I’ve just been swapping some files around in my digital archives and came across this photograph of the first car I ever bought in the UK: a 1980 Datsun Sunny Coupe, latterly known as the Duck, due to a sizeable mural of Daffy Duck that I painted on the bonnet. Painting car bonnets was a thing I used to do back then.

In early 1988, having just arrived in London from Ireland with just £65 in my pocket, I took a car valeter job with a valeting company in Colindale in north west London who were preparing ex-hire cars for sale through various Ford dealers. My first team was a crew of Ghanaians who took great care of me and showed me the ropes. Being a young Irish boy eager to please, willing to learn and to travel all over meant that I got sent to hundreds of different assignments across London and the South East. I did all of this on the trains and tubes and of course that took hours of travel.

The first garage that I landed in where I spent more than a few days was PRW Rover in Hillingdon. They also had a service branch in Hayes in Middlesex. The service workshop was on a small industrial estate and of course there was a sandwich van right outside the door for my usual breakfast of a sausage and egg sandwich.

I soon made friends with the woman who ran the van. After a couple of weeks of hearing about how I was getting around on public transport, spending lots of time and money to travel quite slowly, she asked me if I’d thought about buying a car. I had thought about buying a car, but of course everything I’d looked at was outside my reach at the time, and I wasn’t saving an awful lot of money. She said that she’d had a new car offered to her by a neighbour and she was interested in selling her car which was a little 1980 Datsun Sunny Coupe. It had just been MOT’d and was in great running order.

The first car I had bought with my own money was a Datsun 100A that I bought in Ireland for the crazy price of £500. Cars in Ireland were so expensive at that time. So I expected her Sunny to cost more than that. When she told me she was looking for £120 for the car, I was stunned. Of course I said yes and having arranged some insurance, we did the deal the following day.

Owning a Datsun Sunny Coupe

Driving home in this little silver Datsun Sunny Coupe was such a delight. The car was a beautiful runner, it was in good condition and it allowed me to get so much done. I could work further, get home earlier, I could have a life. I moved flats using the car and I drove it home to Ireland and picked up my drum kit. Bringing my drums back to London meant that I could start playing music and of course that increased my earnings and widened my network.

I reflect with fondness and gratitude on how £120 for this little Datsun transformed my life and gave me a real boost in terms of a feeling of success, a feeling of accumulating wealth, a feeling of growth, a feeling of self-sufficiency and of course mobility and the ability to drive and see friends, to see music, to pick people up from the airport, which is where this photograph was taken: at Terminal 1 in Heathrow Airport.

As this was pre-Ryanair and the rise of satellite airport hubs, the upstairs bar in T1 was a huge meeting place for Irish people coming in and out of the UK. Anyone traveling from America back to Ireland or to or from anywhere else would usually be in Terminal 1 for a short while, so we spent lots of time in Terminal 1 at Heathrow, meeting people and catching up and being excited for them flying out to Australia or America.

The little silver Sunny served me well but eventually I left the car in a garage attached to a house I had rented. It’s a very long story but searching for the registration now brings a blank sheet, however these cars are now very rare. My car was a 1980 1.4-litre Coupe on a V reg. Looking at howmanyleft, there are no 1980 Datsun 120Ys listed with the DVLA. Of course they could be listed under a different category or without the model classification, but they are undoubtedly super rare, which is a shame. They were a really light and interesting car to drive.

A 1979 Datsun Sunny 120Y Coupe in Red recently popped up for sale showing 20,000 miles and looking absolutely fabulous. I’m glad I didn’t see it as there’s a chance I might have bought that car. I still have a Datsun in the fleet – well it’s actually a Nissan. I have a 1991 Nissan Figaro in my collection, which is such a cool little car and so much fun to drive. Look out for that in a future blog!

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Images courtesy of unsplash/author