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Nissan Figaro

Nissan_figaro_front Let's say you want to live the Car Lust Lifestyle. You've always had a vision of yourself with one of those delightful little British sports cars, like an MG or an Austin or a TR4--equipped with right-hand drive for maximum Britishness, of course. You picture yourself zipping happily down a country road on a crisp fall day with the top down, you in your tweed jacket and Ascot cap, an attractive and crisply-attired member of the opposite sex in the passenger seat.

You are also well-informed enough to appreciate that this dream comes at a high price. The car will be thirty or more years old. It will have rust that needs to be attended to. It will suffer from that legendary British inattention to build quality and durability. It will have a Lucas electrical system, designed and manufactured by the inventors of the short circuit. It will, therefore, be maintenance-intensive. To live this dream, it would seem you will either have to take up auto repair as a secondary hobby, or fund a private annuity for your local mechanic.

So is the price too high? Is it possible to have that cute little roadster without having to memorize its shop manual, or finance graduate school for the mechanic's kids?

Happily, the answer to the latter question is "yes," but it's still going to require some effort.

First, you have to establish residence in Canada. (If you don't already live there, of course. Canadian readers can skip this step.) Why Canada? Well, it's because your cute little British roadster with right-hand drive is actually coming from Japan.

Don't worry, it'll all make sense here in a moment.


The delightful little right-hand drive roadster above is the Nissan Figaro. It was designed by Shoji Takahashi, who worked a Nissan special projects group called the "Pike Factory." It's a deliberately "retro" design inspired by the Datsun Sports S211 of 1959 and the similar SPL212 Fairlady of 1960--but which also bears no small resemblance to an Austin-Healey or a Triumph TR4. The Figaro has a retractable steel roof with fixed B-pillars, making it a "framed convertible" like the 1950 Nash Rambler.

Figaro_on_the_road The Figaro is 147.25 inches long on a wheelbase of 90.55 inches, a mere 53.74 inches tall, and weighs 1,786 pounds empty. It has a modern, fully independent suspension with rack and pinion steering for proper roadsteresque handling. It's powered by a turbocharged 987cc engine which produces 75 horsepower; in a car that size, 75 horsepower makes for decent, but not mind-bending, acceleration. With the low seating position (ground clearance is less than six inches, and your rump is about a foot off the pavement), the Figaro undoubtedly feels much faster than it really is.

Best of all, it's Japanese. It has Japanese build quality and Japanese reliability. It will not break down with the disquieting frequency of a classic British roadster.

Nissan built 20,000 Figaros as a limited edition vehicle in 1991, and they were sold in Japan and the UK. (The original plan was to build only 8,000, but demand was so high that Nissan decided to expand production. Even then, potential buyers had to enter a lottery to get a shot at owning one.) The Figaro was never intended for sale in the U.S., and so was not designed to meet U.S. safety and emissions standards. If you wanted to bring one into the United States and drive it today, you would have to get it certified as meeting federal motor vehicle standards in effect in the year of manufacture. This could entail some wildly expensive modification and re-engineering.

That's where Canada comes in.

Figaro_front_quarter There is an exception to motor vehicle safety and emissions standards in both the US and Canada for imported "classic" cars. In the US, a "classic" is defined as anything over 25 years old. In Canada, it's only 15 years.

The 1991 model year was over 15 years ago. That means that it is legal to import a Figaro into Canada for use on the streets. In fact, several Canadian firms (Japanoid and Terra2 Imports, to name a couple) specialize in importing used Japanese cars to North America, and any one of them would be happy to sell you a Figaro. The market price for a Figaro in decent shape is around $10-$12,000 Canadian, which is competitive with the price of a good used MG.

If you want one, but you don't live in Canada and don't want to move to Canada, you'll have to wait until 2016, when the Figaro will then be over 25 years old. If you have a friend in Canada, and your friend has some garage space to spare, you might consider getting one now and socking it away for the next eight years. Your Canadian friend can be granted the right to take it out and play with it on nice days, which may get you a discount on the garage rental.

