Same color, though this is the coveted SE-R. Mine had no fog lights and the smaller alloy wheels.
In the summer of 1991, gasoline was selling for $1.50/gallon in California – equal to $2.79/gal today, with inflation. This was a budget buster, as the Trooper and P’up we owned were no longer either practical or fuel efficient enough to keep in the family. It was time to downsize. The Trooper and P’up were both sold privately, and we were in need of replacements…
The P’up was sold first, so J. was able to choose her replacement. I don’t remember if there were any other cars in contention, but she chose the Mazda Protégé. Dark blue with a light blue interior, LX trim. It looked like a scaled down E-Class and was positively luxurious compared to the truck.
The Trooper sold not long after, so it was my turn to choose. I knew I wanted a few things: 1) a stick shift; 2) 2 doors, either a hatch or a sedan; and 3) something fun to drive. I had been a subscriber to Car And Driver magazine since the mid to late 70s, so each monthly edition opened my eyes to the possible choices. Two quickly rose to the top of the list – the Honda Civic Si and the new Nissan Sentra SE-R, with the 140HP SR20DE engine that every enthusiast magazine sang the praises of.
I test drove both, and liked them equally well. However – and, this is a repeating theme in these stories – the budget reared its ugly head. The SE-R was a couple thousand dollars too much, so I was “encouraged” to look at the Sentra SE. The SE didn’t have the up-level engine, but it had most of the looks of the SE-R – alloy wheels, rear spoiler, deep front fascia (without the fog lights, however).
There was one other choice available – a duplicate to J’s car, only in light blue instead of dark blue, and a stick shift instead of the 4-speed automatic. In retrospect, it was the car I should have chosen, but the thought of having two of the exact same cars in the garage at the same time seemed, well, weird.
A call to my insurance agent revealed that the Civic Si was going to be more expensive to insure, so that left the Sentra SE. What color, then? The dealer had a red one on the lot, which I wasn’t completely thrilled with. The dealer said they could do a dealer trade for one in black. The day came to negotiate the deal and sign the paperwork, and I had a chance to look at the black car they brought in. The other dealer decided that pinstripes would ‘classy’ up the black exterior, but it turned me off. Red it is! I believe the MSRP was just a touch over $10K, and we negotiated a decent discount, and I brought it home.
The SE did have a 110HP engine, a slick shifting 5-speed manual transmission, and a 7000 RPM redline. No AC, but a decent 4-speaker stereo system was available. No power windows or mirrors, either. In 1991, airbags were not yet standard equipment, and many manufacturers took one of two alternatives to passive safety – either the dreaded motorized belts, or a three point system that attached to the door frame and was meant to remain attached to the latch on the inside portion of the seat. The Sentra was equipped with the latter, which I never used in its intended fashion. A coal black interior completed the interior theme, with seats that were more comfortable that I realized.
One other difference between the SE and the SE-R was the wheel and tire size – the SE-R had 14” wheels with 185 aspect rubber, while the SE was fitted with 13” wheels and only a 175mm width tire. Despite that, the handling was still pretty fun, and I used the available power and transmission to entertain myself on the twisty roads around town.
The back seat was pretty decently sized, certainly large enough to accommodate the car seat I was using. The trunk, too, was larger than the car size indicated. On Sunday mornings, my cousin, uncle, dad and I would get up at the crack of dawn and hit the golf course at the local Navy base (my uncle was retired Air Force, and had privileges). We’d arrive right when the sun was peeking over the horizon, play 9 holes, then pay for 18, play the next nine and be home before noon. The four of us, and our golf bags, fit into the Sentra nicely.
There were no mechanical issues with the Sentra, though the CHMSL that was embedded into the rear spoiler stopped working. I never tracked down the source of the failure, but I figured 2 out of 3 brake lights would be sufficient. I had to replace the tires once, which didn’t cost all that much, given the size. I was involved in one accident with it, when someone made a left in front of me (seems to be a theme, apparently).
The end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993 were dark days, personally. First, J. was involved in a pretty serious accident (another T-bone), where she broke her wrist and suffered a mild concussion. The Protégé was totaled, and we replaced it with a 1993 Honda Accord LX. Then I learned that the employer I had been with since graduating college was, um, “encouraging” me to find another position. Last, J. and I decided to separate, ending 5.5 years of marriage. I moved back in with my folks, and tried to figure out my next steps.
The job opportunity in Denver practically fell into my lap; I had been working with this company on a project with my current employer, and I casually mentioned to my contact if they had any openings available. A few weeks later I got a call from one of their managers, one thing lead to another, and I was offered a job. While it was tremendously difficult to move 1000 miles from home and my family, I knew that it was the best thing for me, at that time. I shipped most of my belongings, packed up the Sentra with the items I needed immediately, and hit the road.
The drive to Colorado took me the better part of three days – day one took me to Mesquite, Nevada, hard on the border with Arizona on I-15. Day two ended with me in Grand Junction, Colorado. The Sentra was a champ on the road, despite the lack of AC and cruise control. I had a box full of cassettes that kept the boredom at bay, and the scenery through Utah was just spectacular. The last day was the shortest, as it’s only about a 4 hour drive from Grand Junction to Denver, through the heart of the Rockies. I got settled into my new apartment and job, which would have me traveling once or twice a month.
