Retirement Time for the Champion of Africa

By Andy Bannister


One of the longest-running vehicles manufactured on the African continent, the Nissan Bakkie, is heading towards retirement, bringing to an end a 37-year career which has seen it become beloved in its native South Africa.

Given the relentlessly short product cycles of Japanese companies it seems remarkable that this derivative of the original rear-drive Datsun 1200 should still be on sale so long after its passenger car counterpart was laid to rest.

Time has, however, finally caught up with the little Nissan. After 285,000 units since its 1971 South African launch, the 1400cc half-ton pick-up has ceased production at the company’s Rosslyn plant, a victim of new homologation regulations.

Sufficient stocks were built up for the vehicle to remain on sale – marketed locally as “The Champion of Africa” – throughout 2008, Nissan South Africa says.

Bakkie is a word derived from the Dutch-based Afrikaans-language spoken by many South Africans. It is apparently a corruption of the word for carrier, or tray. Bakkies are big business on the South African market, with Ford and GM, among others, competing in the small pick-up market.

Nissan’s 1400 is sold in Standard and Champ versions costing between $9,540 and $10,150. While the Standard is pretty much a stripped-out workhorse, the Champ has a sportier feel with tinted windscreen, spot lamps, decals, cloth trim and rev counter.

The Bakkie’s success has been built on an indestructible reputation. Its simple four-cylinder, carburettor-fed engine requires no special skills to maintain and has proved its reliability on some of the toughest terrain on the planet.

Back in 1970, Datsun (as Nissan then called its products for export) launched the 1200 as one of its earlier attempts to market a car with global appeal. It had neat, square styling in saloon, station wagon and coupé variants, but was gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by later Datsuns with more extravagant styling.

In South Africa, the Bakkie version gradually evolved, in a market cut off for years from the outside world by the political isolation of the country as a result of its controversial apartheid policy. Nissan occasional instituted miniscule styling and trim improvements. The most radical change was in 1980, when the 1400cc engine replaced its 1200cc predecessor.

The Bakkie’s eventual replacement is likely to be locally-built pick-up version of the Romanian Dacia Logan, a front-wheel drive economy car designed by Nissan’s partner, Renault. The Logan will have to be a pretty special vehicle to capture the heart of South African drivers in quite the same way.

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Author: Andy Bannister

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  1. These things are all over South Africa, you cannot kill them. They are able to withstand tremendous abuse.

  2. The author is right, the Bakkie is revered in S.A., everyone had one or knew someone that had one, and they just keep going on and on and on. People here in the U.S. would laugh at such a little truck, but they are so very tough it’s amazing.

  3. The bull terrier of African vehicles. Tougher than the bush, and virtually burst-proof. Sad to see it wheel off into the sunset.

  4. Great article! Wonderful little truck, the Bakkie. People that own them usually give them names, they like them so much.

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