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.
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.
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