7 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    Ouuuuu… Claus, now you’ve really got my attention! :-) But then, I take it you knew perfectly well that was going to happen… I just about love all Nippon classics, and if it’s quirky (and let’s be honest – many of them are!) it’s simply straight to “off-the-scales” for me…

    I’ve always had a serious softspot for the first generation Cherry – especially the bonkers Coupé version. Yet even I would never try to claim that it’s a pretty, elegant, stylish or beautiful car by any stretch of the imagination. It is ultra cool though! Very much its own and full of character. I love that crease which runs almost the full length of the rear wing. Very effective, as it manages to break up what is otherwise a massive piece of metal.

    Of course, in Europe we had to settle with the regular 120A Coupé, as the X-1R was for the Japanese-market-only. The X-1R is obviously the one to have, but I would frankly be quite happy settling with a normal coupé too – preferably in Datsun’s seventies curry yellow.

  2. GTeglman


    I’m not much of a Jap-fan, but Claus you really got my attention here, and I have to agree with @anders-bilidt once more. The X-1R it not beautiful in a classic sense, but boy it’s cool, and it just looks so peppy.

    The X-1R actually looks a little like a Alpine A310 when you look at the side windows, the huge B-pillar and rear window..- and that’s not bad at all.

    A shame the X-1R was only made for the Japanese market.

  3. Banpei

    I see you made good use of my scans of Cherry X-1R from the Restore Garage 251 manga. Next time, be a bit more thankful and credit people you take your photos and scans from… ;)

  4. Dale Grosvenor-Gibbs

    My Cherry X-1r tribute. Originally 120a, but now a 100% complete replica of a early X-1r. Even engine spec

  5. Anders Bilidt

    @Dale Grosvenor-Gibbs, what a fabulous looking 120a – I’m full of envy!! :-)
    I’ve always been a huge fan of the JDM-market-only Cherry X-1R. Such a cool little pocket rocket with the flares and all. Way back when I lived in Hong Kong, I seriously considered finding one in Japan and then importing it. Would have been a cool companion for my ’77 Toyota Trueno GT. Sadly it never happened and suddenly I was living in the UK instead. Would love to see yours in the flesh one day…

  6. Dale Grosvenor-gibbs

    Hi, Anders thanks. Your more than welcome to see it. Do you still have the Trueno?

  7. Anders Bilidt

    @Dale Grosvenor-Gibbs, I would love to see it! I’m currently in Luxembourg, but I will be returning to the UK every so often. Would be cool if we could sort something out. Where in the country are you?

    Sadly, I sold my Trueno when I departed Hong Kong. Sorely wish I had brought her with me…


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