The Maxima has been Nissan’s top-drawer model since the early ’80s. While today it is a sporty large sedan, back in the 1980s, it was a comfortable, right-sized, well equipped sedan that had a bit more sporting intent than its primary competitor, the Toyota Cressida. Oh, and there was a wagon!
The first Maxima debuted in 1981 and replaced the Datsun 810 as the largest and most luxurious model. The new model was actually called an “810 Maxima” for the ’81 model year, but became just plain Maxima a year later. These first models were badged as Datsuns, but in 1984, Datsun was having an identity crisis. Thus, ’83 Maximas (and other US-bound Datsuns) were called both Datsun, as North American models had been badged for years, and Nissan, which was the home market nameplate for the very same cars, as well as the parent company’s name.
1985 brought many changes. First of all, the whole “Nissan Datsun” naming confusion of the prior year was mercifully ended, and all cars were now Nissans. There was also a new Maxima.
As with the first generation version, it was based on the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Nissan Bluebird. These new Maximas had crisp, three box styling, and while not flashy, was nicely styled. Sedan and wagon models were available, as before.
1985 Maximas were powered by a 3.0L V6 (shared with the 300ZX) with 157 horsepower, not bad in an era of 90 hp Iron Duke equipped base model Camaros and Firebirds. You could choose either a five speed manual or four speed automatic to back it up.
As previously mentioned, there was a wagon too. It was slightly longer than the sedan (184.8″vs. 181.5″), most likely all behind the rear wheel. While a rather attractive vehicle in your author’s opinion, I don’t recall seeing many wagons back when these cars were new, but then I lived in the Midwest. The sedans, however, were frequently seen. My cousin had a circa 1986 sedan in the late ’90s, and even then, she was impressed with how well it held together. All the power stuff – windows, locks, mirrors – still worked fine. It ran like a top, too.
Maximas got a mild refresh for 1987, including smoother front and rear bumpers and revised alloy wheels. Unfortunately, they also received the dreaded automatic shoulder belts about halfway into the model year. SE (sport) and GXE (luxury) models were offered, and Maximas continued in similar fashion through the 1988 model year. The 1989 Maxima would be sleeker and sportier (and lose its wagon model), but go on to even greater success. But that’s a story for another time.
Our featured Maxima wagon was posted to the Cohort by frequent contributor Drew Wescott. This is a really clean wagon, and rather elegant in its metallic steel blue paint. A remarkably rust free one too, considering it appears to be an Indiana car!