Curbside Classic: 1987 Nissan Bluebird (U11) AD Van – The Minima Wagon

JDM wagons, especially the larger types, usually come in two guises: the family-oriented ones, which have the same creature comforts as its saloon equivalent, were usually badged as wagons. But there was almost always a super basic “van” version too, which might have been called “Delivery wagon” in the US, or “Commerciale” in France. What we have here is a rare survivor Nissan Bluebird utility wagon, in quasi-obligatory white and in timewarp mint condition.

Completely utilitarian by design and usually worked to exhaustion, the JDM van is not one to usually stick around for too long. They tend to be numerous when young and become very rare with age, especially in this incredibly clean state. Blue collar, but minty fresh!

Some of you may recall this wagon as part of the Nissan Maxima range, but many places got these as the Bluebird, especially the cheaper versions. This is the literal opposite of a Maxima (hence the title), as what we have here is the most stripped down U11 long-roof available.

The crucial thing about the U11 Bluebird, launched in late 1983, is that it marked the nameplate’s switch to FWD, coinciding with the switch from Datsun to Nissan. This was a pretty big deal for Nissan, though this segment, i.e. the relatively large (for Japan) 2-litre-and-below family cars, were all moving that way in the early ‘80s. The Bluebird’s direct competition, such as the Toyota Corona or the Mazda Capella, were already front-drivers by the time the U11 Bluebird made its debut.

It seems these were named “AD Bluebird” in Japan at the time, for some reason. Which is kind of confusing, as the first true Nissan AD van, which has fathered a long line of successor generations, was actually one size smaller (based on the B11 Sunny) and launched in 1982. So I’m really not sure why they called this one AD as well, because the AD family tree is quite a different one with the U11, at least until Nissan was forced to rationalize their range in the Ghosn era.

Being a utility wagon, the U11 van was de-contented to the maximum (minimum?): cheapo round headlights, minimal side trim, fender mirrors (not sure why exactly, but those were always preferred on working vehicles long after they were deemed superfluous on private cars), basic steel wheels sans hubcaps, and those horizontal metal bars in the rear windows all these older JDM commercial wagons seemed to have, for some reason that someone in the CComments might be good enough to share with us.

It’s no small miracle that this van made it to its fourth decade on the planet in such good nick, at least externally. Inside, things are a little different. Not much of the staid original cabin remained untouched – quite a contrast with the plain stock exterior. The rest of the van was very crowded with piles of stuff in both the rear hatch and the back seat, so at least this is still being used for hauling cargo.

The engines available in the U11 Bluebird van were either the carburated 1.6 (before 1987) or 1.8 litre CA 4-cyl. (80 and 90hp, respectively) or the 58hp 2-litre L-Series Diesel. The petrol-engined vans only had a 4-speed manual as standard – right up until the end of production; the Diesel cars received a 5-speed in 1986. To tell you the truth, I’ve no idea which one we have here. All engines are reasonably reliable, if somewhat leisurely.

The four-door U12 Bluebird took over saloon duties in September 1987, but the U11 van production kept on going until March 1990 and sales continued for a few months after that. In May 1990, Nissan presented the Avenir, a wagon not related to any of their saloons, that was to take over from the U11 van and wagon.

The Avenir went through two generations until it was replaced in 2005 by the AD Wingroad. Yes, the AD took over, as the idea of having two different “solo” van/wagon lines on top of all of the other saloon-related vans and wagons that existed in the plethoric Nissan range finally had its day.

Present-day Nissan ADs are about as exciting as Toyota Proboxes, though not nearly as common. And that’s fair enough – it’s not their job to be anything but a (usually white) utility wagon, confusingly dubbed van in the local vernacular, and to be as businesslike as possible about it. And I guess this Bluebird van is the very same thing, made interesting solely by virtue of the passage of time. The quad headlamps and the Bluebird grille emblem do give this vehicle a lot more character than the Avenir or the Sunny-based ADs that followed. Minima wagon, but Maxima kudos for still being around.


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Cohort Classic: 1987 Nissan Maxima Wagon – The Smart Side Of Luxury Wagons, by Tom Klockau