This is a car that must have you scratching your heads. After all, it is a peculiar Australian-only body style of a Japanese sedan with an American badge, using an old English name. I was surprised to see one in the metal, as they are a rare sight nowadays. The subject of my photographs is a Ford Corsair ‘superhatch’, a rebadged version of the Aussie-built Nissan U12 Pintara, sold from 1989 until 1992. And there’s quite a bit more that needs to be explained…
As you may be aware, Ford, General Motors and Toyota all manufacture cars in Australia, although not for much longer. A few years ago, though, Australia had an even larger automotive industry, with both Mitsubishi and Nissan building cars domestically. Mitsubishi left in 2008, but Nissan pulled out much earlier in 1992. The Australian car industry had previously been heavily protected, with tariffs driving up the cost of imports. This would begin to change in the 1980s.
To cut a long story short, Senator John Button spearheaded a federal government plan to rationalize the industry and lower the level of protection. This plan was called the Motor Industry Development Plan, but was popularly known as the Button Plan. The government consulted with automakers and announced the plan in 1984.
Thirteen models had been assembled by various manufacturers, including the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore, and import quotas and tariffs had been instated to protect them. The Button Plan aimed to cut that number of protected vehicles to six models and thus force the industry to consolidate and double down on a few different cars, strengthening the local automakers and their products’ competitiveness before tariffs were to be gradually reduced. Of the local automakers, only Mitsubishi didn’t participate.
The fruits of this program included oddities like the Nissan Ute and the Ford Maverick (Nissan Patrol), as well as the Toyota Lexcen (Holden Commodore), Holden Astra (Nissan Pulsar) and Holden Nova and Apollo (Toyota Corolla and Camry).
The Pintara nameplate was previously used on an Aussie-built, four-cylinder version of the R31 Nissan Skyline. Despite the wonderful RB30E engine that Holden saw fit to borrow for its VL Commodore, the Skyline and lesser Pintara never posed a major threat to the Falcon/Commodore in sales due to frumpy styling and a narrower body.
For 1989, the rear-wheel-drive Pintara sedan would be replaced by a new front-wheel-drive Pintara based on the U12 Nissan Bluebird (Stanza in the US). The R31 Pintara wagon and Skyline would linger for another year. This new, smaller Pintara was part of Project Matilda, after Waltzing Matilda, a horrendous Australian song about a thief which some people bizarrely wanted to make our national anthem.
There would be no more wagon, with the Pintara and its Ford Corsair counterpart launching only as sedans. However, 1990 would bring this practical but somewhat unusual “superhatch”, which was exported to Japan as the Bluebird Aussie, complete with a free plush kangaroo toy and some other gimmicky details of Australiana. Both Pintara and Corsair would have a choice of two fuel-injected four-cylinder engines: the CA20E 2.0, with 111hp and 118 ft-lbs; or the 2.4 KA24E engine with 128hp/139 ft-lbs, used in the US market Stanza, 240SX, Hardbody and Pathfinder. Two transmissions were offered, a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
The Corsair replaced the Telstar sedan in the Ford Australia line-up. Introduced in 1983, the Telstar nameplate was used for a restyled Mazda 626. The first generation had been made in Australia, but the second-generation Telstar launched in 1987 was a Japanese import.
For 1989, the sedan would be axed in favor of the cheaper Corsair range, but the TX-5 hatchback would remain as a more premium mid-size offering. Prices for the TX-5 ranged from AUD$25-32k, while the Corsair would slot in from $AUD18-27k.
The Pintara was available in a range of trim levels, priced between $AUD18-29k, with the base GLi manual and Executive auto aimed at fleet buyers and powered solely by the 2.0, and the T and luxurious Ti featuring the 2.4 and aimed at private buyers. A sporty TR.X model was launched in 1990, featuring the same 2.4 but a firmer suspension, a striking bodykit and the Ti’s viscous-coupling limited slip differential. The turbocharged engines and four-wheel-drive available in JDM U12 Bluebirds never arrived in Australia, though.
