I was once told that the Italians export their lesser plonk and keep all the good vino for themselves. I’m starting to think that the Japanese have been doing the same thing with their cars, at least until pretty recently. Nissan were hardly the only ones guilty of this kind of behaviour, but their exports being beyond dull makes it all the more intriguing. What were they hiding?
Many of you North American readers will know of the Nissan Stanza, a flavourless and colourless FWD four-door that would have been completely forgettable had it not been so competently engineered and put together. Those of the Antipodean persuasion may know it as the Pintara. Paul wrote all that needed to be written about the last Stanza, describing it as “the kind of car you have to make a concerted effort to notice, given its exceptionally generic styling straight out of an insurance company ad of the times.”
And when we’re talking about the standard pillared saloon – the one they exported far and wide, it’s totally true. But they also made a hardtop sedan, which they slyly kept from the rest of the world. And we’re not talking about some cut-down top with discreet pillars and frameless doors here. This is a genuine hardtop. The seat belts are hanging from the roof. Evidently, that’s one reason why these could never be exported to North America, but did that necessarily mean the rest of the world had to be deprived of its presence as well?
It’s a slight exaggeration, to be fair. Some Southeast Asian markets (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore and probably Thailand) did get both variants. But did they also get the high-performance 175hp Twin Cam Turbo SSS Attesa Limited with the STC-Sus “Super Toe Control Suspension” (I am not making this up) and all the trimmings? Methinks not.
Our feature car is not a sssuper sssexy SSS, unfortunately. It does seem to have the 2-litre SR20D at least, so it’s not a complete loss. The U12 Bluebird was launched in Japan in September 1987 and got a minor facelift in October 1989 before being nixed in August 1991. Our example is a later car, with the revised taillights. The original ones were less fussy, but this is still ok and miles better than the anonymous arse of the Stanza/Pintara.
Inside, it’s a wild world of (faded) red and earth tones. Nothing dates a car like a coloured interior. Things went all black and gray by the mid-‘90s (except in Cadillacs and a few other outliers), so this generation of Bluebirds is a good representation of the way interiors were when carmakers had a bit more daring. As an aside, another bonus is that those horrible automatic seat belts seen on US market cars are absent here. I remember seeing those for the first time when we moved to the US in the summer of 1987. During our first few weeks there, my father rented a Toyota Camry that has those things – it seemed to me like the worst idea in the world. Still can’t abide the bloody things today.
If you tally up the models that just never made it across the Pacific (e.g. Skyline, Laurel, President, Gloria, etc.) and the ones that did but only in their least exciting variant, it’s no wonder that a number of American and European enthusiasts never thought of Nissan (or Toyota) as anything but bland generic cars for the longest time.
This eventually started to change, but for most people, aside from the Datsun Z coupé, the name “Nissan” was synonymous with “dull.” I’ll readily admit that used to think that way too, but I was plainly ignorant. In my defence, some of those Nissans were really aggressively boring, but still, mea culpa.
I now realize that Nissans, even of the family-oriented FWD kind, could always morph into something worth looking at (and posting about). It’s just that virtually all the really interesting ones were jealously guarded by Japanese enthusiasts when new, and not many have escaped their grasp since. Case in point: the invisible Stanza can turn into a remarkably handsome four-door – it’s just called Bluebird U12 Hardtop.
Curbside Classic: 1989-92 Ford Corsair/Nissan Pintara – A Lame Duck Bluebird, by William Stopford