Who tosses out a perfectly usable little Japanese car like it’s an old piece of aluminum foil? While this little Sentra may ball up like that foil in an accident and is the same color to boot, there was a time when these things roamed the land far and wide and provided great service, at least near the coasts anyway. But as all things pass, so will this one. Actually, it already has as it wasn’t there anymore when I checked back last week.
This particular Sentra is from near the end of the run, the new B12 generation would take over in 1986 for the ’87 model year, and while the new ones were built in Tennessee, this one still hailed from Japan.
Sentras were big sellers, introduced in 1982 they sold around 200,000 units in each of its first couple of years (first year sales numbers were combined with the outgoing 210 model that the Sentra replaced mid-year). In 1983 the Sentra was the eighth best-selling car in the States and by 1985 it was the top selling import model.
Despite my quip above, they were also considered a very safe car (which is all relative to the era, of course). The Center For Auto Safety ranked it seventh among passenger cars based on NHTSA frontal crash tests in 1983. That seems a little suspect to me, I suppose it has more to do with the test procedure than actually being involved in a wreck with other, often much heavier vehicles.
Regarding weight, the Sentra (in two-door form) weighed less than 2000 pounds, meaning that its engine, which produced 69hp from 1.6 liters of displacement in its OHC engine, wasn’t particularly taxed. Of course, fast it was not, but it was adequate enough. And miserly, with a 1986 EPA rating of 31/38 city/hwy.
Sentras of this era were available in four formats – two-door like this one, four-door, then a two-door hatchback and a four-door wagon. My own memory tells me that the two-door with a trunk format was the most popular (and the least expensive). People still liked trunks back then and this one’s pretty spacious.
It’s actually almost sort of plush inside. Those velour seats have held up well, just a little tear at the top here, and I suppose everything is fairly hard plastic and some soft vinyl coverings, but there’s even a little style going on with that angled stitching on the door panels.
I see the button for the A/C so this isn’t a total hairshirt special, and I miss simple slider HVAC controls like this one has even though I do love the triple dial format as well. All manual, all the time and with just a glance or even just letting your fingers roam tells you exactly how it’s set. Same as the transmission, whose knob seems to be the only thing that has disappeared from this car so far. But what is that thing ahead of the gearshift?
It’s a “PowerVerter” by a company named TrippLite. They are still in business today and it appears they make power inverters, in this case to add an electrical outlet inside the car. I have no idea if this was a common thing, I’ve never seen one like this before, perhaps the readers can help out here? What would you do with it back then in a car? Plug in your electric razor? A toaster? Curling iron? Isn’t that what the cigarette lighter is for? I really don’t know and I lived through this era.
Yes, this little Sentra only made it to 77,000 miles before being abandoned like a burrito wrapper. Shame, that. Note the rear defroster switch on the dash as it was standard equipment but also a couple of blanks of shame for who knows what options. No tach on this base model either, but at least Nissan spread out the other gauges so there aren’t any bare spots.
Just one little crack on the dash near the center dash speaker. The seat fabric looks impeccable, I’m guessing the owner didn’t have much company.
And the back seat, this may be the first time someone has laid eyes on it in several decades, it’s possible it has never even been sat in and almost assuredly this is the first picture that’s been taken of it. That’s a whole lot of gray in this car, the whole monochromatic thing has been around for a looooong time.
Made in Japan, in Zama in the Kanagawa prefecture to be exact. Located about 25 miles south of Tokyo, Zama also houses a US Army base (Camp Zama). Most online information indicates that by this time the Sentra was being built in Smyrna, TN, but this one shows that at least some still came across the sea.
One sole side-view mirror on this one but back then you still got a lot of standard chrome trim pieces all over the car. These days you just get the base model painted black so it all blends in (but you do get the passenger side mirror).
Even a locking gas cap so you could either open it with a key or by pulling the little lever on the floor next to the seat. It’s those clever little touches that people were surprised and delighted by, all without an extra charge. Nissan has a new Sentra out this year and supposedly it’s much better than the outgoing model and isn’t meant to just be a rental fleet special. Perhaps things are coming full circle after all.