The Japanese car industry has produced a range of motors that have taken the UK by storm. But what was the first Japanese car to be introduced to the market? This distinction goes to the Daihatsu Compagno, which was introduced in 1965. The car didn’t make as much of an impact as models that came after it, but the Compagno was an important vehicle for exposing Japanese design to UK consumers. We’re looking into the history of the car to see how it was developed.
The Compagno was developed in 1961 as an all-purpose machine to fit multiple body styles. At the time of development, Daihatsu was a small company that had yet to be bought by Toyota. The first prototype appeared at the 1961 Tokyo Motor Show, with a design that took inspiration from the Fiat 1800/2100.
The prototype wasn’t well-balanced, so the production version was a lot different. The production model utilised a ladder-type chassis instead of a monocoque style. It came with a four-cylinder 797 cc engine that output 41 bhp. Standard and deluxe versions were available.
When the Daihatsu was first imported to the UK, it cost £799, a figure inflated by British import duties. This made the car expensive, especially when compared to the Ford Anglia, which was £200 cheaper. The Daihatsu came with features like a heater, tinted glass, cigarette lighter, clock and radio with an automatic aerial.
1965 saw the introduction of the Compagno Spider, a larger, more powerful version. It came with a 1000 cc engine, though originally it was kept below. The reasoning behind this was to price the car in the lowest road tax bracket for Japanese buyers.
The next change came in 1967, as the Compagno received a facelift. It came with new headlights, grille and streamlined body. In 1969, the Daihatsu Consorte arrived, utilising a 1.0 engine and body of the Toyota Publica KP30.
The Compagno remains an important Japanese vehicle and set the standard for many other cars that came after it.