Nissan Figaro Buying Guide

Nissan's quirky and characterful Figaro makes a cult-classic purchase for those seeking something a bit different

How much to pay

• Project £1000-2500 • Good £4500-6000 • Concours £8000-10,000 •
• Most expensive at auction: £11,000 (fully refurbished low-mileage Figaro)

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★★

Judging from the number of retro-styled Nissan Figaros cruising around, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the model was a volume seller on the local market for decades. It was, in fact, only ever officially sold in Japan, in limited numbers, too – and despite those retro looks, it's actually a first-generation Micra under the skin.

Introduced along with the equally quirky S-Cargo, Be-1 and Pao hatchback, the Figaro’s projected 20,000 production run was so oversubscribed that Nissan ended up running a lottery to allocate the available cars. Thanks to Japan’s steep tax laws governing used cars, many soon found their way over to Europe, with the vast majority ending up in the UK.

Performance is sprightly enough in town, and the running gear consists of a modestly powered 1.0-litre turbo paired with a three-speed automatic transmission. The Figaro is also modern enough not to suffer from the usual classic-car ailments.

As all Figaros were identically specced, your options basically come down to a selection of four original exterior colours and a handful of leather seat coverings. The interior is beautifully crafted, with unique switchgear and fittings that share very little with contemporary Nissans. The excellent outward visibility makes the Figaro ideal for manoeuvring around city streets, and the fixed-frame convertible roof adds to their charm when the sun is shining.

Thanks to an enthusiastic following, there are a number of specialists and clubs around that will be more than happy to welcome you into the fold.

Your AutoClassics Nissan Figaro inspection checklist

Engine

The small 74bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged engine is straight out of the first-generation Micra, and should be largely trouble free. Cambelts need replacing every five years or 60,000 miles.

Turbos can fail, so get the car checked if there is a serious lack of power or excessive blue smoke on start-up. Some owners have mentioned overheating issues, too, which means you should look out for 'mayonnaise' on the oil-filler cap and any evidence of oil around the head gasket.

Being an import, actual mileages and early original service histories may be difficult to verify. A comprehensive mechanical check by a specialist is highly recommended.

Gearbox

The basic three-speed automatic gearbox tends not to give much trouble, and it shifts through its few gears unobtrusively. If you notice any recalcitrance or hesitation, the clutch may require replacing.

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Suspension and brakes

Being a light car, the Figaro does not demand much from its suspension or braking system. If the brake pedal feels soft, the disc/drum set-up may need inspecting for any worn seals or leaks. Rubber bushes can also crack, leading to creaking noises in the suspension when travelling over bumps.

Bodywork

Four body colours were available from new, intended to emulate the seasons: Lapis Grey, Emerald Green, Topaz Mist and Pale Aqua. Some owners have resprayed their cars, with pink being one of the more popular colours.

Rust is not a major issue, although wheelarches, footwells, window surrounds and boot edges can exhibit signs of corrosion. Body repairs are costly, especially if replacement panels are required.

The exterior trim can get damaged and corroded over time. Certain items can be hard to source, so factor this into the price if bits are missing.

Interior

All Figaros came fitted with a quality leather interior. The cabins generally wear well, but cars regularly left out in the sun can exhibit signs of damage on the headrests and dashboard. Check for missing pieces of interior trim, as some items are not always easy to find.

Air-conditioning and a CD player were standard on all cars, but some owners and specialists have fitted upgraded audio systems. Clarion provides a unit that retains the original looks but offers modern functionality.

The sliding soft-top is retracted manually, and is stored in the boot when down. A separate tonneau cover fits over the back of the car, so ensure it is still present. Meanwhile, the fabric roof lining can shrink, which may make the folding mechanism difficult to operate. Check that the roof seals correctly when in place, to avoid any water ingress.

History

● 1991: Nissan Figaro introduced as part of a four-model retro-themed line-up. 20,000 units built in three stages throughout the year at the special group Pike factory. Approximately 10 left-hand-drive models are known to exist.
● 1995: Used Figaros start being imported into Europe – mainly the UK.
● 2016: 25-year NHTSA exemption means Figaros are now officially available to import into the US.
● 2017-on: The Figaro is still available as an import through various specialists.

AutoClassics says…

The Nissan Figaro has developed a cult following thanks to its desirable combination of driving fun, fuss-free mechanicals and those vintage-inspired looks.

While availability of parts is relatively good, and there are some extremely low-priced Figaros around, buying a tatty or project car may see your costs escalate to the point where you might as well have paid a bit more for a good one in the first place.

Private sales can yield good-value deals, as long as the car comes with a traceable service history – at least since the date of import. Getting a specialist to check over your potential purchase may be a worthwhile investment, too.

There are specialists around that import directly from Japan, and some also offer fully refurbished Figaros for not much more than privately available examples. This may be the best route into Figaro ownership if you want a hassle-free experience.

Specifications

1.0-litre turbocharged inline-4
  Power 74bhp
  Top speed 90mph
  0-60mph 16sec
  Economy 45mpg

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