When it comes to describing the trending automotive styling in the mid-00s, “peak retro” just might best the best description. Popularized by mass market mainstream cars including but not limited to the 1998 VW New Beetle, 2000 Jaguar S-Type, 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2001 MINI Cooper hatch, 2002 Ford Thunderbird, 2005 Chrysler 300, 2005 Ford Mustang, 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, 2007 Fiat 500, and 2007 Dodge Challenger, this industry-wide display of retro flamboyance certainly reached its peak in the mid-00s, but it surely wasn’t anything new and certainly hasn’t fallen out of practice. While the early-1990s brought an influx of eye-catching curvaceous designs sharply contrasting the boxy styling of their 1980s predecessors, some manufacturers felt it pertinent to reach deep into the past, in an effort of postmodernism. Among the most unusual, was this 1991 Nissan Figaro.
Sold only in Japan for the 1991 model year, the Figaro was a result of Nissan’s Special Product Group, a team also responsible for the Be-1, Pao, and S-Cargo — three other limited-release retro city cars around the same time. Meant to evoke mid-century microcars, the fixed-roof convertible Figaro drew its design inspiration from a number of period cars, particularly from the 1950-1954 Gutbrod Superior, a low-production German fixed-roof convertible.
Utilizing the Nissan Micra’s platform and most mechanical components, the Figaro shared the former’s 90.6-inch wheelbase, 1.0-litre turbo inline-4 producing an equally puny 76 horsepower and 78 lb-ft. torque, MacPherson strut front/multilink rear suspension, and front disc/rear drum brakes. Despite its low output, the Figaro’s low 1,786-lb. curb weight allowed it to achieve a top-speed of 106 miles per hour, not that this speed was easily attainable in large cities. Four colors were offered, one for each season: Lapis Grey for winter, Emerald Green for spring, Pale Aqua for summer, and Topaz Mist for autumn.
Inside, the Figaro appreciatively complemented its retro-inspired exterior with an interior possessing vintage design tied with modern functionality. Its driver was bestowed with vintage-looking twin round gauges, thin-rimmed steering wheel, and toggle-switch controls, and both occupants were treated to ivory leather bucket seats with contrast piping. Standard AM/FM stereo cassette/CD and HVAC controls blended retro styling with familiar operation.
I’ll be honest when I say I was completely stumped the day I came across this Figaro in the Whole Foods parking lot following a Memorial Day weekend challenging hike and then brunch where I may have had a glass or two of rosé. I actually did think it was something Italian from the 1950s or 1960s, questioning where the figawi? Nissan only produced 20,073 examples — initially just 8,000, but ramped up production to meet overwhelming demand, ordering an additional 12,000+ units. In fact, interested buyers had to enter a lottery in order to even get the chance to purchase one. Somehow, this one made it over stateside to Massachusetts, likely a more recent journey now that its over 25 years of age, allowing it to be legally imported and registered.
Photographed at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, Massachusetts – May 2019