The smallest and youngest Japanese carmaker celebrated 30 years in the Nissan-based British-esque retro-mod game last year, and it’s still going strong. Mitsuoka’s retro-luxury-themed output started with the Le Seyde in 1990, but in 1993 they really hit the chrome on the nose with the first generation Viewt. Shockingly, we’ve not had a proper look at these cars yet. But I found several over the past few months, so here’s a sort of sampler.
First-generation Viewts are not as common as their younger siblings, but they’re not too rare either. The title pic silver car and the beige car above I caught in Okinawa, the others in this post were found in and around Tokyo. Some have now made it to other Asian countries, as well as the UK, where I’m sure they raise all sorts of eyebrows and questions.
Before we go any further though, let us remind ourselves of the basis for the Viewt, i.e. the Nissan K11 March (or Micra, in many foreign markets), made and sold in Japan from 1992 to 2003. A fairly standard compact car for its time – FWD, 1.0 or 1.3 litre DOHC engine, 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto, the Nissan K11 was also pretty roomy, very reliable and overall good value for money, whether one compared it on the JDM to its domestic rivals, or to European cars in this segment.
Mitsuoka could not know how long the K11 March was to stay on the production line, nor how it would garner a good reputation, but they bet the farm on the little Nissan to serve as a basis for their Jaguar-flavoured saloon, a welcome high-quality addition to the blossoming JDM retro scene. This was a shrewd move.
The Viewt (a baffling name if there ever was one, but then one could say that of almost all Mitsuokas) was released upon an unsuspecting public in January 1993, a year after the K11 March’s debut.
To keep costs low compared to the more exclusive Le Seyde, Mitsuoka merely replaced the front and rear end (fenders included) on a K11. The operation also included a full rear hatch-ectomy, complete with a specially-designed rounded back windscreen and a stick-out rump that made for a much longer overall length, compared to the March.
Clients could pick from among a wide variety of colours, with an interior to match, if desired. The whole car was then painted to a very high standard and chromed, and new wheels were fitted. None of the March’s mechanical or structural integrity was compromised, so manufacturer and parts supplier warranties were unaffected.
What I do not know (but would be keen to find out) is how or to what extent Mitsuoka guaranteed the bits of the car they were responsible for. All the Viewts in this post look pretty nice, but I’ve seen some whose body had seen better days. Mitsuokas seem not to age all that gracefully, though from personal observation, the bigger cars (Galue, Ryoga) appear even more prone to falling apart at the seams.
From a design perspective, the grafting of the bulbous Jaguar nose and butt onto the not-exactly Rubenesque K11 March centre section doesn’t really work. It’s about as inorganic a result as can be, with the extra-long nose, tall flat roof and bulging rear-end throwing any sense of proportion to the four winds, especially in profile.
These esthetic deficiencies are all the starker now that we have had two subsequent generations of March-based Viewts, the K12 (regularly produced between 2005 and 2010, but we’ve seen that one in some detail previously) and the present-day K13, to compare and contrast.
I found a nice black K13 for comparison, and the cohesiveness of the design, while still pretty contrived, is a lot better than the K11. This third-gen Viewt has been in production since late 2012.
It’s also interesting to see how the K13 resolves the hatch issue. The K13’s slightly humpback roof shape is not exactly successful in its attempt at making one lay down and think of England, but you work with what you have. Neither the previous generations nor the present-day Viewts really made much of an attempt at pointy Mark 2 Jag-like taillamps, strangely enough.
In the interest of offering a cheaper alternative, Mitsuoka also make this, the Viewt Butte Nadeshiko. Instead of going to the trouble of turning a hatchback into a three-box saloon, they just sell these with the March K13’s rear end and thinner chrome “bumpers.” The K12 actually pioneered this marketing innovation.
Speaking of which, and in the interest of full discomfiture, we should also take a quick glance at the K12. To be fair, with its naturally rounded greenhouse and curved beltline, this second generation probably got closest to the idea of the Jaguar that the Viewt was always aiming at.
It’s obviously the case that Mitsuoka were filling a niche that the larger automakers were only starting to discover. It was actually Nissan that stumbled upon this retro thing first with the Pao and the Figaro, soon imitated by other car- and kit-makers.
But nobody specialized in it and committed to it like Mitsuoka. They were retro through and through, even if they did keep a few other accounts active, such as EVs and sports cars. The Viewt became a runaway hit, relatively speaking. Call it a walkaway hit, then.
The retro appeal was so potent that Nissan even tried to cash in on the whole thing by having Autech design a selection of cheaper sub-Mitsuoka models for the March. Pictured above is the K11 Bolero, which was pretty successful – well, enough for it to be carried over to the K12.
Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that at least three different companies, in the late ‘90s, started making kits to turn the K11 March into an imitation Princess 1100/1300 (faux British license plate sold separately). This is a testament to both the Nissan’s popularity and the Viewt’s influence.
What did that translate as in terms of sales numbers? That’s not entirely clear. Mitsuoka aren’t too forthcoming with production data, which makes sense: being a halfway house between a coachbuilder and a carmaker, they will do many things for a price. So if someone were to show up tomorrow at the Mitsuoka factory with a tidy 20-year-old Nissan K11 and leave them car, along with a substantial cheque, Mitsuoka would probably be willing to turn the old March into a new Viewt.
So it’s difficult to say when production stopped and how many units were made, but Mitsuoka themselves claim that the K11 Viewt was their first model to top 1000 sales per year, which gives us some sense of perspective.
It seems some Viewt buyers were keen on keeping the bill as low as possible. The tell-tale sign of a miser Mitsu is the interior. This one is 100% Nissan – the cloth seats and the standard-issue dash are deceptively proletarian for this wannabe-blue-blood.
Now that’s more like it! This is the swankiest version (I think) and definitely the more common one. There is a half-way trim level where only the centre console gets the walnut treatment, but this one where wood has also metastasized to the instrument binnacle is the full-fat, unexpurgated Viewtastic variant, the one that screams “Nouveau riche is the new rich” to a puzzled world.
According to various Japanese sources (and my own observations), the heart of the Viewt’s Japanese clientele was always single urban working females – quite a sizable population to cater to. This model is therefore filling the same niche that the Autobianchi Bianchina, the Renault 5 or, to an extent, the Ford Mustang did in their day, only cranked up to 11 and tailored for a culture’s near-toxic levels of obsession with quaint Anglo-European tat and kawaii (“cuteness”).
That’s not to say that there are no men driving these – they do, but as I understand it they buy them second hand. It’s telling that the four cars in this post all have post-1999 license plates, meaning they have likely changed owners once already. The Viewt is thus bought new by young professional women and then bought second-hand by older men who probably have a thing for vintage Jags, but can’t afford the real thing.
Here’s where things get a bit meta: now that these are a quarter of a century in age, they are actually starting to turn into classic cars in their own right, as opposed to just trying to look like one. Automotive history is folding in on itself. Mind officially blown and mike effectively dropped, I remain as dumb as ever, and so will now gladly give the floor to the CCommentariat for a free exchange of Viewts.