Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
This little blue slice of automotive history is, in a quietly anonymous fashion, one of the most significant Japanese cars in the UK. The versatile Daihatsu Compagno was built between 1963-70 as a two- and four-door saloon, van, pick-up truck and cabriolet, and enjoyed reasonable success in its domestic market. When the 1964 British Motor Show rolled around, Dufay (Birmingham) Ltd announced their intention to officially import the Compagno. This, in hindsight, was a huge moment, although nobody really noticed at the time. There were coachbuilt Ferraris and Mini Mokes to look at.
The first imports arrived in '65, making this car the first Japanese model ever to be officially sold in the UK. The variant you see here, a two-door Berlina, arrived in Deluxe trim, meaning an Italianate dash design and a rakish three-spoke Nardi wheel, and it also boasted such so-hot-right-now features as reclining seats, a heater, a clock, a radio, a reversing light, and wing mirrors. Heady stuff.
Unfortunately for the Compagno, it was stymied by import duties. Once all the fees had been paid, the diminutive little poppet retailed at £799 17s 4d - about £200 more than a Ford Anglia Super. It was a sales disaster. Guess how many they sold over here...?
Six. Just six. Not six hundred - six cars. And this is one of them. In fact, this is the original press demonstrator, a car that aimed to show the British public that Japanese cars were a serious and viable option as well-made and reliable transportation, but actually served to reinforce the point that paying a premium over domestic goods for a ladder chassis and a live axle, and a top speed of 66mph, wasn't all that tantalising a prospect.
Nevertheless, this is an important car. Because Japanese motors are a pretty big deal over here now, aren't they...? And this is where it all began. What's more, having had a chat with the owner, it could well be for sale if you flash him the right money - and it's not as much money as you might think. Start your offers with a two...
Spotted at the London Classic Car Show - more photos here.