(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From what I’ve read and been told, these Stanzas were like the Volvo 240s of Nissan at the time. Simple to maintain, very rugged and durable. That KA-24E engine wouldn’t win any drag races, but it would get you to your destination very reliably.
They truly are invisible, in your last shot I immediately enlarged it and started to pore over the Expo driving by, for some reason one of my favorites, completely forgetting about the Stanza curbside!
These were considered extremely boring as I recall in all respects. Not much advertising visibility either. A complete wallflower. Totally unlike the original Altima that followed that was actually named the “Stanza Altima” its first year.
The Expo gave me an instant Woodrow. Am I allowed to feel that way about a minivan?
I’d like to say I’m right there with you but that’d be kind of creepy. So lets just appreciate each other’s fine taste in automobiles and call it good…
I don’t know about you, but it already looks pregnant to me…
That just means that you don’t have to worry about getting it p…. Nope. I’m an adult now.
I like minivans. Especially weird ones.
I had been pretty sure these came out in 1986 or 1987 – nope. Just goes to show how forgettable these were. Even the Mitsubishi Galant of this era was more memorable, if only because the VR4 was offered.
That Accord pic reminds me how well Honda imitated the MB W123 roofline compared to the US Ford Granada, one of the most blatant Wannabes ever. Lack of shame is now std. American culture, but Ford had a head start back then.
These cars are loads of fun, as were the subsequent Altimas. They shared a chassis with the Maxima and had a lot of torque and, in GXE trim, an optional LSD. More thought was put into making these fun to drive, despite the uber-conservative styling. I’d enjoy having one now.
Fun Perry I’d like a dollar for every time Ive pulled over into the slow lane in a truck to allow traffic to overtake and had a Nissan Bluebird struggle to even keep pace when they accelerate up beside me once out of the slipstream they just dont seem to be able to battle the elements, pulling into the slow lane in a 500+hp truck doesnt mean your gunna slow down the truck remains at its limited 90kmh its merely courtesy to allow faster traffic by.
Read the text. In other markets, the Bluebird had a bunch of smaller engines (including a 2-liter diesel I assume was glacially slow), but U.S. cars had 2.4-liter engines, which had 138 hp. For D-segment sedans of the time, the U.S. cars were really pretty brisk.
The diesel goes ok for what it is, off the line in town they can match most petrol cars of similar capacity and the Nissan is quicker than the 2C powered Corona I owned.
Lol, I had a 1989 2-litre non-turbo diesel auto Bluebird as a courtesy car for a couple of weeks in 1996. With 49kW (66 bhp) “Glacially slow” is being far too kind – it’s easily the slowest car I’ve ever driven in my life! It didn’t accelerate so much as ooze like a slug; top speed was approximately 120 km/h, and it didn’t like getting there. Overtaking other cars was theoretically possible, but I didn’t have much success putting that theory into practice.
On the flip side, it was actually the car that changed my mind about Nissans. Everything inside seemed to be exactly where I’d put it – the ergonomics suited me perfectly. That it was quiet, comfy, and well-built from good-quality materials sealed the deal. And let’s face it, with just 49kW, I had plenty of time on my hands to study everything!
In Australia they had a 2.0 or 2.4. All the diesel ones would be JDM grey imports, not many of them in Australia but plenty in NZ.
This is what the Pintara (not Bluebird or Stanza) Superhatch looked like. There was a badge-engineered Ford Corsair twin as well. The next gen U13 was back to the Bluebird name again.
I was also going to say I recognised the car instantly thanks to the turning lights on the front corners, where you might expect to find turn signals.
’twas sold as the Bluebird Superhatch in NZ (see my comment further down). A good idea, but the styling aft of the C-Pillar didn’t gel with the front – the taillights in particular always irked me.
Nope not diesels which are instantly recognizable in this country due to the road user certificate displayed in the windscreen, 138hp isnt very much my 2.0 petrol Toyota Corona was 130hp it wasnt exactly fast but it would blow the doors off NA Subarus and Bluebirds Cefiros Accords and such plus it steered with its Amon suspension something none of those others do well.
I was going to say, the 2.4 with a stick was a 8 second-ish(?) car to 60 in the early 90s, that was eye-brow-raisingly quick for a plain-wrapper 4cyl Japanese sedan at the time.
My sister had one with the stick. It was pretty quick. My automatic one wasn’t bad either.
I still prefer this Stanza’s styling to jellybean, mini-me J30 Altima that succeeded it.
