While I was in Wisconsin’s Door County last month I posted photos of three cars that I saw there which one really wouldn’t expect to find in the Badger State. One was a 1991 Nissan Figaro and, as I have since discovered, one shouldn’t expect to see one in the U.S. at all. It is not, as far as I can tell, legal here.
In the late 1980s Nissan tried to raise its profile with a series of retro concept cars. The cars proved popular enough in Japan that the company set up a separate production facility (the Pike Factory) to produce some of them in limited numbers.
The Figaro was one of those cars. It was meant to evoke early Nissan roadsters such as the Fairlady Sports models, though it looks more like a Hello Kitty version, right down to its too-cute pastel colors. It was wildly popular in Japan when it was introduced in 1991 and rather than the 8000 units that Nissan had planned for, the company cranked out 20,000 of them and expanded distribution to the United Kingdom as well.
Given that the Figaro was going to be a one-year, limited production model, Nissan didn’t bother to have the car certified for sale in the U.S. and didn’t make any with left-hand drive. It was never subjected to U.S. crash tests or emissions testing and that means that you cannot legally drive one on U.S. roads.
There is a process by which individuals can import a non-complying car if that car is considered a classic. U.S. regulators define a classic as being at least 25 years old which means that the 1991 Figaro doesn’t qualify. (Interestingly, Canadian regulations define a classic as being not less than 15 years old which makes the Figaro legal there, though you still can’t bring a Figaro into the U.S. through Canada.)
So what is a Figaro doing on Highway 42 in Ephraim, Wis.? The car does have Wisconsin plates on it with a current sticker but people have been known to affix plates to cars to which they don’t belong. I asked a friend on the police department check the plate number from the Figaro and he found that while the registration listed information about the owner, who lives in Sturgeon Bay, it contained no description of the car. My police contact said that this is rare but not unheard of. If D.O.T.’s computer can’t find a vehicle description match from the VIN number the car can be registered with those fields blank.
This isn’t the first time a Pike Factory car has been seen on U.S. streets. Two years ago Paul Niedermeyer of The Truth About Cars reported seeing a Nissan Pao with California plates in a parking garage in Eugene, Ore.
How are these cars getting here and how are owners able to register them? Good questions for which I have no answers. I do know that the Figaro is on a NHTSA list of cars which are ineligible for importation for “show or display”. No ifs, ands or buts, apparently.
I also know this: I hope I see more of them.