The pull of a new car to celebrate this new chapter of my life was very strong, so not long after arriving in Denver, I started to casually start car shopping. Eventually, I was able to find something that was more mature than the racy Sentra, but still retained some of the fun to drive elements I wanted.
Interesting read MICHAELL; I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Sorry to read about the end of the marriage. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”.
A side note about black cars. When I was growing up it seemed to me that it was older people who favored higher end black cars. Black Cadillacs, Lincolns, Chryslers, etc. Now it appears it is more common for younger drivers to go for the black Acuras, BMWs, Nissans, and just about every brand and size of pick up truck.
As a young kid waiting to turn 16, I washed and waxed my parent’s black 1957 Chrysler until it was perfect. Well, perfect until the slightest dust, rain, or direct sunlight revealed the swirls and smears and imperfect results of my sincere efforts.
The red Sentra was IMO a better choice.
So also was J’s 1993 Honda Accord LX.
“J. and I decided to separate, ending 5.5 years of marriage” the same amount of time that I owned my ’96 Ford Aerostar.
Isn’t the ’90s Ford Escort related to the Mazda Protégé? Much of the front end & side view styling looks similar.
Yes it is the same car under the skin.
It reminds me of the time when Nissan in Canada solded both the 1991-94 gen and the previous gen who soldiered as the Sentra Classic until 1993.
And little we knew then this generation of Sentra will have a longer lifespan in Mexico as the Tsuru. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/curbside-classic-1991-2017-nissan-tsuru-hasta-luego-muchacho/
My good buddy uses a B13 Sentra as a commuter and absolutely loves it. I don’t disagree! It’s quiet, perfect little size, tight, offers great visibility and fuel economy.
Had a white 92 for several years not to long ago. I miss that car, great gas mileage, fun to drive and cheap to own. Owned it for 4 years, put 50k on it and sold it for $100 less then I paid for it. They are mostly all worn out now.
Two downsides, poor heat (that’s a big deal when it’s minus 14 out), and the manual transmissions aren’t terribly robust.
I owned a 92 Integra LS with automatic transmission and rented a 94 Sentra LE with automatic transmission when the Acura was temporarily sidelined. I believe that the Nissan had a DOHC engine, even if you didn’t pick the SE-R?
Anyway, the Nissan I remember as being quite “spritely”, while the Acura felt “solid”.
This generation of Sentra is one of those cars that I keep an eye out for, but even the later generations are getting difficult to find nowadays.
Yes, the non SE-R models came with the GA16DE, the SE-R got the SR20 motor (of fast and furious fame) an entirely different engine.
Still lots of B13s around my part of the world, many of them, and their B14 replacements, have been upgraded with SR20DET engines from the JDM Primera.
afew years ago I had both, a 96 Sentra coupe, identical to the 91-94 (Canada made them beyond 94) mine was red, 5 spd, but plain jane. It never ran right from the day i got it, replaced multiple items, and though they needed replacement, it still never quite ran right, till one day getting gas, it wouldn’t start. Fuel pump died. Hear it being a 96 with 91-94 obd1 no one around had a scan tool to check the code on the dash. I scrapped it, wasn’t worth a fuel pump, plus i got tired of throwing money at it. I also had a 94 Protege 4 years prior, SE with a power glass sunroof, 5 spd, lots of rust though. Loved that car, burned oil like a furnace, but it never left me stranded. Always loved those 90’s boxy little cars.
Such a handsome car!
We rented these throughout the US during these years and I always thought they were very handsome little cars. Their driving experiences weren’t as awesome as their exteriors, however. When I took one home I was always disappointed with the driving position, the arrangement of the IP and always had to cover the side window defroster because it blew directly into my face without remorse.
My father-in-law’s wife had a red one too. Buzzed around in it during family visits for many years. It was a dependable ride – yet there was always something missing that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
Love the Mazda – the Ford/Mercury based on the Mazda was excellent – naturally the Honda was good – but the Nissan was just a step beneath them. Not a bad car, just not a car for me, for some reason.
I wish I could buy another stateside. Not worth buying a Mexican shell and then a year long project to source and implant US stuff. Too many others to consider.
My B13 was merely a used 1994 S US version with automatic. 1.6. I put on headers, and small accessory pulley, which were noticeable. A good fun cheap car to drive for 75k miles. Gave to a niece.
Anyone out there with a B13, buy a front lower brace and put it on. It does not come with a front subframe and has aggressive oversteer without.
Thanks for the good post.
I now remember, I got quotes for new shocks and springs installed @ $1,400, more than the car was worth with 80k. DIY for $400.
I put on SE-R wheels, and lost velocity but gained stability.
She went into upshift/downshift confusion on long uphills at speed, 75mph. Holding the pedal to the floor. Turning off AC solved that.
I wonder how well those old Sentras handle an offset crash😱