Nissan: Back to the Future Once Again

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Perhaps what was once retro is retro yet again. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Nissan released a string of classically styled small cars for the home market: the Figaro, Pao, S-Cargo, Pao and Be-1. Because they came from Nissan’s Pike Factory, together they’re often called Pike cars.

Nissan never offered the Pike cars stateside, but now is your chance: Since they have all celebrated their 25th birthdays, they can be legally imported to the U.S.

Several are already on our shores. Duncan Imports & Classic Cars of Christiansburg, Virginia, specializes in such Japanese-spec cars, and last time we checked they had more than 100 Figaros in stock. (In fact, our current values come from their inventory.) The Lane Motor Museum of Nashville, Tennessee, also has these models in their collection. “They are both quirky yet modern Japanese interpretations of older cars like the Mini,” says David Yando, manager of the Lane Motor Museum. “All the creature comforts–air con, CD player, auto trans–with the shell of an older-looking car around you.”

Speed is not their strong suit, however, Yando explains. A governor starts beeping around 55 mph–a feature that’s easily defeated, he adds. “They are cars meant to garner attention in a slow-moving, highly aware, urban society like Tokyo,” he continues. “Here, driven in Nashville, they scarcely get a second glance, except by the few who know what they are.”

1987-’88 Nissan Be-1

Currently $9000-$10,000

The front-drive chassis may have been contemporary, but the styling was a throwback, featuring round headlights, three-door shape and bright colors: Pumpkin Yellow, Tomato Red, Hydrangea Blue and Onion White. Nissan offered the Be-1 with either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

1989-’91 Nissan Pao

Currently $9000-$10,000

The Pao’s external door hinges and distinctive profile recall the original Mini and, likewise, it was an immediate hit. The 51,657-car production run sold out in three months. Like the Be-1, the Pao was powered by a 1.0-liter engine mated to a three-speed automatic or five-speed transmission.

1989-’92 Nissan S-Cargo

Currently $8000-$12,000

Can something be both cute and ugly at the same time? Perhaps the S-Cargo is proof. This little three-door delivery van looks like a cartoon character come to life. Nissan only offered the S-Cargo with a 1.5-liter engine backed by a three-speed automatic transmission, but a giant canvas sunroof could be added.

1991 Nissan Figaro

Currently $6000-$33,000

The Figaro looks like something right out of the ’50s, from the bright face to the giant, fold-back top. Each one came with a turbocharged 1.0-liter engine and automatic gearbox. More than 20,000 units were delivered, and the four available colors represented the seasons: Lapis Grey (winter), Emerald Green (spring), Pale Aqua (summer) and Topaz Mist (autumn).

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View comments on the GRM forums
te72 Reader
5/29/18 8:34 p.m.

I'm struggling to recall a car that the S-cargo (escargot? Get it? The car looks like (and performs like) a snail? Eh, nevermind...) would remind one of from a prior time. Perhaps panel wagons of the 50's in America? Even that's kinda  a stretch.


Apart from that one, I really like the other three, the Pao especially. Also, there were surely WAY more than 20,000 Figaros produced. I'm certain Duncan has at LEAST 23,000 in stock haha!

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
5/30/18 9:38 a.m.

I'm all about the Pao. I'd love to own one at some point.

te72 Reader
5/31/18 12:34 a.m.

Ed, I saw one on Japanese Classics' website recently. It wasn't for sale very long, got snatched up pretty quick. Probably the first one I've seen for sale anywhere I look, if I think about it.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/31/18 9:27 a.m.
te72 said:

Ed, I saw one on Japanese Classics' website recently. It wasn't for sale very long, got snatched up pretty quick. Probably the first one I've seen for sale anywhere I look, if I think about it.

Check out Duncan Imports--- they have tons of them

Duncan Imports

te72 Reader
6/1/18 12:55 a.m.

In reply to Joe Gearin :

Oh, I'm well aware that Duncan has all sorts of cool cars. I try to avoid their website so as to avoid the temptation of looking into the feasibility of owning something I really don't need... yet. =P

Suprf1y PowerDork
6/1/18 6:55 a.m.

There's a guy local to me with a Nissan Figaro. Kind of a funky looking little car. 

I was wondering the other day if maybe Nissan is trying to pull off the retro thing with their Frontier in a kind of organic way?

Patrick MegaDork
6/1/18 8:00 a.m.

I have to not go to duncan’s site as well because i want a figaro.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/1/18 8:16 a.m.
Patrick said:

I have to not go to duncan’s site as well because i want a figaro.  

Definitely do not go there. 

I drove the Lane museum's Figaro at the Mitty. It's not fast but it was fun. 

Tomwas1 New Reader
6/3/18 6:20 a.m.

Saw a  cute little green Figaro at a North jersey c&c. Cool car. My 80 2+2 ZX would look like a stretch limo next to it.

SVreX MegaDork
6/3/18 2:09 p.m.

There was a dealership in Columbus GA with a small lot full of these. They recently closed. 

I wonder where the cars went...

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