Nissan Figaro Catches Tawn’s Eye

As our Nissan Cefiro passes eleven years old, Tawn and I keep thinking about a replacement car.  In his mind, the perfect car would be something unique and stylish, maybe a classic instead of a new model.  A few Sundays back, he announced that he wanted to visit a used car dealer on Vibhawadi Road near the old Don Meuang Airport as he had spotted a cute car there and wanted to know what it was.  Turns out, it was a Nissan Figaro.


The Figaro was a limited-edition retro car released by Nissan in 1989 only in Japan.  Some 20,000 were made.  It was built by Nissan’s special projects group known as the Pike Factory.  The car is a popular one for collectors, especially in the UK.


The used car dealer had a half-dozen units in stock.  They specialize in importing classic cars and refurbishing them for resale.  They choose only low mileage (about 55,000 km on average, about 35,000 miles) cars that have never been in accidents.


The cars are then completely gutted and rebuilt.  Engines, air conditioning, and all other systems are thoroughly overhauled and the interior is reupholstered.  They are very thorough and invited us to walk through their garage so we could see the work in progress.


The result is spectacular, lovingly restored.  Before I went back and did some research, I didn’t understand that the car was actually 21 years old and thought it was a more recent model intentionally made extremely retro. 

Datsun Fairlady 1960

It turns out that the design of the Figaro echoes the Datsun Fairlady from the early 1960s.  Beautiful car in the sporty color scheme, isn’t it?  (Picture from Wikipedia)


Ventilation system (including air conditioning) is appropriately retro and refreshingly manual.  Nice to have actual levers rather than buttons.


The stereo system (notice the cracked laminate on the dials) features a CD player, something that was quite cutting edge in 1989.  And a cassette player for you cats who aren’t up to date with the latest technology!  Sorry, no MP3 input.


The Figaro was also an open roof style convertible.  Completely and utterly impractical in Thailand but really cute and the best way for me to sit up straight in the driver’s seat.


The car was originally offered in just four colors – Topaz Mist, Emerald Green, Pale Aqua, and Lapis Grey – but the restorers offer a few additional colors including the pink you see here. 

My assessment of the car?  Well, totally and utterly impractical but very, very cute.  If we wanted a second car to drive for weekend getaways at the beach, this would be it.  Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be any room for a suitcase or overnight bag, but we could drive to the beach and then drive back the next day wearing the same clothes.

So how much for this beauty of a rebuild?  900,000 baht (US$30,000) for a 21-year old car.  Now, cars in Thailand are more expensive than in the US, but to give you a bit of a comparison, I could buy a top of the line Nissan March, a contemporary (and larger) version of this car, for less than 570,000 baht.  And I think the March is a cute car, too.

So I guess we’ll put this on the “Sunday afternoon daydream” list!


The dealer is also restoring a Nissan S-Cargo, another 1989 release from Nissan’s Pike Factory. Inspired by the French Citroën 2CV camionette (small truck), the name was a double entendre meaning both “small cargo” and “escargot”.  Clever, huh? 


The dealer also has one more product from the Pike Factory: the Nissan Pao.  Released at the same time as the Figaro and S-Cargo, the Pao was also retro-inspired and had amazing fuel economy: 51 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) in the city and 79 mpg (3.4 L/100 km).  Prius-like mileage almost two decades before the Prius.


Returning to the Mundane

You can tell that the political excitement has faded – at least for the moment, thankfully – when I have to return to blogging about mundane topics.  After a two-week interruption because of the protests and their aftermath, I finally concluded an errand to the Nissan dealership.  Our Cefiro, pushing a dozen years old, is starting to have all the little aches and pains that accompany aging.  In this case, it was a dead window motor.

Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a problem, considering that, generally, the weather here in Thailand and, specifically, the polution here in Krunthep rarely allows for windows-down driving.  But it was the driver’s window motor that had died and at every expressway toll booth and the entrance to every car park, I had to open my door and reach over it to pay the toll or receive my parking ticket.  I felt like the driver of one of those old taxis around town, whose windows no longer roll down.

To get a new motor would have taken twenty days (shipped from Japan!) and would cost 6,000 baht, about US$ 185.  Thankfully, the dealership was able to locate a second-hand motor and installed it for only 1600 baht.  The expression “second hand” exists in Thai just like in English.  Literally, “hand two” as there are no ordinal numbers in Thai.  The dealership pointedly explained that they would only warranty “hand two” parts for seven days after installation.  What do you want to guess I’ll be blogging about in another two weeks? 

While at the dealership, I took a look at the Nissan March, a so-called “eco car” that recently had its debut in Thailand.  I have yet to figure out what the “eco car” label means as it doesn’t mean hybrid or electric.  [Okay, a little research and I discovered an eco car, the manufacturers of which receive something like a 17% tax credit, are defined as cars with a 1.3 L engine or smaller, get at least 56.5 MPG / 24 KPL, and release less than 192 grams of CO² per mile / 309 grams per kilometer.]


Since our car has been showing more signs of aging, we’re starting to consider what would be an appropriate replacement vehicle.  While I like the size and comfort of a midsize car, I don’t think they are very practical or economical when driving here in Krungthep.  With the amount of time one spends sitting in traffic, a hybrid would be a great choice.  Unfortunately, the Toyota Camry is the only hybrid sold in dealerships here and it is very pricey.

The March has received good reviews in the local auto press and gets high marks for value when compared to the Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz, and Toyota Yaris in the B segment and Cherry A1, Proton Savvy, and Kia Picanto in the A segment.  Technically, the March is a B segment car but with a slightly narrower body than most B segment vehicles.

At about a half-million baht (US$ 15,600) it is relatively affordable.  I think it is cute enough although not great – I prefer the Yaris.  The size is small enough for the narrows sois of Krungthep.  Still, I’m not ready to do any serious comparison shopping.  It is enough to just start thinking about potential candidates.