JDM Oddities – 1994 Nissan Rasheen

A curiosity from the early 1990s. It could only hail from Japan.

(c) japan partner

Of all the Japanese carmakers, Nissan was perhaps the most prolific and it must be said, daring of the purveyors of retro-flavoured designs. The Pike Factory cars, BE 1/ Pao/ S-Cargo and Figaro were not only highly successful halo cars wihin the Japanese domestic market, but lent the brand a degree of cachet which had perhaps previously eluded them. Having been once perceived as purveyors of mediocrity, Nissan now were on the very cusp of cool.

But as the rest of the world began to explore their own stylistic back catalogues in response, Nissan and the Japanese makers moved further away from pastiche, into something a little more nebulous, a tad more ambiguous, if still retrospective in tone.

Noting the growing popularity of sports utility vehicles, Nissan created a prototype for the 1993 Tokyo motor show, which was less a utility and more an augmented estate. Sharing a platform with the contemporary Sunny /Pulsar, the Rasheen was first offered a year later with a 1.5 litre, 104 bhp GA15DE engine and Nissan’s ATTESA viscous coupling four-wheel-drive system, which distributed torque to the wheels that most required it. A larger 1.8 litre engine with 125 bhp arrived three years later, followed in 1998 by an optional 2.0 litre, 143 bhp engine in the Forza edition.

(c) leblogauto.com

Looking for all the world like a spiritual successor to the Wartburg 353 Tourist of 1966, the Rasheen’s styling is pleasingly clean-limbed and unadorned, with a large glass area amidst an upright canopy which could be said to have foreshadowed a certain Mr. McGovern’s 1997 Freelander. And although it’s rather unlikely the freshly honoured Land Rover CCO would have placed a photo of the Rasheen upon his studio moodboard, one can’t help feeling that perhaps he ought.

Either way, the car itself certainly suggests that Nissan’s design team, or the small skunkworks headed by Pike Cars’ Naoki Sakai who is said to have produced it, not only did their homework, but were it seems, fully cognisant of the more obscure forms of automobilia from the furthest corners of the former Soviet Union controlled East Germany.

(c) leblogauto.com

The Rasheen was never offered outside of the Japanese Domestic Market and in 2000, in the wake of Carlos Ghosn’s appointment and subject to his subsequent cost-cutting plans, production was halted at Nissan’s Oppama plant, replaced (indirectly at least), by the entirely orthodox X-Trail SUV. However, the occasional Rasheen can occasionally be seen on this side of the world as a grey import – a rare, wondrous and always welcome sight.

But as for that name – not a clue.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “JDM Oddities – 1994 Nissan Rasheen”

  1. of nissan I always loved the micra Micra (K11, 1992-2003) and the nissan primera P10 (1990-1996), maybe because I was a child then, of the current Nissan, which are on the European market I would not buy anything.

  2. This is really the spiritual predecessor of all the CUV vehicles that flood our streets today. The difference is that is actually has a good, well resolved design. Although the interior is very grey-in-grey, it still manages to look quite cheerful with its checkered seats. I’d love to see more stuff like that instead of all the charcoal in today’s cars.
    What’s quite odd for a car like this is that it has a spare wheel on the back like a real off-roader. You couldn’t imagine this today on similar vehicles.

    By the way, it seems that Nissan is one of the pioneers of the soft SUV/CUV wave. Not only this early example is notable, but also the Qashqai that was one of the first of such cars that sold in great numbers.

  3. Hi Eoin,

    I always liked the Rasheen. One of those cars where the name adds to the mystique tremendously I think. From what I gather the name seems to be derived from the Japanese word for ‘Compass’. I checked and compass in Japanese is ‘Hōi jishin’ so I guess that’s where the -sheen comes from ?

    I’ve also learned that its front fascia was inspired by the Doraemon manga character (so far, so Japanese) and the blue exterior colour was called ‘Doraemon blue’.

    1. I would hasard that the fog lights they added were supposed to remind you of the crazy, minimally-spaced eyes of the Doraemon cat above ?

    2. ….and the Doraemon shenanigans have been going on for years and are still on going apparently. It inspired the Toyota Prius front too according to Japanese reports.

    3. Today I went to the library and look what I’ve found ! Doraemon ! I never read mangas but I thought I’d give it a go since the cat looked cute and mischievous in the advert.

    4. I will remain diplomatic and all I will say is that Doraemon is much better in the adverts than he is in the books.
      Como se dice disappointed ?

  4. The grille reminded me of the Wartburg Knight at once! Before I read your expose. And the rest of the car looks like the estate but with less glass area. I’d rate it as whimsical.

    One never knew what was going through Nissan’s corporate head in those days from the early 1990s to 2000, because it was on the path to bankruptcy. Memories can play tricks on us, so here from 1999 is a “real” article about their woes. I say real because it wasn’t an 800 word business section glossover we’ve all become accustomed to as the internet has evolved. And it was just prior to Ghosn’s entrance.


    I used to be amazed at the flimsiness of Sentras in those days, because a colleague had a ’92. Slam any door and the entire side of the car would vibrate as the energy was “absorbed”. No side crash standards in those days. Nor much in the way of rust protection either, because the Japanese majors were the last to go to galvanized sheet metal. No, the nineties were not a happy time for the company. Our huge local Nissan/Infiniti dealership went bust, because sales must have fallen very low. The Primera from the UK was a much better car, dubbed the Infiniti G20 here, but it was hellishly expensive and being of a size that was in between small and medium and thus only marginally larger than a Sentra, you couldn’t give ’em away at the asked-for twice the price.

