The Rare Rides series has explored once before what happens when a Japanese manufacturer designs a modern car with retro appeal, when we covered the little-known Toyota Origin. Today we take a look at something else in the new-but-retro category. It’s a Nissan Pao, from 1990.
In the late 1980s, Nissan planned a special project for four new cars. All the cars would be small and visually interesting, with unique designs that packed as much style as possible onto a small platform. The platform chosen to underpin these new cars was from Nissan’s successful March (aka Micra). All four cars were produced at a plant in Oppama, Japan known as the Pike Factory, which donated its name to the series of “Pike cars.” Other cars produced by the Pike Factory included the Figaro you’ve probably heard of before, and the less well-known Be-1 and S-Cargo.
The Pao was introduced in 1987 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The public immediately became fans of the design, and in 1989 the Pao went on sale in earnest. Keen to have the Pao seen as a standalone car, the company ensured it didn’t wear typical Nissan badges, nor was the Nissan name used in any advertising.
Similarly secretive, the Pao was purchased via reservation only, and never set a tire on a dealer lot. The reservation period was just short of three months in length, and the full run of 51,657 Paos sold out. Deliveries occurred between 1989 and 1991, so some customers awaited their Pao for quite some time.
The hatchback was bold and retro in its design, and took cues from various European cars of the 1960s. Unlike most cars its size, the Pao’s rear hatch utilized a two-piece clamshell setup. Under hood was the 1.0-liter Micra engine. Mated to a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual, a total of 51 horsepower was routed through the front wheels.
Interior design on the Pao took the car’s retro theme very seriously. Every switch, lever, and dial look like they’re from the Sixties, and everything’s about as minimal as possible. The color pallet keeps things cool â€” no modern 1980s colors here.
The Pao and its Pike siblings are starting to show up in the United States these days, as they’re all old enough to qualify under 25-year importation rules. This light green example in Virginia has the automatic transmission, and with 66,000 miles on the odometer asks $9,990.