Curbside Classic: 1989-1992 Nissan Stanza (Bluebird U12): The Shrinking Violet

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(first posted 10/14/2014)    A couple of months ago, Perry shared his thoughts on the first generation of the Nissan Stanza, in a post titled “Queen Dork”. This is the third and final generation, and the kind of car you have to make a concerted effort to notice, given its exceptionally generic styling straight out of an insurance company ad of the times. A cloak of invisibility normally surrounds these cars, and they only become visible on the third Monday of the month. I forced myself to stop and shoot this one, because I truly wondered whether I would ever run into another one again in that rare state. So in case you’ve not seen one exposed in a long while (or ever), here’s your chance.

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How did they become so invisible? Well, emulating the styling of its rival Honda Accord from fifteen years earlier was a pretty effective strategy. And when I say rival, I rather mean the Accord from the far past, as the Stanza was sized like them too. In Nissan’s odd sizing strategy for so many years, it bracketed the Accord with the smaller Stanza/Altima and the larger Maxima, until it finally gave in with an Accord-sized Altima. Which of course made the Maxima largely irrelevant, but that’s a different story.

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Stylistically, Nissan was lost once again in the desert after its sharp-edged boxy era played out. Especially so with its bread-and-butter sedans; some of their sporty cars like the new Z32 300ZX were anything but invisible, and that goes for the Pulsar and 240SX too, mostly. But the poor Stanza was tossed an old Accord suit, nipped and tucked a bit.

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Well, invisibility isn’t always the worst thing in the world; perhaps it explains why these cars do have a fairly decent survival rate despite their modest sales. The Stanzas all had the rep of being rugged and reliable. The previous generation became a legend in the UK, as taxis that just wouldn’t quit; or rust. What a combination, especially back in the day in England.

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It’s a bit hard to tell from this shot, but the interior materials are decidedly better than average; but that was rather generally the case during the “fat” era of Japanese cars. Except for the obnoxious shoulder belts of the era, these would make a terrific low-bucks beater for a student or such, which undoubtedly explains this one’s location one block from the U of O.

The 12-valve Nissan KA-24E engine was churned out by the seemingly millions, powering Hardbody trucks, Pathfinders, Axxess, and even the 240SX. Maybe I missed something, but I don’t seem to remember hearing any too many complaints about it. Hardengine.

These weren’t exactly overtly-sporty cars, but fun was not out of the question by any means, especially with a five speed. The torquey 2.4 belted out a respectable 138 hp, and the chassis was competent. In its final year (1992), supposedly there was even a sporty SE version, but they never become visible anymore.

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These cars are the true shrinking Violet, always being overshadowed by flashier cars. But if one is hankering for an improved 1977 Accord, one could do worse. And it certainly isn’t going to be cop bait.