If anyone from Nissan is reading this, I'd like to make an appeal. You own the design, you may still have the tooling lying about, you've certainly got the scale drawings in a drawer somewhere and the CAD files on one of your mainframes. Why not put the Figaro back into production for North America? There's probably a market here for an MG-equivalent that doesn't rust and doesn't break down every 100 miles. It's cute and quirky and will complement the cute, quirky Cube nicely. The cost of US-specing the existing design is probably less than the cost of a completely new design. You could even build it in your Tennessee or Mississippi plants. How about it, guys?

The video clip below shows a Figaro puttering happily through England's green and pleasant land to the tune of "Smile" by Lilly Allen; the delightful retro interior and the retractable top are prominently featured. The photo at the top comes from Wikimedia Commons; the black Figaro and the small photo of a blue-gray one on a Canadian road come from Terra 2 Imports; the other illustration is from Japanoid.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner


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I've lusted for the Figaro ever since it appeared in Car & Driver around 1990. Such a well-executed design. Retro before retro was the norm. Toggle switches!

Very interesting article on the cars.

While recently cycling the Eastern Parkway in Ottawa, I was passed by a green Figaro with its top down. It had a personalized plate ("FIGGY") and looked great in the sunshine! Now, if only Ford would come back with a scaled-down version of the 1961 Lincoln Continental...

why do they promote this car to "straight men" wanting someone of the OPPOSITE sex in the passenger seat????
they need to get with the times...!

Cookie you are a man of excellent and refined taste. Figaro is fantastic. i saw my first a couple of years ago in Santa Monica CA near a Nissan dealer. a blurry camera phone shot of the car became my phone's screensaver. this is just a lovely piece of design. the detailing on the interior and exterior is amazing. it is hard to conceive of the fact that its not a car from the 50s. you have to look so close to figure out that it is a relatively new design.

forget performance or handling. with this car those things do not count. it's diminutive size and incredibly cute look is all that counts. i was convinced that it was a strange little italian or french roadster from the 50s until i saw the nissan plate.

i'm kind of glad they only made 20000 of these. it would be so cute to see them everywhere. but then it would end up being like the mini or the beetle - everyone wants one cause they are so chic - and that tarnishes the marque. savoring the limited availability of these little gems makes them that much more special. all that said - i'd buy one if i could fit in it or afford it.

Maybe you could consider New Zealand instead of Canada. You'd get a Figaro for maybe nz$14000 but that's only us$7000'ish.

Im sure a Figaro would look very nice parked outside the salon.

Sprocketboy: If Ford (Or Lincoln) built a downsized '61 (Or '69, the only one with a stand-up grille) 4-door Continental with suicide doors, maybe the size of a Fusion, I'd be in line with cash in hand to buy one!

The perfect 50's British drop top sports car made by a modern day Japanese car maker. If you looked up "Best of Both Worlds" there should simply be a picture of the Figaro. Well, OK, maybe a retro looking British sports car made by Germans would be second, albeit not as rare.

The Figaro is genuinely cute and all that, but it reminds me of nothing else so much as a 1959 American Motors Metropolitan. Which, I have to admit I owned back in the day. It lacked power and a four speed tranny and handling and interior space. But, so what? It was cute and personable and great fun to drive around town. Build quality sucked, but, hey it was 1959 and it was British.

At about the same time the Figaro was launched, so was the S-Cargo, a snail-shaped compact delivery van. I was living in the UK when the pair were announced, but never saw ony on the road.
However, lately my favorite UK car magazine, Classic and Sportscar
has ads for them..for not much money.
I think I'd still prefer the weird sedan delivery-like S-Cargo to the Figaro, but I've given more than a few idle moments to ways of importing one.

Im an american living in Malaysia and always loved the Figaro and S-Cargo. I would prefer the S-Cargo, suits me better, wish i could import one. Well, i could but the import tax would kill me. But people did import the Figaro and they seemed happy. Someone mentioned '61 Lincoln, did you know that car had the strongest chassis frame of any car ever built? Even the later Lincoln Mark III had thick, I-beam steel construction and electro-coated body. Fantastic build quality. Too bad by then the reliability of Lincoln had faded to zero. Another great "figaro" is the Toyota WILL. Check it out.

