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Car Lust--Nissan Pulsar NX

Pulsar1 Yes, it's time to celebrate the weird and wonderful Nissan Pulsar--available in the United States in two different generations, both of which were strange enough to be completely endearing. Strange--and somehow reminiscent of Lego creations.

The first-gen American Pulsar was a pretty conventional and slow coupe, remarkable mostly for its weird, blocky styling. That's the version in the first photo here (courtesy of Flickr user aperture_lag). It had Nissan's economy car hardware, so its speed didn't live up to whatever strange promises its unorthodox styling promised, but at least it looked interesting. I have an aunt who owned a Dodge Daytona Turbo Z and, later, one of these Pulsars; needless to say, she has great automotive tastes.

Pulsar2 But the next Pulsar is where things really got weird. The next-generation car looked a little more conventional, with a more normal roofline and a Toyota Corolla GT-S-like wedgy front end and hidden headlights. There were still a few quirks, though; for example, the oddly striped taillight covers, which presaged an unfortunate aftermarket trend and looked as if a teenager had constructed them in a garage with a router and a sheet of fiberglass.

The Pulsar's real claim to fame, though, was its modular body, which was an incredibly cool idea that somehow failed to translate.

This is what I loved about the 1980s--you could buy a Nissan economy car with wedgy performance car styling, uniquely 1980s striped taillights, and ... removable, modular rear body sections! Now, with about an hour of backbreaking work, you could convert your Pulsar from a conventional coupe to a "Sportbak" quasi-wagon. Was the car actually more useful as a result? Umm ... we'll have to get back to you on that, and the additional modular rear ends came only in gray, adding to the Lego effect. I can't imagine they sealed particularly well, either.

Pulsar3Most Car Lusts tempt me as used cars; I hear their siren calls from the used-car listings, and I have to fight hard to resist the urge. Not so Pulsars--I like them, I appreciate them, but more as a historical artifact than as a car I'd like to drive.

The commercial below isn't one of the greats, but there are two things I like about it--the contemplative piano music, and the dramatic unfurling of the hidden headlights. Dramatically opening the hidden headlights was one of the great artistic flourishes of the 1980s.

The conventional white Pulsar NX belongs to Flickr user emperor_tyrant, and the silver Sportback Pulsar picture was taken by Flickr user sportsracer-5.

--Chris H.


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The body shape is a remnant of the designer's childhood dream of building the fastest Pinewood Derby car for his Cub Scout Pack. Since he was unable to get into grandpa's wood shop to create his dream car, he took revenge on society by unleashing the wedge from hell via Nissan. This too is why it is a cramped, underperforming car - no thought was put into those components. It was sheerly to be a motorized (and super-sized) Pinewood Derby car, and the joke was that some poor saps actually bought them.

One of my sister's friends had a first-gen Pulsar. I always thought it was a nice-looking car. Probably blew the doors off Baby Sister's EXP--not that that's much of an accomplishment.

I've always hated those taillights. Same goes for the IS300/Altezza. Both sorta started a tailight 'trend' that just blew out of control. In the 80s, it was slotted taillight covers for everything, and in the 90s, it was altezza style taillights for everything. Both were horrible ideas.

I remember xZibit picking one up for Pimp My Ride, said some bad things about it, sent it to the crusher, and giving the pimp-ee a new Scion xB with a few extras.

I like the idea of swappable modular parts. This really gets the whole transformers thing happening, and even better there's a Lego element too. Two toys in one.

The thing that I find interesting is that there is a very specific market for cars like this... and its a market that is consistent from decade to decade. The cute, "sporty", underperforming car. It looks faster than it is. It makes "promises" it could never keep. But people buy them, and like them, and are satisfied to some degree - possibly very satisfied. I think of the demographic as being someone who wants something that just looks "sporty". It does not really need to do anything more.

I'm not in that demographic. My car has to do something. But it needs a certain multifunctional practical anonymity. It's statement is subtle - apparent to the trained eye of the aficionado.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Pulsar is the connection between the original Countach and the International Scout. These are cars that wear their functionality in an uncompromising and extreme way. The Scout is perfect for the plains of Africa and big game hunting - small demographic there. The Countach is all about going 200mph - there is styling, but the styling is meant to be a functional companion that exaggerates the purpose of the car... and in doing so makes a statement to those wealthy enough to own them. I guess the Caterham Super 7 would be another example of extreme functional statements.

But let's think about most people. Would a Scout, a Countach, or a Super 7 be the right car for the majority of the population? NO! Don't let the average driver anywhere near any of these cars. It would be so wrong.

Most people need a little inexpensive commuter car. They need fuel economy. They need reliability. Performance aside from basic safety is really not needed, in fact it might be a problem. Most drivers should not be encouraged to go any faster than they already do... most need to slow down and spend less time on the cell phone... some should not drive at all. So after all the basics are met, comfort, cost, reliability, safety, what else is there? Fun and something visually appealing - that's all.

I think that's where cars like the Nissan Pulsar NX shine. They are fun and novel. From a perspective that is critical of consumerism they provide visual cues that promote buying something new, not because it is better, but because it is fresh. To the average new car buyer that's fine ("who cares, it's cute and I want something new"). We could all wish that the NX had the guts that Honda so elegantly cloaked in anonymous econobox clothing. (Something Datsun did with the 510.) But those guts are really more than most drivers could reasonably handle or appreciate.

So the problems with cars like these really lie in the realm of the aficionado (or those who are critical of consumerism). The aficionado will be disappointed by cars like this. Because it is all promise but delivery is woefully inadequate for those interesting in performance. We want a sleeper. The Pulsar is not a sleeper. It's the opposite of a sleeper. But hey it's cute and fun. So it's hard for me to argue with something that makes its owner happy.