The Corsair’s lineup was simpler: sedan or hatch, 2.0 or 2.4, manual or auto, GL or Ghia. The latter continued Ford’s tradition of putting the Ghia badge on just about every model; it and the high-line Pintara Ti were available with features such as alloy wheels, fog lights, power windows, power mirrors and even rear passenger audio jacks. The price range for the Pintara and Corsair was lineball with the less powerful Camry, although you could get an imported Camry V6; the Pintara did offer a warranty twice as long as the Corsair or Camry, though, and there was no sporty variant of either.
The 2.4 was more powerful than rival four cylinders, taking the duo from 0-60 in under 10 seconds. A Modern Motor comparison test from June 1990 pitted the Corsair and Pintara against the Camry/Apollo twins and the Mitsubishi Magna (an Aussie version of the Galant sold in the US from 1985-88, cut down the middle and made just over 2 inches wider). The journos were impressed by the torquey, tractable 2.4 and handling that was more entertaining than the others. A smooth-shifting transmission and a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with good feel added to the duo’s dynamic qualities. However, a common criticism of the Project Matilda twins was their bumpy, unsettled ride, with a suspension that wallowed and crashed over bumps.
The biggest criticism of the Matilda twins, though, was their quality. Modern Motor panned their test vehicles for poor fit and finish, with frayed interior trim, loose trim pieces, mediocre paint and poor panel fit. Interestingly, the Mitsubishi wasn’t vastly better, but the Camry and Apollo – both manufactured in Australia – were very well screwed together. This quality criticism would be echoed by other automotive journalists, including those at the NRMA who derided the Pintara for a tinny feel, poor sealing and lackluster paint finish.
Wheels magazine’s annual quality ratings for 1991 showed that quality didn’t improve over the duo’s run. The Pintara was ranked dead last out of 20 vehicles, even being beaten by the Hyundai Excel. The assessors said the standard of quality was consistently poor, with faults going beyond the aforementioned fit and finish issues. The test Pintara was plagued with squeaks, rattles and NVH; the engine bay was “shoddy”, with corrosion beginning to appear and both the headlights and handbrake were already out of adjustment. The single positive comment listed out of the 238 characteristics assessed was that the floaty ride had acceptable bump absorption. It was likely this lack of quality that was a major factor in the duo’s poor sales, considering the better assembled Camry was priced the same. Not to mention, that locally built Camry was the highest-ranked Aussie-built car in the Wheels quality study, and was pipped only by five imported models. Obviously, there were higher assembly standards at the Toyota factory.
Poor sales of the Pintara and Corsair were a major factor in Nissan shuttering its Clayton factory in 1992. It didn’t help that the fresh new N14 Pulsar was selling slowly out the gate due to higher MSRPs vis-à-vis its incentive-laden predecessor, or that Australia was in the midst of a recession. Nissan’s Australian operations had only recorded marginal profits for two years between 1981 and 1991; by the time it released a truly competitive product (the new Pulsar was Wheels’ Car of the Year for 1991), and committed to raising their assembly standards and reduce their rampant discounting, it was too late.
The Pintara/Corsair were an anomaly in terms of Button Plan vehicles, as generally the donor vehicles (Camry, Commodore etc) sold extremely well and it was just the rebadges that were forgotten by the market. Buyers just didn’t have much of an incentive to buy a Pintara/Corsair over the more established competition beyond its torquier engine and longer warranty.
With Nissan’s Aussie factory closed, the Pintara was replaced by the imported Bluebird (Altima), and the Corsair by the return of a Telstar sedan, once again based on the Mazda 626. Despite a rising yen driving up the cost of imported models, Australian manufacturers would spend the 1990s gradually dropping the number of locally manufactured models, such as the Ford Laser and Toyota Corolla. Sadly, it would be just the beginning of the slow death of the Australian automotive industry. Not every car made here was of the calibre of, say, the Holden VF Commodore. Sometimes, we put out some duds.
