Curbside Classic: 1990 Nissan S Cargo – The Ugliest Car Ever Made? More Like One Of The Cutest

(first posted 3/20/2017)     The automotive digital world is vast, unruly, and hyper-competitive. Everyone is competing furiously for clicks and likes; bloggers will say almost anything to attract eyeballs. Just a couple of weeks before I found this S Cargo next to the Burrito Girl food cart, I had stumbled into Doug DeMuro’s post at autotrader where he proudly proclaims “I Purchased the Ugliest Car Ever Made (S Cargo)”.  Seriously? The Ugliest Car Ever Made? Desperate click-bait, or is he just lacking in taste? Did I have to ask?

The S Cargo may not end up on my “Ten Most Beautiful Cars Ever”, but it certainly has a spot on my “Ten Cutest Cars Ever”, or “Ten Cars I’d Like To Own”. In a world of dull, dreary, blobby, look-alike cars/CUVs, the S Cargo is a perpetually-raised middle finger to the inbred automotive taste of the times. Does a truly ugly car make everyone smile? Or laugh? The S Cargo does.

The S Cargo is one of four cars that would normally have never seen the light of day, especially coming from a major manufacturer.  The are the fruit of Nissan’s exploration of the out edges of the market; the automotive equivalent of $100 designer tee shirts. They were all built by the Pikes Factory; a subversive little operation of Nissan’s that churned out the most amusing, absurd, and charming retro post-modernist cars from 1987 to 1991.

We’ve covered them all here except the S Cargo. And given my love of tall, boxy and quirky cars, you can just guess how I now want one of these. It would make the perfect companion to the Pao Stephanie still pines for.  Now that they’re over 25 years old, they can be legally imported to the US. Now we just need to find someone to convert them to LHD.

A quick rundown of the Pikes Factory and its cars. Nissan hired designer Naoki Sakai, who had become obsessed with Japanese tattoo culture when he was at art school in San Francisco in the 1960s. He created tee shirts with the his designs that became madly popular for a while. In 1987, Nissan showed three concepts designed by Sakai, all based on the Nissan March platform. Due to overwhelming response, Nissan put them into production at the Aichi Machine Industry plant, which is actually a subcontractor for Nissan which nowadays builds engines for modern-day oddballs like the Juke and the Cube. It was then dubbed “Pike Factory.” And the Be-1 was the first to be built, in 1987-1988.

Demand outstripped supply by a 10:1 ratio, and a lottery was created to pick the lucky 10,000 that would be able to buy one.

In response, Nissan commissioned Sakai to design three more vehicles. The first two were the Pao, which I found in Eugene a few years back, and wrote up here. The other was the S Cargo, which we’ll get back to in a moment.

The final Pikes Factory-mobile was the Figaro, from 1991. CC’s David Saunders found one of them in his part of the world in Canada, and wrote it up here.  That now just leaves the Be-1 to be found for CC.

Needless to say, the inspiration for the S Cargo was undoubtedly the Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette delivery van, which is really the mother of the whole breed of small FWD passenger-car based vans that are so common around the globe, and the offshoots are now available in the US as the Ford Transit Connect and Ram Promaster City, although they are obviously quite a bit larger.

It appears that the proprietors of Burrito Girl have bought one of the few now in the US to haul their supplies. And why not? It’s just about perfect for transporting the modest-sized amounts of cargo required for a food cart.

There’s no back seat in these; just a moderate (but tall) cargo area, as befitting its name.

Speaking of, its name is of course a play on both “Small Cargo” as well as escargot, French for snail, which also happens to be the nickname for the Citroen 2 CV.

If the 2CV was famous for its sluggish ways, the S Cargo is faithful to its inspiration. The 1.5 L four still has a carburetor, is rated at 75 hp, and is mated to a three-speed automatic. That’s plenty for the crowded streets of Tokyo, but not exactly ideal for American freeways. But that’s not what life in Eugene is about anyway; and it is perfectly able to take our relaxed (read: slow) freeways in stride.

Maybe some of you won’t be quite able to share my enthusiasm about finding this S Cargo, but then I’ve tried hard to share yours about your Broughams. Variety is what makes the world interesting, and that’s what I hunt for every day on the streets. Go ahead and laugh at it, but just don’t call it the world’s ugliest car. It’s playful; and we all could use a bit more of that in our lives.



CC 1989 Nissan Pao: Retro Done Right   PN

CC 1991 Nissan Figaro: More Anime Than Animal  D. Saunders