I didn’t care much for the 93-97 Altima’s styling when it first came out either, but after 8 years of ownership, it’s grown on me a bit. I recall the Stanzas being terribly unpopular with poor reputations around here, but I can’t remember why, only that that seemed to be the reason that Nissan renamed it. The KA24DE is indeed a great engine, easily my favorite thing about the car. It had timing chains far ahead of its time, and a DOHC head as well. Even though overall quality is good and they are somewhat nimble, they fall short of the Accord in my opinion. They will last forever with reasonable care, though.
I don’t really care for either. This is just bland for bland’s sake; agreed that it’s one of the most invisible cars of recent memory. And the Altima did look kind of like a mini-J30, but not in a good way. I wasn’t a fan of the J30 when it debuted but over the years I’ve done an about face and now quite like it. The first Altima? Nope. I dislike them slightly less than I once did, but that still doesn’t cross the equator into “like”.
And isn’t that an Expo LRV, not the larger “regular” Expo? A post could probably be written about Mitsubishi’s confused marketing of those two…
My dad got one of these as a hired car when his company Laurel was out of commission (again) and we enjoyed every minute we spent in it.
As the world’s biggest Laurel fan (having owned and driven them since 2002), I just have to ask what model your father’s was, and what gave trouble? They generally have a bullet-proof reputation here!
One of my co-workers had this identical car, perhaps even the same color (we think).
It gave her years of reliable to and from work transportation. (She refused to be seen driving it in social settings.) She then passed it down to her out-of-town college daughter; even the daughter and her various boyfriends couldn’t break it.
It served it’s purpose well; was traded off on a new Maxima with no regret.
Two months later neither one of us could recall the exterior color or what it looked like.
Just this week one of the local “auto trader” mags had a picture of one of these Stanzas for sale by a local dealer. As proof these truly are “invisible” the caption for the ad has it as a TOYOTA VENZA !!!
I has a 1989 version of this car–first new car I ever bought and I have no good or bad strong memories of it. It was the midlevel pkg XE–after the first oil change the dealer forgot the oil cap and I drove about 100 km’s before realizing it–then the car got hit in parking lots twice(once by the president of my company). The drivers wheel well got wet whenever the car was driven in the rain–finally found a hole that wasn’t properly caulked at the factory. I had replaced the windshield twice and had to do it a 3rd time so I could trade it in. The tires were a bit of a strange size for the day and replacements were expensive. Your right when you say it just blended in–when I didn’t need it as a company car anymore I traded it in for a 93 Sunbird GT for the wife. We have never had a blue car again because of that Stanza.
Back when these were new the local dealership was luring them in with Sentras and attempting to steer the customer into the Maxima as a much better car. The Stanza was only mentioned when the salesman feared their mark was about to walk out the door. Later on the used car guides suggested the Stanza as a way to save a few bucks if you were shopping for a Maxima.
They were highly recommended as solid basic transportation so maybe that was the problem. I was in my truck phase at the time and the Stanza had no parts whatsoever to contribute to a 510 so these were entirely off the radar for me. Even when used car shopping for other family members I never even thought to look at these.
These certainly were bland looking cars in their day. I thought it odd Nissan never sent over the hardtop versions of their mid-sized offerings, as they we much more stylish than the sedans. Too close to the Maxima market, perhaps?
We got the hardtops new in New Zealand, but only in top-spec 4wd turbo format targetted at the Ford Sierra XR4x4. Price was very high, and I suspect Nissan only sold about 3. Of course from the mid-90s, plenty of hardtops started coming in ex-Japan as used imports, with small engines and low-spec interiors, so the allure of the NZ-new ones was lost. When I was at University in 1994 my flatmate had a 1989 SSS-XE hardtop; 1800cc auto.
Invisible indeed. I have to admit that I don’t even remember these. Maybe its lines had some sort of eerie memory wiping ability. “This is not the car you’re looking for.”
I think this car is a U12 rather than a T12. The T12s were boxier.
Quite right; a typo. Fixed now.
I think thats a Bluebird here but probably saddled with a 1800cc engine as they mostly are and shockingly gutless to go with it, dunno I’ll have a look in traffic when I go out later but I’d be surprised if Nissan offered the 2.4 Navara motor in them here or OZ for that matter.
Can remember them offering the 2.4 option in Oz, Bryce. I think it was standard in the top model too.
They were a rare sight. Nissan had a terrible reputation in those days.
