Nissan named the Cedric after Little Lord Fauntleroy, but the title didn't stick, explains Andrew Roberts

Much of Nissan's post-war engineering expertise had been achieved with the help of Austin. Between 1952 and 1960 Nissan built nearly 22,000 of Longbridge's finest Somersets and A40/A50 Cambridges.So Nissan was determined to pay tribute to the British company with its new Sixties range topper.

Although every aspect of the Project 30 car, as it was then called, was newly designed in-house, from the engine to the transatlantic styling, the new car would definitely bear an "English" name.

Nissan's president, Katsuji Kawamata, had recently been reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, and was so enamoured with the first name of the hero, Cedric Errol, that he deemed it entirely appropriate for the latest model. The American boy who inherits an English earldom, with his noble courage, and respect towards his elders, had long been popular with Japanese readers.

But the average Japanese salaryman of the early 1960s did not have to be a devotee of Little Lord Fauntleroy to realise that ownership of the 1.5 litre Series 30 Cedric would bestow hitherto unimaginable social prestige combined with hideous personal debt – the price of a Cedric De Luxe was 1,015,000 yen, while the average annual wage was 15,000 yen. Every aspect of the Cedric, from its vertically stacked quad headlamps to its duotone finish bespoke quality. The Cedric's styling could best be described as tastefully muted Americana: it didn't look nearly as awful as the F-Type Vauxhall Victor - and the Series 30 model remains one of the very few non-Detroit products that manages to look dashing when finished in shocking pink.

Possibly more significantly, it was compact enough for Tokyo's congested roads and capacious enough to be a genuine, if somewhat cramped, six-seater. The Cedric also boasted a nicely trimmed interior, and although it did have its faults – the four-on-the-column gear change lacked synchromesh on first and the option of the 1.9 litre engine was essential for any Cedric owner hoping to achieve speeds over 70 mph – these were more than compensated by the list of standard equipment. Even today, few cars are fitted with an electric razor.

For 1963, the Series 31 Cedric had lost its vertical headlamps and the range was augmented by the imposing long wheelbase limited edition 2.8 litre Cedric Special 6, the first big Japanese car to meet the British motoring press. This was a time when there were no official Japanese imports into the UK.

The Motor said the Special had received the "attentions of an enthusiast with a cake-icer full of chromium strip and gold lettering". But the conclusion was that the Cedric offered "plenty of evidence of thoughtful development work".

The was sold in several Commonwealth counties, notably Australia. It offered "stain-resistant upholstery", a feature that was clearly attractive to taxi drivers. By 1963 Cedrics were seen in the taxi ranks of Sydney and the car achieved unstinting praise that same year from the April edition of Modern Motor – "Cedric is No Cissy".

The Australian popularity of the Cedric was later celebrated in a rather fine 1990 comedy The Big Steal, which revolved around a teenager's attempts to retrieve the parental '63 Cedric from Sydney's answer to Arthur Daley, which made quite a contrast to its Japanese screen roles, which mainly consisted of police cars in crime films and providing between-meal snacks for the likes of Gamera the Invincible and Varan the Unbelievable.

Nissan commenced its UK operations in 1968. Post-1965 130 Series Cedrics featured a Pininfarina European-style makeover and a deliberate soft-pedalling of the Cedric badge in export markets – Nissan was surprised to find that it was not universally popular in English speaking territories.

Thus, in 1968 the ultimate British-market Nissan had lost its literary badge and was known simply as the Datsun 2000. In Japan the Cedric badge is still being employed on the Y31 saloon, leaving automotive historians to ponder on whether the big Nissan would have enjoyed such enduring popularity had it been named after anther well mannered young Englishman who also enjoyed great popularity in Japan. Would the Nissan Cliff Richard still be in production after 47 years. We'll never know.

Nissan 300C Owners Club incorporating the "Cedric Register"

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