Curbside Classic: 1983-86 Nissan Pulsar NX: Staying Sharp in the Eighties

As styling went aero in the Eighties, Nissan went the other way with its sharply drawn Pulsar NX coupe. Based on the sleepy but very popular 1st-gen Sentra, it didn’t set any performance records. Road & Track said it was “proof that you can build a thoroughly mediocre car and people will still buy it.”  The NX had excellent fuel economy, and its distinctive look struck a certain number of drivers the right way.

The Nissan Sentra appeared in the US in ’82, a front-drive lightweight econobox that replaced the rear-drive Datsun 210. (Sentra is an export name for Nissan’s Sunny.) Its MPG version had the best EPA mileage available that year, 43 mpg city, 58 mpg highway. (That was before the 1996 and 1984 reality adjustments.)  Stripping down to 1875 pounds was a big part of its efficiency, along with a new electronic fuel metering unit. (CC here.)

Our Pulsar NX is a sports coupe based on the Sentra/Sunny. Outside North America the Pulsar NX was known as the Pulsar EXA, in Europe as the Cherry and it also appeared in Japan as the Langley or the Liberta Villa. (What’s with all the names???) Like its contemporary, the third-gen Toyota Celica (CC here), Pulsar’s hidden headlights give its front end a distinct resemblance to a dual-drive stereo cassette deck. In 1983 that was the style.


photos from


Like most sports coupes of its time, the Pulsar NX could be had with a meek econo-engine, this vanilla 70 hp carbureted 1.6 liter E16S, or serious guts, Nissan’s turbocharged, fuel-injected 113 hp 1.5 liter E15T. Mounted sideways driving the front wheels of course. That was the difference between a sports coupe and a sports car.

That 1.5 liter turbo was also available back home in the Sunny LePrix Turbo!!!

Also like its contemporaries, Pulsar NX had a nice sporty but practical interior, with gauges in a driver’s cockpit and the 5-speed easily reached. That fuzzy cloth they all used held up pretty well.

Celicas came in notchback or fastback form, but this notchy notchback was the predominant Pulsar NX body style. (As Paul discovered, we got a few hatchbacks with much less character in ’83 only.) Rear glass more vertical than the windshield: is this a first in a popular car? It looks sharp, emphasizes the simple clean body lines, and makes room for a proper trunk lid, not the more usual mail slot. Look how the C-pillar’s lines frame the full rear wheel well. I like it.

Here’s the shot I cropped the clue from. Eighties functional, well done. Sport coupes were never built for grown-up rear passengers, but with pop-out rear quarter windows at least your kids won’t suffocate.

Even though none of us have spotted the ’87 Pulsar NX generation in the wild (yet), I must show you how clever it was. A mild restyle of the ’83, you could easily mix the two up. But it commonly came as a curious hatchback-with-a-rear-deck, as you see here.


Or, you could get a Nissan NX Sportbak! A good-sized cargo compartment, a sporty little two-door wagon*. And the best part is, you could swap the lids to make your hatchback a Sportbak, or vice-versa! Like roadsters with removable hardtops, you could hang one in the garage while using the other.

*Post-posting, I’m asking myself, “How can it be a wagon without a tailgate?”


Some say Japanese dealers had lids you could rent if you lacked a garage. Though why you’d want to is beyond my understanding. What can a hatchback do that a Sportbak cannot? Weird! But kudos to Nissan for being creative.

It came in T-top form too. Even seen a T-top wagon? I can’t think of one. But I can imagine a T-topped Camaro Sportbak, why not?

Anyway, here our notchback 1st-gen Nissan Pulsar comes to a handsome end. As does its CC.