Ah, the late ‘90s. When life was simpler and cars were deadly dull. Maybe not quite as dull as the early ‘90s, but still about as exciting as a glass of tepid water. There, sitting among the bleak hatchbacks of that terrible decade, was the 2nd generation Nissan March / Micra. Successful, popular, well-regarded and duller than a weekday in February. Luckily, Nissan had an answer. It was the answer of the times, the hip and groovy streak of genius that would sell, sell, sell and get the kids to swarm their local dealerships. In a word: retro.
But not just any old retro, no. The glitzy chrome accents and gaudy grilles were good – inspired, even, but now Nissan gave their retro a theme. And on the March, that theme was dance. Retro dance. You know, the sort of thing kids go mad for. Rumba! Now that’s about as novel and fresh as that glass of tepid water I mentioned in the intro. Shades of Havana in the ‘30s. JDM customers can relate to that, right?
The Rumba was not dancing solo. Nissan were keen on playing all the hits in those days. The K11 March was declined into at least four music/dance-themed retro sister models, the others being Bolero, Polka and Tango. One wonders why the Charleston, the Can-Can and the Waltz were passed over. Or the Mashed Potatoes, the Funky Chicken and the Salsa (too food-related, maybe?)…
This fearsome foursome came about in the late ‘90s. The 1996 Tango was the first, a sort of trial balloon. Then the March got a facelift in 1997 and the three others arrived in quick succession. Nissan made their Autech subsidiary put their name to these four March sisters. I’m not sure why. Perhaps to make them seem cutting edge, trendy or performance-oriented. They were neither, of course.
Has any car been subjected to more retro versions than the Nissan March K11? Nissan / Autech created the aforementioned sorry sorority, but there were many more. There’s the Nissan “Verita 1952” – a Taiwanese first cousin with an apparent thyroid issue (top left). There were also a number of more distant family members afflicted with more serious cases of retro-itis, such as the infamous Mitsuoka Viewt and not one but at least three VandenPlas 1100 clones: the Lotas Princess (bottom right), the Copel Bonito (bottom left) and the Ministar (I’ll spare you that one, and a few others).
This rampant retro fever did not stop with the demise of the K11 platform, either. Some of these jumped to the K12 and continued on for years. The Bolero, which seems to have created quite a following for itself and is not a rare sight even today, is still being made, though it has switched hosts and is currently infecting the Dayz kei car. It seems the Rumba, for some reason, didn’t catch on all that well. It was launched in November 1998 and was gone by 2002. Even the Macarena lasted longer (certainly felt like it).
And I kind of see why. At least, the Bolero has that unique streamline-modern-esque grille. For their part, the Mitsuoka and the Princess pay homage to ‘60s legends (yes, I’m saying the VandenPlas ADO16 is a legend. Well, in Japan, anyway…) that would be challenging to afford and run otherwise. The other March sisters are pretty pointless, Rumba included. Some websites claim this is supposed to evoke the BMC Mini, but it really doesn’t. The Daihatsu Mira Gino did that far more convincingly. This March just looks like a fish-faced pike car without a purpose, a stylistic hook or a set of gills. No wonder it went extinct.