Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 1

For those of you who remember Car’s now lost Forum pages, we make no apologies if we sometimes revive themes from them.

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THE COMPACT MPV

One day you wake up and notice how much everything has changed. Did they do it whilst you were asleep? Likely not, you just weren’t paying attention. So it is with automotive design – changes happen, genres appear and a simple history is confected. But often the actual genesis is more complex, and credit, or otherwise, is given to the wrong people.

What are the true Missing Links, the first examples when anything from a particular styling cue to a complete identifiable type of vehicle, were first seen? Renault is generally credited with getting in here first with the Megane Scenic, only to apparently lose interest and let the crown slip away to Citroen. But, just as the Espace seems to get credit for kicking off the full-sized MPV category, overshadowing less stylish conceptual predecessors such as the Toyota Space Cruiser and the Chrysler Voyager, so does its smaller Renault sibling let us forget what went before.

The 1981 Nissan Prairie (or Multi or Stanza Wagon) was a great idea with good headroom, fine visibility and easy access due to sliding rear doors and no B pillar. Unfortunately body flex was quite the problem you might imagine and the interior was a no-joy area. But it was there 15 years before the Scenic and over 30 years before the Ford B-Max

5 thoughts on “Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 1”

  1. The 1979 AMC Eagle could be a missing link. It was a four wheel drive wagon and saloon that kicked off the 4WD family car craze of the 80s and may also be the link between estate cars and what we call crossovers, being a bit of a blend of formats. The Audi Allroad (or do I mean Volvo?) is a descendant.

  2. There’s the Lancia Megagamma of 1978 which links hatchback and van to produce the MPV. If it had looked more Lancia maybe Fiat might have given it the green light and Lancia’s bacon would have been saved.

  3. Oh, one of my favourites – i really love this car.
    i guess, there are three main reasons for the failure of this really innovative car. The design, the design and not to forget the design. The Prairie is a car that could be the car of Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson´s annoyingly friendly neighbour without any vices. Nobody wants to be like him.
    Ok the name is also wrong. Thinking of a Nissan Prairie, i expect a Pick-up with big all-terrain-tyres and a thick bull bar but not a fragile family car with a oversized glasshouse.

    But the Prairie has a lot of strong points. Independent rear suspension, seats that can be used as a double bed, a low dash for more visibility, skis can be transported under the seats and a nice interior with completely carpeted floor (so i don´t agree regarding the interior as a no-joy-area). A nice detail were the retractable window crank handles of the sliding doors – so they are no obstacles when you open or close the doors.

    I am convinced, many people did not recognize the brilliant concept of this car. A concept, that was never again realized in such a consequent way. The Ford B-Max is the most relative car without being able to compete in the pure way the Prairie was.

  4. I’m generally trying to restrict myself to production vehicles, but it seems clear that the Megagamma inspired the Prairie. However, Nissan didn’t copy, it thought it out further – despite my comments about structural integrity, the double opening with no B pillar is a practical benefit missing from Giugiaro’s proposal (also missing from second generation Prairies).

    Markus, I admire the concept, and Nissan’s spirit at actually producing it, but I can’t share your enthusiasm for the actual vehicle. That might be because there was one that lived near my workplace in the late 80s. It was only a few years old and it was a dreadful old nail. I couldn’t understand how it had managed to get like that so quickly. Also, for Europe it should probably have been at least 50mm wider.

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