Curbside Classic: 1987 Nissan Laurel (C32) Saloon Grand Extra – Worshipping The Ruler

Back in the ‘80s, Nissan designers were definitely not an unruly bunch. In fact, they must have lived by the ruler, and only by that implement, if this Laurel is anything to go by. Granted, that must have felt like a welcome change from their wild (and often nightmarish) ‘70s excesses, but man did this square peg fit in its square hole.

From certain angles, anything even approaching a curve is just impossible to discern. They even squared the tailpipe. If it weren’t for the license plate script, it would literally all be straight lines. A wee bit boring on the one hand, but then you could do a mightily good rendering of this picture using an 8-bit Nintendo. Maybe that was the point.

The C32 Laurel was the fifth generation of that nameplate. It was launched in 1984, slap bang in the dying days of the hard-core origami design era. The renderings above were likely made circa 1981-82, right when the likes of the Chrysler K-Car or the Talbot Tagora were all the rage. The former seems to have had a bit of influence on the pillared saloon, but the latter (main drawing) looks like it was used to give us the 4-door hardtop variant. At least, that’s the highly questionable theory I’ve come up with.

Above: 1984-86 Laurel pillared saloon; below: 1984-86 Laurel hardtop sedan.

The reality turned out a bit different. Gone were the hardtop’s lowered window beltline, forgotten were the formal saloon’s neat C-pillar and in came a rather fugly and chrome-laden snout.

Said chrome was absent on European-spec cars, as we can see from the UK brochure page above, doubtless because Nissan reckoned it would have not helped sales. It made the Laurel look even blander, but it’s better to be criticized as too discreet rather than ridiculed.

Said snout would be amended, in my view for the better, quite significantly with the mid-life facelift seen on our feature car. Lower-trimmed JDM saloons also mercifully made do without the stand-up hood ornament. Don’t get me wrong, those are fine on Lincolns or Benzes, but on this?

This generation Laurel was the last one to be exported to Europe, and apparently it sold reasonably well in certain markets. Of course, the hardtops were only for the JDM, Hong Kong and the Middle-East, because reasons. However, Euro-spec cars (and many other overseas markets) could be ordered with the previous generation’s 2.4 litre L engine that the home islands never got.

Nissan Laurel 1987 Japanese brochure excerpt


Engine options were nonetheless numerous for the JDM, even more than on its R31 Skyline and F31 Leopard sister cars. Base models made do with a 1.8 litre 4-cyl.; mid-level trim cars like our CC were more probably ordered with the new RB 2-litre straight-6 producing 130hp. Higher trim Medalist and Eminence models were available with the (also new) 2- and the 3-litre V6, some turbocharged, that the Skyline never got. There was also a 2.8 litre Diesel six, mostly ordered by fleet operators in Japan.

The C32 Laurel wasn’t too avant-garde under the skin – MacPherson struts up front and a multilink live axle with a Panhard rod in the rear. This conservative approach helped in the home market, but it failed to impress the European automotive press, who claimed the Laurel was decently comfortable, but a bit on the old-fashioned side.

Equipment was deemed above-average on Euro-spec cars, but then the overseas trims do not align with this JDM example, so it’s difficult to do an exact comparison. This “Grand Extra” cabin is far from looking like a taxi, but also nowhere near as plush as a fully-loaded 3-litre C32 hardtop. The manual transmission on this car is a nice surprise.

Production of the C32 carried on until December 1988 for hardtops and regular saloons, but the fleet model carried on for another four years to mid-1993, when the Crew took over as the Nissan taxi.

And yes, I must say it looks like it would make for a pretty good taxi. Not a few Euro-spec cars were pressed into this type of service as well. I bet plenty of luggage could fit in that rear end and the upright roofline looks like it would give rear passengers ample headroom. I guess that’s the main bonus or designing cars with just a ruler: everything ends up looking like a Volvo, but at least you maximize the amount of real estate.

Over 250,000 of the fifth generation Laurel were made, but they seem to have all disappeared, taxis included. This is the first one I think I’ve seen in four years of CC hunting in Japan. In contrast, R31 Skylines still prowl the streets in respectable numbers, yet it’s essentially the same car. Maybe if they had stuck closer to the initial sketches and made it a little less staid, the C32 Laurel might have the same popularity that the Skyline still enjoys. Rulers are meant to be broken – or at least slightly curbed.