Mochi, as usual, you have nailed it. The Pulsar is not pistonhead passion fruit; it's basic transportation with a bit of visual uniqueness. Judged by that standard, it's a roaring success: reasonably reliable, and pleasing to its target demographic.

Modular body panels are a nice idea. The "Sportbak" is hideous, though. It reaches a level of sheer eyeball-punishing clunkiness that few vehicles not named "Pontiac Aztek" have ever sought.

Cookie TDG: "pistonhead passion fruit" that's just brilliant.

So that's what those are. It's one of those cars that you see a lot, vaguely wonder what it is, but don't bother thinking about anymore after the initial puzzlement. Not so ugly that you want to look away, but ugly enough that you don't want to spend too much time staring at it.

There's a Toyota or a Honda that's similar in that regard. I'd tell you what brand/model but, well, I never bother thinking about what it is for very long. . . .

Anthony - You may be thinking of the mid-'80s Toyota Tercel. They were definitely "unique", visually speaking, especially the 4WD version. Don't hold me to that, though. The Japanese were cranking out some rather unusual cars by that point.

I've seen tons of these goofy looking Nissans - they sold like hotcakes in California for some reason.

Brilliant. A friend of mine had one in Florida, apparently it let him down eventually, but was extremely economical transportation until then. AND, I think it looks BETTER as a wagon.

You know, I think I'm thinking of the Paseo. There was a really square-backed version in probably the early '90s that I just find goofy looking. Like they just missed the design cues by enough to make you not want to look at it for very long, but always notice it. That's what the Pulsar does for me.

Apologies to Nissan lovers everywhere, but I haven't warmed up to anything they've made since they changed the name from Datsun. Honda and Toyota were offering vehicles so much more interesting at that time (Prelude and Celica come to mind) that I just can't understand why anyone would have bought one of these. I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Fijate que quiero arreglar un pulsar NX modelo 86 y necesito algunas ideas para eso.... puedo obtener algunas por este medio????

Muchas gracias espero respùesta en mi correo

I have the 1988 Red Pulsar that was featured on the Pimp My Ride Show, however it was never Pimped out instead the contestant received a brand new Pimp out Mustang for those who didnt see that episode.
The Pulsar is currently for sale along with some pictures of it take in the shop "G.A.S." that is the hosting shop for the show.
You can see it on Craigs list in the LA cars for sale section.

The Nissan Pulsar was a compact car/small family car produced by the Japanese automaker Nissan from 1978, when it debuted as a subcompact car, to 2007, when it was replaced in all markets by the Nissan Tiida (or Nissan Versa). It was originally conceived as a replacement for Nissan's first front-wheel drive platform, the Nissan Cherry family (models E10 and F10). Although Pulsar models were mainly in front-wheel drive configuration, Nissan did offer four-wheel drive models during the 1980s to early 1990s, ultimately ending with the four-wheel drive turbocharged Nissan Pulsar GTI-R. Some models were sold as Nissan Sunny and Nissan Almera.

Owned one, 1987 Pulsar NX, for almost ten years, till 2001 - it went on to friend of mine (yes, still friends!) and he ran it for two more years till the engine went.

It was my baby - first car that I thought was cool to own. I'm not someone who needs a fast machine, just fun for getting down the road. I have a 2000 Celica, which is similar - decent little 4 bagger, no problems with her.

Aw, but still love that Pulsar best - first love thing ;)

I bought the boxy 85 model a very long time ago. I just needed a good reliable grocery getter car and I decided if I had to have that type of car then why buy a typical boring looking one? Why not buy something that looked wildly different from most anything else around? Plus it was made by Nissan so I knew it would be a decent car. Well I was right. The Pulsar may not get much love around here but as a Pulsar owner (yes, I still have mine and I still drive it all the time. Almost 300,000 miles on it so far) I can say it was worth every penny I paid for it. What can I say? I have a fondness for weird Japanese cars. All the Pulsars, including the NX Coupe, were pretty weird looking. I love it. Nissan was actually flirting with the idea of making a new version of the Pulsar NX. Look up a car called Azeal.

Another thing, and this surprised me, people actually comment on it a lot these days. Positive comments mind you. I wasn't expecting that would ever happen. I have taken exceptional care of it though. It looks nearly new still.


hi i am in jacksonville fla i have 1984 niss pulsar nx bought it 2 yrs ago for my wife she had on 15 year ogo it was totaled can't get her out of this on it is work in progres need help finding parts

hi i am in jacksonville fla i have 1984 niss pulsar nx bought it 2 yrs ago for my wife she had on 15 year ogo it was totaled can't get her out of this on it is work
in progres need help f
inding parts

st car that I thought was cool to own. I'm not someone who needs a fast machine, just fun for getting down the road. I have a 2000 Celica, which is similar - decent little 4 bagger, no problems with her.

Aw, but still love that Pulsar best - first love thing ;)

i was given an '84 nx that an old lady had sitting behind a barn for the past 13 years. dropped a new battery in and she was gtg. that beautiful little monster got me 44 mpg and took a solid and constant beating for years, without missing a beat. until the frame cracked from rust damage it had accumulated from all the years sitting unused. i miss that car so bad, haha. amazing how that ancient technology got better mileage than these new so-called "green" cars.

I have an '88 with the sportbak. It's a ridiculous little car, but I love it all the same! Haven't gotten to take the hatch off yet though I hope to this summer.

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