    I looked up the transverse engine version of ATTESSA, and in 1993 it wasn’t viscous coupled to the rear axle. It had a viscous coupling acting as a limited slip element for the centre gear differential. Pretty standard Japanese practice for the day barring Honda’s bizarre and not very good systems.

    As for this Rasheen beast being the spiritual predecessor to the CUVs of today, not even close. The Jeep Cherokee with its unibody came out in 1984. I almost bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee in 1992 for some odd reason not unrelated to my Chief Forester’s 1990 Toyota 4-Runner and the way it worked. The Ford Explorer came out in 1990, and had an asthmatic engine. The Grand Cherokee was available with a decent V8 and had a real AWD system available, as had the Cherokee earlier. The AWD system was designed by Roy Lunn, expat Brit engineer in the USA in the 1970s when he worked for American Motors, and was first featured in the AMC Eagle, whose design made mincemeat of the Audi quattro system – and I say that as an owner of the first quattro system!

  5. The Rasheen has a lovely functional simplicity to it, but I wonder what the designers were thinking when they did the front end? The semi-circular outboard ends of the headlamp units really do fight with the resolutely straight and vertical shut-line between the wing and front panel (which is also inexplicably wide). I suppose it is characterful, but the simpler and more obvious solution of deep rectangular light units flanking a simple painted grille could have eliminated the self-inflicted awkwardness.

    Another Japanese car of the same period that had a similarly appealing functionality was the (mainly US market?) Honda Pilot. The 2009 second generation model in particular was pleasingly chunky:

    Unfortunately and inevitably, Honda has ruined it with its current whacky styling theme.

    I have to agree with Bill that the 1984 XJ generation Cherokee was the granddaddy of these type of crossovers. I owned a 1998 4.0L Sport* automatic for a couple of years in the early noughties. It was scarily easily to lose the tail on a wet roundbout, there was very little space inside but it had an endearing honesty to it and was a hoot to drive:

    “Sport” was Jeep-speak for basic: cloth seats, no alloys or air-conditioning. Of these, only the lack of air-con was a demerit.

    1. Funny, I never associated the Cherokee with any of the SUV, CUV or crossover labels. Most probably because at this time, they didn’t exist – at least not in the German speaking world. For me, it was therefore simply a “Geländewagen” (off-roader), like a standard Jeep, a Suzuki Jimny or a Mercedes G.
      Yes, the Cherokee added more car-like features like a nice, even slightly luxurious interior. But what about the Range Rover then? Yes, I know, no unibody. On the other hand, the Lada Niva had this as well (in 1977 already), but was more utilitarian in other aspects. So there are different starting points that finally lead to today’s “soft” CUVs. The Rasheen then probably isn’t one of the earliest ones.

  6. There are similarities between the Rasheen and the Wartburg 353, but I don’t think the Nissan design demonstrates a proper comprehension of the reasoning behind the shape of Hans Fleischer’s masterpiece.

    The form of the 353 was driven by the need to use scarce sheet steel resources as efficiently as possible, and also to facilitate bolt-together construction; the undercapitalised Eisenach factory did not have the facility to produced welded unitary bodyshells. Similar logic underpinned the construction of the Triumph Herald and the Lloyd Arabella.

    Fleischer was Wartburg’s chief stylist, and was utterly devoted to the firm, having started work as an apprentice in the Eisenach factory in the pre WW2 BMW era, but questions of attribution – dangerous territory here – have arisen about other contributors to the 353 design. We can at least acknowledge the contribution of Walter Ulbricht, the DDR’s famously squeaky-voiced head of state from 1960 to 1971 who, when presented with the round-headlamped prototype declared that “Our cars should not look like Jeeps”.

    Fleischer duly revised the frontal treatment, dusting off and simplifying an arrangement of rectangular lamps and a horizontally barred grille proposed for the more ambitious P100 “Paloma” prototypes from the early 1960s.

    I’ll contentiously suggest that there’s a far more enduring homage to Fleischer’s design in the original Range Rover,

    Let’s remind ourselves – the “Velar” body was a ‘make-do’ confection by Bashford and King which looked so right that it went into production with superficial refinements by David Bache. The 353 had been around for a couple of years, and was of similar construction to a Land Rover; separate chassis, unstressed bolt-together superstructure built around a hefty front bulkhead. The clamshell bonnet is the icing on the cake.

    We will never know what Hans Fleischer thought of all of this. He didn’t live to see the Rasheen; he died aged 67 on April 13, 1986 in Erfurt, and was buried in a cemetery close to his beloved workplace, just north of the heart of Eisenach, between the east-west railway line and the River Horsel.

    1. Ah, that P100 Paloma. So good I posted it twice. Here’s another view:

      And here’s the Velar that was supposed to go in:

    2. Interesting stuff, thank you Robertas. Any information on that green hatchback parked next to the Paloma? It looks a bit like a Golf Mk1 with a Chrysler Horizon front end.

  7. Daniel, the green car in front is a 1979 Trabant P610 prototype, the second stage of the “Comecon Car” project. It’s about the same size as a Golf Mk.1, with a transversely mounted 1100cc pushrod Škoda engine with an end-on gearbox. The car was to be built at Zwickau, and the gearbox at Eisenach.

    The DDR government pulled out of the Comecon Car project in 1979.

    The Fiat-like coffee and cream hatchback was a prototype for an IFA go-it-alone project from 1982 designated P601 WE, a 3.5 metre long car based heavily on the old 601’s platform and powertrain.

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