We recently saw a Figaro in Nashville, Tennessee, at The Lane Motor Museum. Perhaps the nearby Nissan American Headquarters and Nissan manufacturing plant helped get it there.

Does anyone know what is specifically required to register one of these in the US. I spoke to a guy who has one here but he purchased it here and isnt sure what was done to it.


Lucy, may I suggest that you contact Nissan USA Corporate Headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, for more info. Also, there's another picture of a Figaro here on Car Lust at Shawn's "Lane Motor Museum" post, dated April 8, 2009, or so.

Hi I have seen pictures of two Nissan Figaros with USA tags. I have tried for two years now to import my Figaro from the UK. Any assistance or new info would be greatly appreciated. I have been given different information by different agencies. Please help. Thanks!!!

I saw one of these on the freeway just north of Seattle today. Kind of a light blue-gray, top down. As we drove by, it hit us that the driver was on the right side of the car. The thing was whizzing happily along at 70+mph, and it was gorgeous! I was so smitten I had to Google it to see what it was. And now I have a new web page to put in my favorites. Nice site!

Hi all, don't know if anyone reads these well after the fact, but I just found this post. I am the Ottawa owner of the green Figaro sprocketboy posted about above and believe me, the Figgy is the most fun I ever have had in a car. I have driven it to Boston (for Gould's Microcar event at the Lars Museum) and to the Detroit Woodward Dream Cruise and it sure attracted attention stateside. It is a beautiful design and gets a lot of comments at car shows we attend as being so different from the usual cars. I also own a 1989 S-Cargo, the "snail van" made by the same Pike Factory design team, and you can't help noticing this thing coming down the road. I have pics of both at under Automotive World and Mike's Pike Factory Cars.

Figaro - cool car no doubts !

why Nissan is not trying with new retro-retro Figaro?:)
(..ohh yeah Daihatsu with it's Copen model was first !

..the same with Citroen 2CV..and few other car from past..
I think Fiat 500 is the greatest-success in small-cool cars department ..

I will be celebrating my 50th b-day November 3rd-I thought I wanted a mini cooper (created 1959) for my b-day but now I want a Nissan Figaro! =) Just a birthday wish!

This is a great article! It is amazing to see the type of recognition these beautiful little cars are getting across the web. A legend is born and people are noticing the Figaro again! It is a beautifully crafted little car that does everything it is supposed to and more. Our dealership has over 20 of these Figaros in stock and it never gets tiring seeing them.

My husband is in the Air Force and we are stationed in England. I am very serious about bringing one back with me in 2 years. To anyone who has done so, please can you tell me what all needs to be done for them to be brought into the US? Is the glass safety glass? How's the exhaust? Etc... I know some wonderful mechanics (like my brother) who can do it. I'm just wondering how long it will take to bring it to US standards and how much it will envolve. Thank you for your help- Wendy

I just found out that a work acquaintance has a Figaro in the US. He said that he bought it in Canada and registered it in the states as a 1960's antique. Not exactly sure how that works with insurance... Its his Sunday driver and he couldn't be happier.

To the person that wrote this story:

Yes, that's a cute little car, but it in NO way looks ANYTHING like TR4 or anything Austin Healey for that matter. Please don't insult proper British cars by saying that.

Really take a close look at the elegance of classic British cars and you'll see exactly where this car is lacking. It looks cute from a distance, but the wheels are too small, the lines don't flow elegantly, and to be honest with you, it's just another cheap Asian knock off of a classic Asian car. Yippee. Not only that, it costs way too much for what you get... and it's just and old Asian car now.

In fact, that car is the complete opposite of British styling! British styling is long bonnets, short boots, wire wheels that fill properly sized wheel wells, and graceful flowing lines connecting everything together.

If you write another story with mention of British cars, please stop and think before you write about rusty British cars with poor wiring. Please. I own a 1967 MGB GT and just completed a 2 week tour from Austin, TX to Santa Monica, CA. 4000 miles in 2 weeks. No wiring issues, and no severe rust to be found on my car. I paid $1000.00 for it in Austin, got it running and street legal within a month, raced it in a TSD rally and got 4th place out of 70 cars another month after that.

Quit repeating what you hear from incompetent mechanics working on classic British cars.



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