car spotting: a most charming figaro

I saw this little grey coupe turning left at the light a few cars ahead of me, and was pleased as the proverbial punch  when I looked down the street to see it parked at the curb. I had to turn around and check it out.  I caught the rear view first, of course, and was trying it against the template of several small cars from postwar Europe you see every once in a while.  Was I going to see some kind of crazy Borgward or something?

But when I saw the front, I knew that my spot was something perhaps less rare, but just as much fun.  It’s a Nissan Figaro– the first one I’ve even seen in the wild, but from what its owners told me, probably not the last.

The Figaro is one of four niche model “fashion cars” built by Nissan in the early 1990s  in the chassis of the March/Micro small car.  (The others were the Be-1, which was sort of like an Austin Mini, the Pao, a tiny “rugged wagon”, and the S-Cargo, a sedan delivery with a snail shape.)  Figaro, of course is a Euro style retro coupe.  It was built only in 1991, and while it was quite popular in Japan, it was Not Sold Here at the time.  But time goes on, the 25 year limit has passed and now these cars can be imported to the States as classic or historic cars.  The owners of this car report that the dealer where they got it had more than a hundred Figaros for sale, ranging from daily drivers to minty examples ready to be prepped for show.  Theirs, they told me, was somewhere in the middle.

The Figaro was sold in four color schemes representing the four seasons.   Lapis Grey with a white top, over a creamy biscuit colored leather, were the winter colors and my personal favorite.  Its owners report that it is a charming ride for country roads, with the March’s turbo motor giving plenty of pep, but you wouldn’t want to drive it for long distances on the freeway.  It has an automatic transmission, a fold down center roof panel that turns it into a sort of a convertible, and even air conditioning, making it more practical than it might look, but it is right hand drive, which might not be for everyone.  (Its owners were countershopping a Morgan three-wheeler when they bought it, so I doubt this bothers them.)

Ranking this spot is a work in progress.  A few years ago this would have been a 10, with the extra point for Not Sold Here.  I think with the new availability, we have to take that point away, so lets call it a 9 points for an extremely attractive and interesting car we rarely see, but not a true unicorn.

One of the fun things about old or imported cars are the cool stickers and badges left on them from their first life.  Check out the “Tokyo Nissan” dealer badge under the curb side (driver’s side!) tail light.  This sticker was on the passenger side of the windshield.

(Photographer’s note: Shooting cars in the street on a sunny day is always a dance with glare and shadows.  Having only your phone camera to shoot with doesn’t make it any easier.  These aren’t good photographs and I know it– they are presented for documentary purposes only.)

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