Nissan Be-1, Pao, Figaro & S-Cargo (1987)

Be-1 (1987)

Pao (1989)
Today, retro-style iconic cars are increasingly popular. Most people regarded the trend was started by Volkswagen New Beetle in 1997 or BMW's new Mini in 2000. However, the earliest example was probably Nissan Be-1, which arrived a full 10 years earlier than Volkswagen! At the time, Nissan was losing market share to Honda as its cars were mostly conservative thus difficult to attract young people. Its March supermini was not bad in terms of mechanicals, but it lacked a cult look to match Honda City (Jazz). To lure young people back to its showrooms, Nissan decided to build a niche small car based on the mechanicals of March. Its production would be limited to only 10,000 units, and it would be carried out by contract manufacturer Takada Kogyo in a human-intensive way. A team of young engineers and designers were formed for its development. 3 design proposals were invited, one by the in-house studio (prototype A), one by freelance product designer Naoki Sakai (prototype B1) and the last one by an Italian design house (prototype B2). Mr. Sakai's car was eventually chosen, thus the name Be-1 was adopted.

Characterized by a pair of round eyes, the Be-1 was clearly inspired by the classic Mini Cooper but it looked simultaneously modern and functional. Its interior featured a big white-faced dial floating above the dashboard, circular air vents and color-coded door panels, i.e. things that you can find in the later New Beetle, Mini and Fiat 500. How can you not admire the creativity of Mr. Sakai? Now who say the copycat must be Japanese?

Thanks to its funky styling, the Be-1 was a hit, with demand outstripping supply
by far so that it took a lucky draw to decide buyers. People loved its style so much that they could easily forgive its lack of performance – the March's 1.0-liter 8-valve engine produced only 52 horsepower and propelled the car to no more than 87 mph. Admittedly, used as a city car in Japan it didn't need a lot of power.

Figaro (1991)

S-Cargo (1989)
Because of its success, Nissan worked with Naoki Sakai again to create 2 more specials, Pao (1989) and Figaro (1991). The Pao was a modern interpretation of Renault 4 (with some elements from Citroen 2CV) and based on the same underpinnings of Be-1. The Figaro was a retro convertible and perhaps the most elegant of all. It ran the turbocharged version of the 1-liter engine with 76 hp. Their production were outsourced to Aichi Machine and Takada Kogyo, respectively. Over 51,000 Paos and exactly 20,000 Figaros were built.

Another car born out of the same engineering team, if not penned by
Naoki Sakai, was S-Cargo. This was a really funky, cartoonish small cargo van characterized by its arc shape and dramatic tallness. It was again derived from March but power came from Pulsar's 1.5-liter engine with 73 hp. I have seen this car many times on the streets of Hong Kong. Many used it as a mobile advertisement to promote business. One restaurant in Sai Kung even owned two, a luxury considering only 10,600 cars were made.


Year of production
1989-90 1991-92 1989-90
No. produced
10,000 units
51,657 units 20,000 units 10,600 units
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, Fwd
Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl.
Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl. Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl, turbo.
Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl.
987 cc
987 cc
987 cc 1487 cc
52 hp
52 hp
76 hp
73 hp
55 lbft
55 lbft
78 lbft
85 lbft
5M 3A 3A
670 kg
720 kg
810 kg
950 kg
Top speed
87 mph
87 mph
97 mph
75 mph
0-60 mph

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