CC 1989-1992 Nissan Stanza (U12)
Curbside Classic: Holden Camira
Curbside Classic: Holden VR Caprice
Obscure Rebadges From Around the World Parts 1, 2 and 3
Does Australia have many 2 door cars?
No, two doors, with a few exceptions have never been popular. Three door hatches tend to sell OK, but five doors are generally preferred .
There were quite a few in the 1990s with offerings from most manufacturers, eg I think we got most of the Japanese & Korean coupes sold in the US bar Isuzus, plus others from Europe like the Opel/Holden Calibra and Tigra, Peugeot 406, Volvo C70 etc. Like everywhere else sales of these fell from a low base to begin with and they left the market, and more people buy SUVs or dual cab pickups.
It’s the same in NZ; we Kiwis vastly prefer rear doors on our vehicles. It’s one of the reasons why Ford imminent replacing the Falcon with the Mustang is meeting strong resistance – it doesn’t matter how good the ‘stang is (and I’m sure it’s great), it’s the wrong body configuration for the Aussie and Kiwi markets. If the Corsair was Ford’s first mis-step downunder, killing the Falc will be their last. ‘bye Ford, it was great while it lasted…
I prefer the Corsairs from Dagenham and Detroit
The Dagenham Corsair would have been much better.
Friends of mine did 3 return trips across the Nullabor in a 1500 Kent powered Corsair.
Fantastic summary William! NZ had to take the Aussie-built U12 Bluebirds, including the Superhatch, when they came on stream. There’s still an old blue Superhatch I see around town. The consensus here was the Aussie ‘birds were fairly poorly built versus the NZ-assembled and Japanese built U12 we’d gotten until then. The hatch and the 2.4 were scant compensation for lacklustre fit&finish, and we got the U13 as soon as it was released. Never got the Corsair; the Telstar sold right on through for us.
Morris Nomad of the 90s. And about as successful. Thank you Leon Daphne, for precisely nothing.
This is a truly fascinating series of events. The global interactions of the various automakers, and the resultant products, is endlessly intriguing. Would it be wrong to speculate Australia has one of the most diverse ranges of automotive product available?
On an unrelated note, thank you for the explanation of Waltzing Matilda. My daughter long ago acquired that song on CD, but it’s sang in Aborigine so I have no clue what is being said.
Australia has a very limited car market very few variations to protect the local industry from any competition if you want a ridiculously model crowded market have a look at NZ we get everything from everywhere
You have a good point. NZ certainly appears to be a wonderful automotive buffet.
Sang in Aborigine? Wonder which tribal language? There’s heaps of them.
Pitjantjatjara according to the insert. The song is titled Nyanpi Matilda and also referenced as Waltzing Matilda.
It’s from World Playground by Putumayo Kids. It’s a wonderful collection. Here is the title list.
Aussie does have quite a diverse range, including some makes (Infiniti and Seat) and models we don’t currently get new across the ditch (as used imports from Japan it’s a differetn story). But NZ’s still the diversiest rangiest! NZ 1, Oz 0 😉
Gosh, talk about badge engineering. I am completely confused, but entertained. Love this forum!
My whole awareness of Australia as a child came from that song, “Waltzing Matilda”. We learned it in grade school, and it established the Land Down Under as a place of esoteric slang and haunted waterholes.
It does figure in our car obsession though. The song weaves unrelentingly through the sound track of the 1959 Stanley Kramer movie, “On the Beach”, a tear-jerker in which love blooms between handsome actors as radiation from the nuclear holocaust of 1965 (Remember that?) descends upon Australia.
You get some great car scenes. But, be aware: the film is so tenaciously maudlin that you might expect an elbow from a sniffling couch mate when you blurt, “Whoa! Look at that Healey”, as Ava Gardner gorgeously races across The Beach at sundown to nab Gregory Peck in a backlit embrace.
It’s got cool cars, sped up cameras and suicidal, flaming crashes in the racing scenes (not that there’s anything right with that)… plus a jaunty Fred Astaire hopping into his garaged Ferrari to “go in style” in a cloud of exhaust rather than radioactive dust.
