An infrequently encountered gem from Japan.
Four short years. That’s all the time Nissan gave this affordable sports car. I had the pleasing fortune to find one in the depths of eastern Cologne around Easter this year. Not far away from it I spotted an XM (Series II) but I found it very difficult to photograph that green wedge without disturbing what I think was a homeless person sunning themselves in close proximity to the French car’s pointy snout. And since it was merely a Series II, perhaps this was no great loss.
By purest coincidence the XM and the Nissan 200 SX appeared the same year. The Japanese coupé has something of a good reputation. Honest John says “When the new Nissan 200SX arrived on the scene in 1989, it seemed that its maker had finally rediscovered some of the magic that was present during the creation of the 240Z during the late 1960s.”
The features that made it so appealing, the rear-wheel drive chassis and its affordable price have doomed it to an irreversible rarity. It seems that among a sub-set of the car enthusiast scene the 200SX is or was prized for its drifting capability. That means resprays, tricked out interiors, wrong alloys, a 90,000 watt stereo system and a lot of little stickers in the windows. And crashing.
A quick gander inside the yellowing pages of Mobile.de shows there to be just 27 on sale and they all cost a lot more than a lovely old French 5-door hydropneumatic technical wonder. Try €15,000 for a red one. You won’t find an XM costing more than that unless it’s been prised from a museum; most cost around a third of the Nissan.
The lineage of the 200SX is bewildering – take the words Nissan, Silvia, Nismo, RS, 180, 240, Nissan Prince, channel and use them to make some sentences on your own time. The records aren’t especially clear on the time the car was on sale in this form; I put it at 4 years before a restyle savaged it.
I want to draw attention to the graceful styling of the 1989 car.
At the front, there are pop-up headlamps and I seem to be having a run of these on cars at the moment. The way the front screen plunges into the bonnet is very clean – but look at the subtle flare around the wheels and the flat-then-curved prow (above) and you realise they managed to express the design concept clearly with nothing getting in the way.
The rear lamps have the quality of Audi, with a little accent in the form of the tab making the centre a bit narrower. I tend to think bumpers reached a sweet spot around about this time. They still remained separate volumes but were smoothed into the body; the panel gaps began migrating away from the bumpers. There are no lips around the wheel-arch cut outs. Doesn’t it look just okay?
Notice that they weren’t worried about the lack of a chrome grille. The main character here, at the front end, is a lot of horizontals and you perceive the squareness (plan view) of the car. But the overall smoothness of the car with some important inflections like the flared body-side and the profile of the bonnet create a design which gorgeously hybridises linear and organic – I like this structured roundness. It’s complex without being complicated.
Yet again I am made to ponder the Japanese car makers’ capacity to turn out lovely shapes and then start over five years later or less as if nothing was ever achieved. It brings forth some nice surprises but it also means that pleasant aesthetic effects come and then just fade away, forgotten until one encounters them at random as with this car.