Whaddaya mean, “Facile brainfart of a throwaway title?” My first effort was “Two, Four, Six, Eight, Here’s Our Favourite Ungulate,” so it could have been worse. But when I first laid eyes on this hot little hatchback, far from thinking about horned quadrupeds, I thought about Corollas. “Hey, what’s wrong with that Trueno?” is what popped into my stupid head. Seeing AE86s all the damn time conditioned me to confuse this Nissan Gazelle (a.k.a Silvia or 200SX) for yet another Toyota, initially. A cardinal sin.
In my defense, the Nissan S12, already quite uncommon in its day, has pretty much completely disappeared now, so my eyes are out of practice. Still, between this and a Sprinter Trueno, I’m thinking the Nissan side of things might be more fun. This Gazelle is certainly a completely different animal from the one that Nissan sent over to Australia (see William Stopford’s excellent post for more info on those) and the 200SX shipped over to the States. The Ozzie cars had a live axle and could only be had with the Bluebird’s uninspiring 100hp 2-litre. By contrast, US cars had the same IRS as the JDM cars and eventually could be ordered with a 160hp 3-litre V6.
On the JDM, these high-trim early S12s were given this humpy hood to make room for the DOHC 2-litre within. And this one also has a turbo, which means 190hp. That’s got to make it one tough Gazelle to catch. Some European countries also got the FJ20 engine in their S12s, but only Japan got theirs turbocharged. Lower-spec cars, as we can see in the brochure excerpt above, were available with various iterations of the 1.8 CA (including turbocharged versions) and the 2-litre FJ.
I was never very keen on the alphanumeric soup that Nissan served to accompany their RWD coupés in most foreign markets in those days, but then Fairlady, Silvia and Gazelle were particularly effeminate monikers, so there is some logic. The Gazelle name, which was intended for use in certain Nissan dealerships that did not carry the Silvia, only lasted a couple of generations.
In Japan, the Gazelle name didn’t even make it past the S12’s mid-life facelift in early 1986. Interestingly, the only Japanese carmaker at the time that named a model after one of the gazelle’s predators was Nissan with their Leopard. The S12 Gazelles only escaped premature extinction by staying on the Australian market until the S13 took over in late 1988.
Apparently, the Gazelle was supposed to be the luxury variant to the Silvia’s sportier one. That’s probably why these little antennae are up on the roof there. What are these for though? I’ve seen them on a few JDM cars of this era, but I’m still not clear what they do. Answers in the CComments, pretty please!
Inside, the luxury is evident for all to see. If you can call it that. The checkered print bucket seats and door cards really tie the cabin together. The CD collection just seals the deal: me want! It’s a wonder why Nissan only shifted 30,000 of those S12s in Japan in four and a half years – that’s about one tenth of the Skyline sales. Sure, the Skyline existed in more variants, but it was also more expensive. And loads more popular, both then and now.
It’s a pity, because the S12 Gazelle pioneered two pretty cool technological whizz-bang toys to entice novelty-obsessed Japanese customers into signing the dotted line. One was an early form of keyless entry — rather impressive for a Nissan of the period.
The second one, which unfortunately I cannot show this on today’s car though it should have it, is “The world’s first fully retractable headlamp with a wiper.” That’s right, those flip-up lights have a wiper attached. Duly noted, but the question then becomes: if this was the first car with than enviable and necessary feature, what (if any) was the second car with retractable lights-plus-wipers? Over to Mr Stern for that QOTD. And over and out from me on this Nissan Gazelle. Interesting car in many ways, marred by rather boring styling.
Curbside Capsule: 1984-86 Nissan Gazelle 2.0 SGL Coupe – Entering The Lion’s Den, by William Stopford