Before Retro Was in Fashion: An Exaltation of the 1991 Nissan Figaro
Everyone has a classic car style they love. While most American gearheads drool over bombastic muscle cars and hot rods, some prefer the simple elegance of European compact cars. In the early 1990s, when most automobiles were squarest and ugliest, Nissan decided that it was time to remind consumers of how beautiful cars once were.
Intentionally retro—and proud of it—the 1991 Nissan Figaro was a one-of-a-kind labor of love that defied contemporary automotive design conventions and hearkened back to classic European compact sports convertibles.
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Utilizing a steel monocoque construction and grounded on the Nissan Micra platform, the Figaro was a single-year attempt to change consumer perception about the brand. The crowning achievement of Japanese designer Naoki Sakai, the Figaro bears noticeable influence from Renaults, Fiats, MINIs, and Citroëns of yesteryear.
Initially, 8,000 Figaros were produced, but their popularity led to such high demands that another 12,000 were made. Still not enough to go around, hopeful buyers were entered into a lottery, where random winners were drawn to have the honor of taking a Figaro home.
Powered by an in-line three-cylinder engine that earned 76 horsepower and 78 lb-ft torque, the 1991 Figaro earned an average of 32 mpg paired to its three-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the right-hand drive city car blends old-fashioned leather upholstery, chrome gauge displays, and switched controls with cutting-edge features (e.g. a CD player and electric windows) and performance. As a convertible, it possesses a retractable fabric top.
The Figaro was offered in only four body colors, each water-repellent fluoroplastic paint representing a different season: Emerald Green (spring), Pale Aqua (summer), Topaz Mist (autumn), and Lapis Grey (winter). Adding to its quirkiness, the Figaro gets its name from the comedic literature, specifically Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro (talk about a throw-back!).
If you have the luck of seeing a Figaro at a classic car show in your neighborhood, don’t miss the chance to take a closer look at the most peculiar and splendid gem of Nissan’s recent history.
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Gallery of the 1991 Nissan Figaro
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.