Origins of Nissan’s Quirky Designs

In the 1980s, Japanese consumers had unparalleled amounts of disposable income, and looking for something with a bit more quirks in terms of vehicles. This was especially true of younger buyers, who took one look at the efficient Nissan March, and promptly looked the other way. Nissan needed something interesting. The result was four of the weirdest cars the world has ever seen.

In the 1960s, Japanese culture was as buttoned-down as was the America of the ’50s. Conservatism was the order of the day, and anyone with a wild spark in their eyes tended to head for California.

One such young man was Nakao Sakai, an art school graduate who had become fascinated by the underground world of Japanese tattooing. The subject was taboo in rigorous Japanese society, and there was also little place for it in mainstream American society. However, in the wild, free-spirited San Francisco of the 1960s, Sakai found his own California gold rush. He began printing t-shirts with his tattoo-based designs, and the public couldn’t get enough of them.

Decades later, Sakai was working out of his own studio when he was approached by Nissan to develop a car. It was to be a concept, one of three shown at the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show. The first was called Prototype A, and it was designed by Nissan’s in-house department. The third was called Prototype B2, styled by an Italian group. Sakai’s car was called Prototype B1, and it was an instant hit.

Another car Sakai would design for Nissan was the Figaro, a compact two-seater with a retractable roof in the style of a modern Fiat 500 convertible. Svelte and stylish, the Figaro is more polished than its stablemates, but is also hilariously small. However, it was the car’s second life that became really interesting, as grey-market examples made their way to the UK, where a cult following sprang up.

The S-Cargo was powered by a 1.5L engine that made a (very slightly) healthier 73hp, and it had a roomy rear cargo area. That was all part of the charm of this weird little van, which is eye-catching, and surprisingly utilitarian. The optional removable sushi tray is a nice touch too.


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