Nissan Figaro at 30: retracing the history of the retro roadster


It’s like a tin toy made. It looked old when it was new, reminiscent of a 1950s world of Formica kitchen cabinets, Dansette record players, and awkwardly miniaturized American cars in which Britain, Germany, and Japan specialized in. immediately after the war. Yet the Figaro was 35 years too late for that time, a fact soon apparent when you stepped inside to discover a CD player – hot stuff in 1990 – combined with a radio and cassette player, power windows and The air conditioning.In fact, it was mainly in the 1930s that this curious car was inspired, its largely feminine design team inspired by the Datsun Roadster of 1935 and the art deco era – hence power window switches shaped miniature chrome lampshades – to make a car unlike anything else. another within reach of its creator. There were exceptions – the magnificent R32 Skyline GT-R among them – but by 1990 Nissan was mainly a peddler of boring sedans as empty waiting rooms.

The Figaro wasn’t quite the visual shock it might have been, as it was the last of what Nissan would call Pike Factory cars. Not the pike, but the pike as in the medieval spear, this weapon symbolizing the push to produce something sharp (okay, okay…) and to exploit new technologies. All were sold in Japan only.

Nissan’s odyssey of studied strangeness began with the Be-1. Today it seems almost ordinary, but when it first emerged as a 1985 concept, that mix of 1960s throwback and curvy futurism was as surprising a contrast as you could possibly want with a Nissan Bluebird. The demand for the production edition of 10,000 was so strong that Nissan introduced a lottery allocation system and made another series of Be-1s with a fabric sunroof.

Pike Factory’s next punch was the Pao, a car that surprised as much as if its name had been spelled POW !. Here is a strange little utility hatch with the ribbed panels of a Citroën 2CV, a painted dashboard, a fabric roof, exposed hinges, a flat windshield and many other features built into a budget of Japanese cars and Europeans of the early 1960s. Having massively underestimated demand for the Be-1, Nissan was not going to get caught this time around and invite buyers to sign up for one of the 50,000 cars. They were gone in three months, the void being filled later that year by the S-Cargo, one of the most original vehicles (and there are plenty of contenders) Nissan had ever produced. Adorable high-roof van, the S-Cargo came complete with snail logos, a sushi platter, the beefier guts of a Sunny, and the option of portholes in its ultra-slim sides.

Now fired with creativity, the Pike Factory followed two years later with the Figaro. It became the most famous of the Pike cars, despite a production limited to just 20,000. Its shape could have been drawn by a child, the face created by its slightly dismal chrome headlights and its simple elliptical grille as cartoonish as its silhouette. The Figaro was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1989 in a year widely regarded as the culmination of this often extraordinary display of the daring, bizarre and gloriously unnecessary.


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