I got a job at the Clayton factory just in time for them to run away to Japan yeah horrible reputation nobody wanted the cars at all too many headgasket repairs on those RWD Bluebirds might not have helped.
Our new ones were initially assembled here using CKD kits from Japan with the 1800cc and 2000cc. Sometime in the early 90s (1992ish?) Nissan NZ stopped assembling them and imported them built-up from Aussie, that’s when we started getting the 2.4 engine. The 2.4 was rare here in the sedans, but seemed to be more common in the Aussie-designed&built superhatch wagonoid things we got.
Can anyone confirm if the tooling for these cars was sent to South America? I remember watching Quantum of Solice and Bond and company take a cab to a hotel and I could swear the car was a 89-92 Stanza.
I feel they were a direct copy of the Audi 4000 I had one when the Stanza hit the market and it was an absolute line for line copy. Small adjustments were made here and there to avoid plagiarism suits, but park any 80s Audi 4000 (80) next to this generation Stanza and you will see.
Except that all the character got sucked out in the copy process?
The funny thing about the shrinking violet joke is that there was also a Nissan Violet, which was a twin of the smaller JDM T11/T12 Stanza/Auster.
I’m glad someone got it 🙂
The 140J was badged Violet here.
Nissan dropped the ball with marketing, but in my opinion they got it right with this car. 4-door sedans are supposed to just be ‘there’. Its an appliance, nothing more. These things will get you where you want to go, with the appropriate level of predictability and comfort. Period. That’s just pure straight up honesty in a car. I like the idea of sedans being executed like that. You want style? Excitement? Performance? Handling? That’s what the Z car and other coupes are for.
I really cant stand this latest round of ads from Toyota proclaiming the camry as ‘bold’ and ‘exciting’. Get real. This is a family car, meant for white bread buttoned down types, plain and simple. The only thing even remotely interesting Toyota is hawking is over at Scion (tC, FR-S) or Lexus (LF-A, RC-F). I highly doubt that many people are cross shopping those against sedans.
But it’s that attitude that makes Nissan seem like a schizophrenic car company. “We know how to build better cars, but this is a sedan, so we won’t bother”.
Same with Toyota.
Also, the Bluebird of this vintage (and the contemporary Toyota Corona/Carina and Mazda Capella/626) was designed for what I’ve been led to believe was the most conservative segment of the Japanese domestic market. There were more interesting variants (this is the point when four-door hardtops started becoming very popular, and the Bluebird had sporty SSS models with turbochargers and 4WD), but the impression I’ve gotten is that mostly, these cars went to corporate middle management types for whom driving anything either smaller/humbler or bigger and flashier would have sent the wrong message. Kind of like Pontiac pre-Bunkie Knudsen, I guess.
This car is the modern update of the bland 1964 six cylinder, PowerGlide Chevelle so beloved by all the major insurance companies.
I’ll go against the flow here (I am a bit of a Nissan fanboi though) and say I actually liked these. The styling was certainly subtle, but in the right colour and with the right wheels I think they look good in a subtle sort of way – especially the pillarless hardtop. The Aussie-designed&built Bluebird hatchback-wagon version was by contrast extraordinarily ugly.
As I posted somewhere further up, driving an ’89 Bluebird (as they were here) as a courtesy car for a couple of weeks in 1996 completely changed my mind about Nissan – the ride/handling/interior ergonomics all seemed to have been designed just for me. It took me a few years before I bought my first Nissan and I’m still happily driving a Nissan today.
funny,right now there is a five speed 92 stanza on Portland craigslist with 300k miles on original motor!
I thought these were pretty nice when they came out – a Jr version of the very popular Maxima design. They certainly were better looking than the Tempo, Gallant or Corsica. But yes these days they do fade into the scenery.
I thought the name change in ’93 was a result of wanting a similar name to the Maxima as well – the 4DSC!
I recently got a 1991 Nissan Stanza GXE with 270,xxx miles on it and it was only $1100.
I didnt know it existed until I saw it on the lot that day.
Still have my stanza. Here’s a pic:
One of the great mysteries to me is why the Stanza wasn’t more successful in either generation. Datsun basically invented the Japanese car in America with Toyota following close behind and Datsun had a wider range of popular models in the 70s than Toyota did. As a kid, all those atomic insect cars with their tortured, bug eyed, honeycomb hubcapped, ugly plastic grilles and bumpers and other random ugly plastic bits were everywhere. Toyota had the Corolla and Celica but neither the Corona nor Cressida sold in appreciable numbers.
