The Nissan Figaro is a small retro car manufactured by Nissan. The car was originally sold only in Japan. Despite this, the Nissan Figaro has become popular with owners in the UK and Ireland, given the popularity of second-hand Japanese import cars. Its appearance has a resemblance to the 1960s Datsun Fairlady models.
The Figaro was introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show under the slogan "Back to the Future". It was built by a Nissan special projects group called Pike Factory, who also produced other niche automobiles such as the Be-1, Pao and S-Cargo. It was based on the K10 Nissan Micra aka March. Only four colours were available: Topaz Mist, Emerald Green, Pale Aqua and Lapis Grey. Each colour symbolised a season of the year. When the car was launched, Topaz Mist was the least popular colour. There were only 2,000 produced in Topaz Mist hence they have become increasingly rare.
The Figaro was equipped with leather seats, air conditioning, CD player and an open roof. It was designed by Shoji Takahashi, who won a design competition with the car.
The engine was Nissan's MA10ET, a turbocharged 1.0 L (987 cc) I4.
Only 8,000 were originally available with an additional 12,000 added to production numbers to meet demand. Prospective purchasers had to enter a lottery to be able to buy one of these cars. Limited edition cars came with passenger side baskets and cup holders. These now fetch hundreds on internet auction sites.
There are specialist dealers in the UK who supply parts and servicing for this car.
The Figaro is like those tiny Japanese cars from the 60s, from back when the Japanese were still scrappy upstarts when it came to producing cars, and when companies like Honda were more knows for motorcycles (and Formula One racing cars). Cars that used engines more commonly utilized in dialysis pumps or pacemakers. Like the Honda S600’s exquisite 0.6-liter inline four—with DOHC and four carbs. Except, of course, the Figaro is a modern car.
Compared to its spiritual predecessors, the Figaro runs a big block. Its turbocharged one-liter MA10ET makes 75 HP which sounds infinitesimal until you consider that it has but 1,800 pounds of car to propel. Imagine a car whose power-to-weight ratio improves by 10 percent if a corpulent driver disembarks.
What makes the Figaro so popular in London is of course the fact that all of them were built right-hand-drive. Given that the whole production run was twenty thousand, you bump into them surprisingly often. And their only saving grace is that they are much older than you’d think: the Figaro was introduced 20 years ago at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show.
It’s almost retro by its own right. Almost.
Back in the mid1980s Shoji Takahashi, a Japanese designer, set about creating a retro-styled car that would have all the charisma of a Sixties classic but with all the benefits of modern standards in safety, comfort and performance. The result is the Nissan Figaro, which remains one of the most unusual cars of the late 20th century.
Revealed at the 1989 Tokyo motor show, the Nissan Figaro was an instant hit and it soon became apparent that the manufacturer’s original intention to produce just 8,000 units would fall well short of the potential demand. The car’s brief production run was soon increased to 20,000 units but even this was not enough and potential buyers had to enter a lottery to win the right to make a purchase.
Furthermore, despite Nissan’s intention to sell the Figaro exclusively in Japan, it was only a matter of time before the first grey imports appeared on British roads. But buyers beware, the mileometer records only in kilometres.
Powered by a 1 litre petrol engine, the Figaro was, in essence, a reskinned Nissan Micra. A turbocharger boosted its power to 75bhp and, thanks to a kerb weight of just under 1,800lb, the car offered plenty of zip for the city while still returning good fuel economy.
But few buyers were concerned with the Figaro’s technical specifications, it was the model’s looks that set it apart. With styling more reminiscent of the late 1950s and early 1960s the Figaro was offered in just four body colours – topaz mist, emerald green, pale aqua and lapis grey – with each of the nonmetallic, matt finishes designed to represent a different season of the year.
Over time some cars have been subject to a repaint in myriad nonstandard colours – including vivid pinks – but the original cars are still viewed as the most desirable.
The car’s retro-styling extends to virtually every element of the bodywork with colour-coded centre caps on the wheels, copious chrome strips and a large mesh grille that would look equally at home on an aged Austin Healey. The Figaro’s desirability was further enhanced by its folding soft top. Finished in off-white, with a glass rear screen, the hood folded easily with the release of a pair of screen-mounted catches.
Despite the car’s diminutive size the front seats are large and squashy. Trimmed in white leather, they are prone to getting grubby but cleaning them regularly is a satisfying task. The bespoke radio CD, finished in a material akin to Bakelite, takes pride of place in the centre of the dashboard and chrome switches and knobs are scattered around the cabin.
Creature comforts are handled with discreet aplomb, power steering is standard, windows are electrically powered and air-conditioning, essential for the hot and humid Japanese market, is included.
On the road the Figaro feels, not unsurprisingly, like a Nissan Micra, and an 18-year-old one at that. The engine is a little raucous, the steering is a bit too light, the standard three-speed auto gearbox is not the smoothest and at higher cruising speeds the wind noise becomes rather intrusive.
But all these shortcomings have little impact on the car’s desirability as a secondhand purchase. When new the Figaro had a list price of about £10,000 and today good examples still fetch around half that price with some owners asking as much as £8,000 for what are described as “mint” examples.
If style, individuality and fun are what you are seeking in a used car then the Nissan Figaro delivers on all fronts – indeed it could just be the one secondhand car you buy that you will never want to sell.
Hood Off-white hood is prone to water marks and staining but can clean up well. Check seals for signs of water ingress and make sure poppers are not torn
Colours Originally just four. At launch the topaz mist (beige) was least desirable but now commands a premium of around £200. Check the quality of repaint on cars finished in nonoriginal colours, particularly bright pinks and blues
Stereo CDs tend to bounce in the factory-fitted stereo system. Specialist refurbishment is often required, costing around £300
Badge No visible Nissan badge on the bodywork, just a fleur de lys-like emblem on the bonnet
Residual values Secondhand prices can vary dramatically. All cars were initially registered in Japan during 1990-91 but secondhand prices can vary between £4,000 and £8,000 for cars of similar mileage
Trim Cupholders, boot trays and parcel trays can be hard to find secondhand and often fetch more than £100 each on internet auction sites