COAL: 1987 Nissan Sentra – Brown Frown

It was so promising.  In need of a car, one presented itself.  A basic little Japanese 5-speed sedan, no frills – so what could possibly go wrong?  Something major, repeatedly.

After developing a bit of potential engine trouble with the ’87 Beretta, I was on the hunt for another vehicle.  The same uncle that had sold me the ’85 S10 now had a nice little Nissan Sentra for sale for $1500.  The body was in good condition, the engine ran well, it shifted nicely and it had 4 new Blizzak snow tires on it.  Money was exchanged, and it was mine.

Taken on the day I got it.

I liked the colour of it – the brown seemed to suit it.  The interior was brown, too.  It didn’t have power steering, but it was so light it didn’t really need it.  It held the road well too, but the brakes didn’t have a pile of stopping power.  This would prove to be an issue later.

Classic JapaneseBasic and functional

The car really didn’t have any extra frills, but the basic stuff was there.  Controls and gauges looked and felt decently nice.  The car was comfortable enough for the 4 1/2 hour run to Halifax, but had a propensity to hydroplane.

Wide open engine bay

The engine worked well too.  It was peppy enough, and smooth.  My previous experience with a Nissan four was positive, so this one bode well too.   I think it was a 1.6 litre engine, similar in size to what a Tercel or Civic would have had at the time.

Edward!Moving stuff – unfortunately the cat didn’t come with me.

I set off on the first of many, many trips back and forth to Halifax as I started my new job as a mainframe operator.  It was the first job I had ever worked in a shift-based environment.  It was an 8 to 8 shift, either nights or days, as the Unisys 2200-based mainframe needed constant watching and tending to.  Whether it was making sure there were audit trail tapes in the autoloader tape drives, or tending the Siemens printers, or any of the other duties, there was always something to do.  One benefit of the shift schedule was that there were varying times off, from anywhere from 2 days to 7 days in a given period – so on my days off, I’d travel home.  Good times.

My first apartment in Halifax

My parents would also come up to visit from time to time on the shorter durations off.  I’d drive them around so they could take advantage of the wider selection of stores to shop at.  One day, we were all in the little car on the highway, and was in the wrong lane for the exit I wanted.  The traffic was heavy, and there was an opening ahead of me on the right.  I accelerated, switched two lanes over into the on-ramp..Ouch!

…right into the ramp, with cars backed up on it.  I hit the brakes – which weren’t really that strong – and tagged the guy in front of me.  He was driving a half-ton with a really sturdy bumper.  We got off the ramp, and looked at the damage.  Incredibly, he told me that I got the worst of it, to slow down, and to have a merry Christmas, and he promptly left.  We couldn’t believe it.  We got out of there pretty quickly.  The car drove fine, I stomped the hood back into place, and I made it back to my place.  On my next time home, I got the parts to fix the car and put it back to normal.

I think I still have that plate.

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, I was on the highway heading back to my apartment when the car started making a funny sound.  It kept losing power until it got to the point that it couldn’t pull itself up the steep hill to my apartment.  I had it sent home to Cape Breton on a wrecker, and upon pulling the head off found that the head gasket had blown between number 2 and 3 cylinder and burned a sizeable gap in the block between the cylinders.  It wasn’t fixable.  Another engine was found, and installed.

 Happier times for the Sentra.

I took the car back to Halifax, and to my dismay, found that this engine had something wrong with it.  Clouds of blue trailed behind the car.  It was pretty bad.  Cars would honk their horn at me.  If I could have put a bag over my head, I would have.  After taking it to a shop, they diagnosed it as a cracked head.  A new head was installed, and it was worse than ever!  At a stop sign, the car would almost be hidden from the smoke that would come out the exhaust.  Fifteen hundred dollars later, the car was undriveable.  I was disgusted.  The hunt was on for a running engine, one that we could see ran fine.  One was duly found and installed, but my confidence was shaken in the car.  We were able to sell it – and a friend of my father had gotten a new car, and was selling the old one.  Was I interested?  Well – not overly, but as I was now relying on my father to loan me the money to buy it, and it being a GM product he approved of, what could I say?  What has been the worst car you have ever had?