Datsun made the stanza FWD in 1982?1983? and gave it a neat notchback sedan, a useful four door hatchback like the citation and forthcoming Camry, and I think there was a little sold two door hatchback. The miniminivan came later. It sold like week old lottery tickets. Even with the 88 refresh it didn’t sell well.
???? if the horrible, grotesque, Gollum looking B210s and Pulsars and F10 and Silvias sold, why didn’t the Stanza? It didn’t have anything particularly wrong with it. It was about the same size as an Accord or the Soon to debut Camry, it had Datsun’s reputation behind it as a manufacturer of iron dependable cars, it was reasonably roomy, not unusually slow, well outfitted, and it’s not like either the Accord or unseen Camry were really thrilling either to drive or visually exciting. NOBODY looked at an Accord or Camry and said, boy, that car looks AMAZING. The Stanza wasn’t overpriced either, and it fit nicely between the Sentra and Maxima, so even if you wanted a loaded Stanza, there was still some room between it and a Maxima.
I have to comment on this car, though I never drove this generation, Nissans kept coming up in my family (my youngest surviving sister still has a 1997 240SX). My first car was a 1974 710, which I think started this series, of course it was RWD, and I think in about 1982 they came out with the FWD Stanza. Guess it is my contrarian nature, but I liked these because they weren’t all over the place, and well made vehicles. Now, if they only offered a hatchback version here (guess they did early on, but it was withdrawn, guess I was between buying cycles when they offered it.
I did get to drive the previous generation as a rental in 1987, when I was up in Everett Wa for 2 weeks. I combined it with a vacation to visit relatives (no where nearby) who I spent a week with and flew to Philadelphia (I lived in Texas) and instead of returning home I flew to Seattle and rented the Stanza.
I had the weekend off, decided to drive to Mt. Rainier, and found a “shortcut” back which ended up being a logging road, with no way to turn around, I continued on, foolishly, but I did make it back, though it took me forever, as I had to proceed very slowly. But the Stanza must have thought of me as a friend, even thought we didn’t belong on that road, it did more than its part.
Never considered the Altima, though the 1st generation was OK, it never seemed to be my thing, probably lost me with the styling (though some might say it resembled my 710, I still prefer angular to jellybean). Also, no hatchback (I miss the selection of different body styles, particularly midsized hatchbacks). So except through my younger sisters, who have owned 4 different 200/240SX models between them, I’ve not had anything much to do with Nissan in the 39 years since I sold my 710 (back when it was still Datsun in the US).
I also have driven a ’78 510 as a porter for Hertz way back in the day when they were current in the fleet….think it had a NAPS-Z engine, and rectangular styling, but otherwise like my 710 I was driving at that time.
The Stanza I remember in the UK was the 5 door hatch. They just tended to blend into the background like street furniture. Most of the Nissan/Datsun taxis over here tended to be the Bluebird though, followed by its replacement the Primera. Both British built as well I believe.
Back to the Stanza though, How Many Left say that only 10 Datsun and Nissan badged versions survive on UK roads.
When this generation of Stanza was first introduced in the US. The MSRP was $500 cheaper than the previous generation of Stanza. At the time, I had just graduated from college and needed a car to commute to work. I jumped on this deal and was satisfied with the car and it’s cost.
This is a handsome car. We had a fleet of them to rent across the US. They were excellent appliances for travel. I thought they were very well done. What I remember about them that disappointed me was their performance and their gas mileage. I couldn’t imagine why such a well sorted out car got such lousy gas mileage, yet had middling performance. I also remember being very pleased with the interior accommodations.
I definitely preferred Nissan boring to Nissan WTF, common in the previous generation. Nissan does have a history of going from conservative to bizarre over the past 40 years. Today, they seem to have found a nice balance between both and if they didn’t have craptastic transmissions, their sales would be healthier today.
But you can’t blame this car for Nissan’s market challenges, can you?
Agreed it was a handsome car. Other than that automatic shoulder restraint, which I felt like I was going to be strangled (not Nissan’s fault), it was a quite comfortable.
I was also disappointed with the gas mileage. I had a 92 Stanza with an automatic. It wasn’t as refined as my father’s 94 Accord. However, it wasn’t priced like an Accord.
I like the boxy ’80s styling. Someone here mentioned “Atomic Insect” to describe ’70s Japanese cars. Well, today that’s what they’ve gone back to with a vengeance!
Happy Motoring, Mark