I tried reading the book but it was so depressing I just couldn’t get thru it.
I can well imagine.
A new one for me, William. Nicely done. It is always fascinating to watch politics affect the workings on the auto industry down through the years.
The Nissan Pintara reminds me of the Subaru Impreza wagons, except the Subaru had more rounded windows.
To answer your question, Australia may have had 2 door models like the U.S. but (coincidentally?) they had already dwindled to a tiny handful when this attempt at consolidation was announced. The Pontiac GTO of about 5-10 years ago was a Holden design….while the Pontiac G8 was the 4 door sedan it was based on. If Pontiac had not “folded” a (supposed? ) station wagon and/or “ute” were considered as possible G8 models.
And of course, the (Australian) Chrysler Charger has been chronicled here.
The Mad Max car was a 2 door Australian Falcon.
Ironically, the “Button Plan” meant to strengthen the Australian car market and it’s local manufacturers….but will have had the OPPOSITE effect in the end.
Howard I don’t think Australia ever had 2-doors like the US, the Studebaker Lark was about the only large-ish 2-door sedan in the 1960s, everything else had 4 doors. There were a few hardtops/coupes but they sold in small numbers.
The G8 was the replacement for the car the GTO was based on, only the driveline carries over and body/suspension is all new. Supposedly the wagon only went ahead because it was to be sold in the US, I gather there was supposed to be a Buick version built in the US and when that was cancelled at the eleventh hour any final development work not essential was dropped, and the wagon came out 2 years later from memory – it must have been far enough along that they got around to finishing it. The ute was at motor shows in the States and after a poll was named ST just before Pontiac was shut down.
I think the Button plan may have only brought on the inevitable, there were a few cars being built in quite small numbers and the high tariff levels were not really sustainable. Mind you I am not sure that the current outcome with almost zero tariffs and an industry about to shut down is any better.
Button’s idea was brilliant. I think it was the only thing Bob Hawke’s government did, that was positive for the nation.
It meant that the Australian factories had to improve the quality and competitiveness of their cars, stop relying on industry protection, and fight off the imports by themselves.
The CONSUMER changed his/her mind about what was on offer by the late ’90s and Aussie cars, although massively improved, were losing to the hatchback and CUV market (almost all imports).
It’s baffling that no car maker saw the trend coming soon enough – no all Australian hatchback or CUV ever existed.
Also, imports are cheaper. If the average Australian cheapskate can get a Daewoo-built ‘Holden’ Barina for $12,990 instead of using his foresight and saving for an Aussie car, he will. No questions asked.
The Button Plan. Australia’s equivalent of the Malaise Era.
Worse, Richard. far worse. It killed the entire industry, for absolutely no benefit to anyone.
Say what you like about the malaise era, you guys still have a car industry. All we’ll have is closed factories and memories of what used to be.
Indeed Old Pete. And it affects New Zealand too, as we love our Commodores and Falcons over here… Soon only Chrysler will offer a ‘traditional’ Australian/New Zealand 6/8 cylinder car; I predict 300C sales will soar as disgruntled Holden/Ford customers look elsewhere for their reasonably priced big RWD car. If Chryco has any sense they’ll expand the selection on offer.
I don’t entirely agree. Despite only Ford doing a successful CUV with the Territory they dropped the ball on quality when they had the right product with the BA Falcon 12 years ago and drove away a lot of buyers, Holden has had plenty of issues with Commodores over the years too and the ever-increasing size of the cars didn’t help I think.
I don’t know why Mitsubishi didn’t do something like move Pajero/Shogun production to Australia when it was obvious the Magna was becoming a dead duck, to capitalise on the outback image and a good local engineering team.
Chrysler have already announced they will keep on the 300 SRT8, so it looks like they will. The 300 is popular among the silver service taxis to replace the Fairlane (the Caprice doesn’t seem to be as popular)
I’ve learned a few new things today. And I can’t help noticing how the rear hatch looks like a Ford/Merkur Scorpio’s, moved back a bit further. I suspect it provided some inspiration.
