This van (or Van?) wasn’t supposed to be here. Or, rather, it was supposed to be here but back in late 1993, not 28 years later. There’s a reason you haven’t been seeing these around even though over 33,000 of them were sold during the 1987-1989 model years, most of them in Western and Southwestern states. After a reported 153 of them went up in flames (without any injuries) and four recalls didn’t solve the main issue, Nissan launched an ambitious (and quite generous) buyback program and was able to bring most of them back home. Of course then they led them around the back of the shed and, well, it wasn’t pretty.
But they couldn’t force buyers to return their Nissan Van, so some did lead a likely lonely existence out in the wilds of the United States. Never seen in pairs and rarely even singly, they occasionally are brought down by more prosaic issues, which has now led to a triumphant find in the annals of this Curbside Recycling series. Apparently this Nissan has been living the Rocky Mountain High life under the radar for almost three decades now, so get ready to feast your eyes on something you may never see again, a 1987 Nissan Van!
While you may think you’ve been seeing these here and there and hither and yon occasionally, you have probably been seeing the Toyota van (also called Van) instead. Not separated at birth, nor brothers from another mother, they are just two vans (uh, Vans) that happen to look almost identical at first (and second, and maybe even third) glance. This one being sky blue like every single Japanese car sold in the 1980s doesn’t help.
Nissan had been selling vans (Vans and Vanettes, Vanette apparently being the worldwide translation for Van, remember that the next time you need one somewhere) abroad for years and continued doing so even after the U.S. debacle. The reason being was that they thought they had planned ahead and shoehorned in the 2.4liter engine from the Nissan Hardbody pickup line.
This was done in order to provide the power than American consumers demanded, what with their insatiable demands for air conditioning, room and comfort for dozens of people, gallons of soda, mountains of luggage, an ability to keep pace with other traffic, and probably really also just to say “suck it” to Toyota and their feeble little underpowered van (Van) that ironically ended up being basically unkillable bar the rust monster. Oopsey.
What I found most interesting is that there may well be another one out there, as someone made off with the headlights and taillights, parts perhaps unobtainable otherwise. The eternal question though will be if the owner of this van (Van) kept them or if there IS in fact another out there in the mountains to the West or the plains to the East that this one could in theory have mated with or at least canoodled with occasionally. I mean, the sad looking little NV200 didn’t just appear! Deep thoughts indeed.
Since the fall of 1993 when Nissan originally started the buyback program, this little van (Van) has apparently been hiding in plain sight (or maybe not) and thinking the V (v?) on the back hatch stood for Victory (victory?) from the crusher. Alas it is probably just a stylized letter V (v?) for Van (van?). Debuting here for 1987 instead of earlier in the decade as the Toyota did allowed the Nissan to gain just a little more 1980s radness for its debut.
A case in point being the weird 1980s obsession with squares, cubes, grids, and other things with four aspects/sides to them, known colloquially (well, in my head anyway) as Tron-ism. This hubcap is a great example as it has four “vented” areas, yet the wheels are five-lugged so that’s not the connection here. Full coverage and basically flat are something else we saw a lot of back then as far as hubcaps go, this van (Van) had all four (okay, can’t blame THAT on the ’80s) of them in the driver’s footwell ready for someone to pick them up….
These vans (Vans) are actually pretty spacious inside. Not walkaround spacious but there is plenty of room to haul stuff or people or offer sleeping accommodations for two. All of the seats bar the driver’s are gone here making it really obvious.
The little panel in the upper right of this photo that I now wish I had gotten a closeup of is the controller for the rear climate control. There are two buttons with a fan motif on them, one for “Heater” and one for “Cooler”, a knob to the left to adjust the temperature (Cold to Hot) and then buttons below marked Low, Med, and Hi. I can’t decide how that works, you adjust the temperature via the dial on the left, but then you have to select a fan speed for heat or cool? What if your temperature is in the middle? Can you run both? Are there two sets of fans? So many questions. I also do not know what the mechanical device is that’s visible in the middle of the far wall, perhaps related? Yet another question, I know.
The front HVAC panel is far more comprehensible once you realize this one does not appear to have A/C; there should be a button for it if I am not mistaken to the left where the blank is. Perhaps that’s how this van (Van) made it this far in life, not needing to burden itself with that extra load. Four fan speeds are impressive, on a summer day in Denver that would need to be on the highest one at all times.
But with only 63,890 miles on the odometer, clearly this van (Van) has been hiding more than driving for most of its life. With a speedometer reaching to 105mph, I can only imagine what this thing must have felt like descending from the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,000 feet down to Denver. Yes, I know top speed is not the same as the biggest number on the speedometer, I’m not six years old anymore, jeez. Still, a high speed in this on a downhill doesn’t sound appealing, there isn’t half a Volvo (still Volvo, ha!) of crumple zone in front. And brakes aren’t the strong suit of most Japanese vehicles. I do like the blue dials on the (again, so 80s) grid pattern background.
Here’s the engine as viewed from the passenger side, conveniently without the seat in the way. Poor Nissan, thought they had it all figured out, just add power. Not a bad idea, except for the fact that tucked away amidships this large-ish lump generated a lot of heat. Too much heat, with frequent overheating and an alarming number of fires a result thereof.
The first recall was in July 1987 to replace leaking valve cover gaskets that caused oil to drip onto the exhaust manifold. Then another a couple of years later to replace power steering hoses that turned brittle from the heat. Then in 1991 another to replace coolant hoses and the coolant recovery system.
Then the last one in 1993 to basically replace the entire cooling system in the van (Van). That didn’t help either. Basically the tall engine was too big and mounted in too cramped an area to run at acceptable temperatures. But was access really only from the passenger side?
No, it was not. Here’s the driver’s seat in all of its gathered velour (Velour?) splendor. Looks like new. Almost. Note the center tunnel carpet and the seatbelt latch here. Now imagine reaching below for what looks like an adjuster for the slider to move the seat fore and aft.
And the entire thing, seat, shackle, carpet and all, just flips back into the second row area! Now an owner has unfettered access to maybe half of the top of the engine. I wonder how toasty it got in the summer with the lump overheating in traffic without A/C in this one. I guess not enough to catch fire like it may have done if it DID have A/C I guess.
I wonder if there’s a bounty on these. I guess I should have checked with my Nissan contact before sharing this with you lot. Or just taken the VIN off this one and mailed it in…When Nissan started the buyback in the fall of 1993 for some owners and eventually expanded it in early 1994 to all of them, owners of these vans (Vans) were offered up to around $7,000 for them (very high Blue Book value at the time depending on age and mileage) along with a coupon for either $500 or $1,000 off another Nissan.
I can see why some people didn’t bite, what Nissan would you replace a van (Van) with? And if you liked it why have to face another car search? Ugh, no thanks, just be ready to bail out at the first hint of smoke and keep the comprehensive insurance coverage up to date. But most people apparently did take the offer and ran, costing Nissan somewhere around $200 million. Nissan seems to have done it right though as this isn’t a story that is widely known outside of groups of freaks like us as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, maybe the Ford Pinto comes to mind? Or Chevy Cobalt? Yeah, there are ways to handle issues and ways not to. Help me down off my soapbox, please.
Having started its life in the Land Of The Rising Sun, this van (Van) now rests peacefully facing the rising sun every morning, feeling its rays of heat that even at 5,280 feet of elevation aren’t as hot as the rays of heat that emanated from next to the driver’s right thigh when at full throttle ascending I-70 in the background.
Soon there will be one less of these for anyone to find. Little Nissan Van (van) with the Big Engine, you were forgotten when you weren’t even gone yet. At least you’ll live on here. Victory will be yours after all.