How Antilia’s Tears Filled The Seven Cities’ Lagoons

Hard to believe: Nissan produced the Figaro for one year. During that time they sold 20,000 examples. I imagine it could very well simply have stayed in production.

1991 Nissan Figaro

You see these trundling around now and again, the retro-classic that became a real classic. Here at DTW we absolutely love to

1991 Nissan Figaro

imagine counter-factuals, and today’s is the alternate world where evergreens like the Jimny, Century and Defender just hang around as long as people want to buy them rather than die at the whim of a product planner.

1991 Nissan Figaro

I had a good look at this car, obligingly parked with its roof down. It is packed with lovely details. The HVAC is a set of chromed sliding dials on a chromed plate. The hazard warning light is a toggle switch. Nissan blended old and new features rather well. In fact no 1960s car was really this tidily integrated, since in those times the bits were still a collection of mostly separate entities.

The seating has a delightful form, those head restraints are sweetly placed. Little about this looked wrong then and nothing looks wrong now. I am pretty sure that such a car, like the Jimny, would sell at a constant rate to those who want a touch of 1960s charm minus the agony of rusting wings, failing electrics and choking, low-powered 4-cylinder misery (will it start?) That was perhaps true in 1999 – the Figaro is probably now also as unreliable as any other almost-thirty year old car. At least it’s not a 50 year old car.

1991 Nissan Figaro central high mounted stop light

The rear central high-mounted stop light reminded me of Lord’s Cricket Ground Media centre.

Lord´s Cricket Ground Press centre (1999): source

The press centre is angled differently but it’s much the same thing. Well-known car enthusiast Jan Kaplicky designed the press centre. Is this something of a coincidence or is there something behind the striking similarity?

If you want a Figaro, you’d better get saving: a good one costs 13,000.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “How Antilia’s Tears Filled The Seven Cities’ Lagoons”

  1. There are quite a few here in NZ, and you should be able to get a good one for about half that. Plenty of the other “interesting” JDM cars too. The climate here means they don’t rust, though their paint takes a hammering from the sun.
    There’s the Pao, the front end of which looks a little R4-ish:

  2. The Figaro and Pao are delightful. They are so friendly and cheerful looking that you can’t imagine one being driven in an aggressive or bullying manner. We need more cars like this, instead of monstrous SUVs, to make our roads feel less threatening and intimidating.

    Regarding the Pao, did Nissan design a nice, retro looking body, only to discover that it was too narrow for the Micra drivetrain? Those wheel arch extensions (on the front only) look like an afterthought.

    1. Don’t forget to add the S-cargo to this group. We need some fun-cars like these more than ever!

    2. I agree with you, more key cars in the world instead of SUV it would be a better world.

    3. Hello Daniel – I believe that the front arches / small wings are deliberate. I think they just wanted it to have some – a nod to the Citroën 2CV (the Pao references the 2CV, Mini, Austin A40 and Renault 4, according to Shoji Takahashi, one of its designers. The S-Cargo van also has them.

    4. Ah, thanks Charles, that hadn’t occurred to me, but makes sense.

  3. Very nice. There’s an interview with the designer, Naoki Sakai, at the (very professionally produced) Figaro owners’ club site:

    At one point, the automotive press was full of prophecies about flexible manufacturing and being able to do short production runs of interesting vehicles for local markets, in the future. Much less effort / more profitable to churn out a million [insert your least favourite model] in various shades of grey, every year, I guess.

    1. Now and again I get a “jump for joy” moment with designed objects. The BE-1 gave me one of those. The sense of joy and cheerfulness emanating from the car is intense and it is so unlike the sense of dread or anxiety emanating from many vehicles. I was in a petrol station yesterday and saw an Aston Martin Superleggera (the new one) and its owner. I wanted to keep away from both of them – it was like seeing a shark or poisonous creature. I don´t want to see that in cars. On the other hand a Figaro or BE-1 makes me feel happy and sociable. You want to thank people who own these cars for brightening our surroundings with them. The AM is an example of toxic masculinity; the BE and the like are expressions of human sympathy and empathy. Not all sports cars are nasty, by the way – the AM though reeked of violence. No thanks.

    2. I completely agree with richard, this nissan figaro is a very nice object at a low cost, the Aston Martin is an insult to poverty, certainly for an African who lives on two dollars a day everything is an insult to poverty.

    3. Marco: I hadn´t thought about social justice in my comment, more a matter of attitude. The rather expensive Toyota Century or Rolls Royce´s leviathan don´t scream aggression and I don´t mind them. The Aston is too much of a serated flick-knife of a car whereas the Pike cars say “Hi! Let´s hug!”.

  4. A local gravestone mason had a Daihatsu Midget (4 wheeled) with prism advert-back for a while; the cheeriness of that sat at odds with the nature of their business! Utterly impractical too, as I don’t think the back was for storage. Still brightened my day to see it, though. The very opposite of what someone on DTW described as vehicular fists, or something like that.

    A nearby used car dealer had a Toyota Will Vi for a while, but I guess they couldn’t shift it, as they ended up signwriting it and using it as their own car or a courtesy car. Possibly a regrettable part-exchange?

    There’s a Figaro on Autotrader for £995 – it’s from a Figaro dealer, but doesn’t appear on their own stock list. Perhaps at that money, it’s seen a few swaps of parts with some of the more valuable ones? Also it lacks an engine. They’ve got one showing 222k miles, which isn’t bad going. Even the original stereos are charming, and they’ve got cassette as well as CD.

  5. The profile of this little beast reminds me of the old Peugeot 403 drop top. But scrunched up front to back, of course. It’s a fashion statement rather than an engineering achievement and like the Cube, never interested me personally. The Cube I find distinctly odd, but it provided a way for architects and dance school instructors to make a statement beyond their old Mk 1 Golf convertibles they were hanging onto for dear life – those are two actual acquaintances I know who succumbed.

    I’m not particularly overcome myself with emotion for ersatz whimsy or retro as the term is these days. But I do acknowledge this might well be a happy little car and Noddy would love it. Amazing to think the Figaro is 30 years old itself. And like other more than 15 year old cars can be imported into Canada although not meeting safety requirements even of the day, and is actually available right off the used lot. There are a fair number of old kei cars and little lorries trundling about these days for those fascinated with tiny. They all seem a bit jaunty, if frail up close. The Figaro is a bit bigger, but not much. Ah well, each to their own.

    1. Good morning Bill. Very well observed about the 403 convertible. It would never have occurred to me, but you’re right, the Figaro could be a boil-washed version of the Peugeot:

    2. Good point about the 403. It´s been ages since I saw one of those even as a photo. What a delightful machine.
      I´d not be too inclined to want to have a kei car in N America – they are too small and dainty. Around here they fit right in: think of small, winding country roads and small cities. You don´t need to use the motorway in Denmark if you don´t really want to.

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