Probably the plans greatest acievement was to nasrrow the Australian market down to four cars the world Camry the Ford Falcon Holden Commodore and the Mitsu Magna but the best selling car of the era became the Hyundai Excel as they practicly gave them away 3 year warranty free servicing and since Mitsubishi had a restricted range the Aussies dont realise they were mostly a rebadged Mirage.
I quite like the “superhatch” design–seems to have some of the good qualities of a hatchback and some of a wagon. Reminiscent of some of the wagon models with rakish D-pillar angles, like the C3 and C4 Audi 100 Avant, the 80’s Nissan Sentra wagon, the Cadillac CTS Sportwagon…
Also this frenzy of rebadging is simply mind-boggling. If I’m reading this correctly, Ford had a badge engineered Mazda (Telstar TX-5) and a badge engineered Nissan (Corsair) in the lineup at the same time?? How did that not anger one or both of Mazda and Nissan that their partner was cooperating with their rival? That wouldn’t have flown over here–Ford and Mazda had an official tie-up, but that precluded them having a “product fling” with anyone else. Of the Big 3, Ford was part-owner of Mazda, Toyota was tied up with Chevy/Geo through NUMMI, and Chrysler and Mitsubishi had an agreement going back to the 70’s that eventually gave us the DSM cars.
It didn’t make sense to us Aussies either. All we knew was that Ford had replaced the excellent Telstar with a crap rebadged Nissan. I don’t usually talk/write like that – but everyone knew you don’t buy a Nissan. They were BAD.
It was about this time that this previous Ford fan decided it was time to judge (and buy) cars on their merits, not sticking with one company.
Well there were Holden-badged Nissans (gen1 and 2 Astra) and Nissan-engined Commodores too… I guess the GM-Nissan fling had come to an end as under the Button plan Ford and Nissan joined forces and Holden and Toyota. One of the car magazines ran a competition for what the new Holden-Toyota company should be named; one entry was based on the Japanese provincial city of Fukuoka… 😉
Really, the older I get, the more I see how incestuous the world’s car makers really are. Button just forced it to the fore in Aussie.
Those Nissan powered VL Commodores were a lemon the engine is too tall for the Holden engine bay low coolant level means the head runs dry and cracks, many were replaced under warranty and unlike NZ OZ is not littered with dead Skylines to raid for parts when the very short warranty expired, great engine but a bad place to put it.
A word about Waltzing Matilda.
This is a folk song, so it’s not deep and meaningful. It does, however, touch the heart of (nearly all…) Aussies in a way that no other song does.
Some background: Right up until 1984 Australia’s national anthem was…
“God Save the Queen”. The new government saw the need for an update and held a vote for a new one, with a choice of four options. WM was one of the options.
The vote went for a pretentious dirge called “Advance Australia Fair” (I think many Aussies didn’t have the confidence to pick a folk song for an anthem).
Since then, AAF has been respectfully endured, but never loved like WM.
I can remember being shocked by the poor quality paint when these came out- visible runs and dust in the show room !
Yes, ditto here. The lousy quality really shocked Nissan’s loyal Kiwi buyers after our excellent locally-assembled/built-up U12s. Reading between the lines at the time, I think Nissan NZ was quite unimpressed at having to take the Australian-built Bluebird.
I find it unforgivable that Australia would abandon the car makers, who have been part of Australia for a long time. Anyone who would abandon those who worked so hard to keep the company going, should not only be damned ashamed of themselves, they should be arrested and charged with ruining the Australian economy and the lives of the people who work for them. Sadly, it’s not just Australian car manufacturing that’s doing this. It’s also happening here in North America. That’s beyond unforgivable.
Amazing summary! I didn’t know about the Corsair, even less about the hatchback. It looks just weird to see the Bluebird in Ford drag.
But there’s something I still can’t answer after a little Googling…
what does Pintara even mean?
Does it refer to this butterfly? Is it a well known name in Australia? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pintara
I think it was just a made-up name, Ramon. I never read that it meant anything. Not at all well known, and most Aussies have probably forgotten the car ever existed.