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