Curbside Classic: 1987 Nissan Maxima (PU11) V6 Turbo Hardtop Legran – The One That Missed The Boat

If there is a Nissan that went Stateside and found a home there, it’s the Maxima. The nameplate was born back in the Datsun days specifically for the North American market, and it flourished there so well that production was eventually moved to Tennessee. But for the first couple of decades, the Maxima was tried on various markets, including the JDM. So here’s one Maxima y’all didn’t get: the hardtop sedan.

In the North American market, the Maxima name was launched in 1980 as a large RWD sedan and wagon based on the Bluebird 910, but modified to use a 2.4 litre (or 2.8 litre Diesel) straight-6 that few JDM cars ever had. In 1984, the Maxima switched to the new Bluebird U11 platform, which was FWD. Unlike the previous generation, this Maxima also existed on the eastern side of the Pacific as the “Bluebird Maxima,” a high-end 6-cyl.-powered version of the Bluebird.

Just like in the North American market Maxima (top left and bottom pic), the JDM Bluebird Maxima (top right) came as a pillared saloon and wagon. Unlike the American Maxima, which sported Nissan’s new 3-litre V6, the JDM version limited itself to a 2-litre version of the same VG engine – seen on quite a few Nissans in Japan by then, such as the contemporary Cedric/Gloria, Laurel and Leopard.

But there was another JDM exclusive, which was the hardtop I found in an open parking garage a little while back. And it is a real four-door hardtop, too – none of that later “pillared hardtop” malarkey. Back in the late ‘80s, this body style was still somewhat prevalent in Japan when it had pretty much disappeared everywhere else. And among the Japanese carmakers, Nissan were the most enthusiastic proponent of this body style in the mid-‘80s, using it on the R31 Skyline, the Y30 Cedric/Gloria, the C32 Laurel and the U11 Bluebird.

So when a deluxe 6-cyl. Bluebird was devised, it made sense to include a hardtop variant as part of the Japanese range, given that these were higher status vehicles by their very nature. Sadly, the federalization of the U11 Bluebird into the Maxima did not include the hardtop, so it remained a JDM exclusive. As did the 170hp turbo V6, which our top-of-the-range (that’s what the “Legran” bit stands for) CC has behind its grille.

That’s as plush an interior as any other high-trim car on the JDM in the late ‘80s. Velour and power-everything, as one might expect. The only oddity, which makes this particular car even more desirable in my book, is the presence of a 5-speed manual transmission.

My real-life photo was not very good due to adverse lighting conditions, so here’s a PR shot of the full thing from a better angle. A supremely ‘80s sight, isn’t it?

It seems Nissan were keen to turn the Maxima into a global nameplate, as the “Bluebird” bit was quietly dropped in May 1987 on Japanese cars. This was related to the fact that the U11 Bluebird itself was being replaced by the U12, but the fact that the Maxima was kept on for an extra year (until October 1988, to be precise) means it must have been quite a home market success.

Our feature car is one of these non-Bluebird late model Maximas. And although this car may have been pretty successful back in the day (I haven’t found Japanese sales numbers for these, so this is more of an educated guess), these were still regarded as a sub-model by the Japanese clientele.

This is perhaps why I’ve not seen too many of these prowling the pavement. They’re getting on in years, for sure, but comparable ‘80s iron such as Skylines, Mark IIs or RX-7s, is still relatively plentiful in today’s Tokyo traffic. Luckily, I caught this very Maxima on said pavement (actually right on the street where I live) a couple of times, so I managed a few extra photos.

To be entirely truthful, I used some of these photos already in my latest edition of T87 Singles Outtakes. But I saw it again parked on my curb with its hazards on about a week ago and took a few more pics (discreetly, as there was someone behind the wheel). I took this abundance of pictures as a sort of sign that this car needed to be written up.

The next generation, known as the J30, went global, being sold in the Americas, Japan, Europe and other markets besides. However, it did not do very well in Japan. Once again, it seems this failure was chiefly due to the car’s excessive width, which made it leap into the same tax bracket as the truly big Japanese cars (e.g. Cima, Crown Majesta, Cosmo), where it became the proverbial small fish in the big pond. That, and the Japanese economy imploded. Only about 27,000 of the J30 Maximas were sold there between 1988 and 1994 — a dreadful dud, when the other side of the Pacific feted it as a “four-door sports car.”

This might go some way to explain why the Maxima name disappeared from the JDM after only two generations. In 1994, high-ranking FWD saloon duties were assigned to the Cefiro, which later became the Teana. All the while, the Maxima migrated to the States and never really looked back.

Nonetheless, it could be argued that Japan got the best Maxima in the shape of this PU11 hardtop sedan. The body style on its own would be reason enough for many to hail this as the maximum Maxima.

But add the fact that the turbocharged 2-litre V6 had 20hp more on tap than the 3-litre found in USDM cars and top it off with a five-speed, and you will doubtless come to the conclusion that the Japanese kept the best stuff for themselves.


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Cohort Outtake: 1988 Nissan Maxima – Culture Clash, by Brendan Saur

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

Vintage Reviews: 1987 Acura Legend, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Cressida – Wouldn’t You Really Rather Have A Buick…From Japan?, by GN