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Retro Before It Was Cool: 1989 Nissan Pao

1989 Nissan Pao

Over the past decade, nearly every car manufacture has introduced some sort of retro throwback of their previous models. VW did it with the Beetle, Mini Cooper was reborn by BMW, Chevy reintroduced the Camaro, and Ford redesigned the Mustang to look more like those of old. While I appreciate their efforts to recapture some of that classic appeal, one manufacturer built a throwback before retro was even cool. That company was Nissan and although they were careful not to put their name on it, I have to give them credit for going out of the main stream to build something unique and fun. The micro car you see above could easily be mistaken for one built in the ’60s. I know it isn’t a real classic, but this 1989 Nissan Pao is just too cool to not take a look at. With just 50k built, it is already becoming collectable, so in another 20 years this could actually be a very desirable car. Have a look at it here on craigslist in Seattle, Washington for $6200. Thanks goes to Matt K for the tip!

Nissan Pao

Nissan came up with the Pao as a limited edition Kei car that could offer modern amenities with classic looks. When they designed it, they literally took elements from some of Japan’s favorite micro cars. The door hinges are external like the Mini, the clam shell hatch is modeled after the Austin A40 Farina Countryman, and the flip up windows are like the ones found on the Citroen 2CV. Overall the Mini had the greatest impact on the design. You might even be able to tell people it was a Mini Cooper prototype and have them believe you.

Nissan Pao Motor

The Pao and its siblings the BE-1 and Fiagro were all based off of Nissan’s K-10 Micra platform. For the Pao, only the 1.0 liter inline 4 was offered, but buyers had the option of a 3-speed automatic or a 5-speed. Only a few were optioned with the manual, making this one quite rare. This particular car was imported to the States from Japan, so it is right hand drive and that might present a challenge for those who haven’t ever experienced driving from the other side of the car. Thankfully, the motor only produces 50 horsepower, so you will have plenty of time to get adjusted to sitting on the other side while you accelerate.

Nissan Pao Interior

Keeping with the retro theme, Nissan made sure to keep the inside as simplistic as possible. This was done in part to because of the throwback theme, but also in order to keep the car lightweight. With such a small motor, it was imperative to keep weight down if this car were ever to see highway speeds. Even though there were faster and cheaper micro cars on the market when the Pao was introduced, it sold out after just 3 months of being on the market. Even with massive demand, Nissan only built it for one year.

Nissan K10 Pao

I know we don’t typically feature cars this new, but there is just something about little guy that makes me think it will end up being a future barn find. It has great looks, is rare, extremely unique, and is simplistic enough that someone could actually restore it. It might not end up being this exact car that we discover in a barn 20 years from now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a few show up here! I just hope I am there to see it, simply so I can see how well it survived the years! Can you think of any other retro throwbacks built before this Pao?


  1. mark

    that is an awesome looking ride!!!!!!!! not normally a fan of the real small cars but i like this one.

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  2. jim s

    this is the best buy out of the cars you posted today as long as you do not live somewhere that does EPA testing of older cars. you will also need to check with your states DMV to make sure you can title it. it is 25 years old so you can maybe get antique tags and low cost insurance. looks like it would be fun to drive and show. great find.

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  3. jim s

    would also need to check for rust as i see something on the lower corner of right rear fender in 2nd and last photo.

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  4. Horse Radish

    I agree.
    appealing to those that like unusual (like me !).
    The only scary thing is the 155k kilometers (100k miles on a 1000cc motor (Size of a big m/c engine).and for that reason $6200 is a bit much.
    Probably cannot be registered in CA, but who knows.
    Looks great, thanks for putting it up !

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  5. Horse Radish

    Probably cannot be registered in CA, but who knows.
    Looks great, thanks for putting it up !
    Nice ride anywhere else in a big city……

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  6. Mark E
  7. Dolphin Member

    This retro Nissan wagon is neat—not only a practical design, but interesting and to my eyes, classy too. Well taken care of—great condition for 155K kilometres.

    The Pao isn’t the only retro vehicle that Nissan made in 1989. They made the Figaro, which was inspired, I guess you’d say, by the small Nissan sportscars of 1959-61.

    This CL listing is the best one I’ve seen—lots of good, sharp photos and an intelligent description. The last line of his description tells me that there are flippers out there who try to prey on sellers who have an interesting car to sell. Good for the owner of this Nissan to tell them to stay away

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  8. RickyM

    This is rare, especially in the US I imagine with it being right hand drive only. Not even see that many over here in England. There is an S-Cargo van around the corner from where I live and the name always makes me smile, as the van does look like a snail and the French call snails escargots (silent T). The Figaro is far more popular with loads being ‘grey imported’ over to here. They were all pastel colours and are very poular with the women. My littke kids love them! Watch out for rust though.

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  9. Barry Thomas

    What an adorable little car (actually, who wants a car that’s described as “adorable”?). Got to hand it to Nissan for making those four retromobiles. There is a Figaro around the corner from me in Toronto, in a ’60’s nonmetallic light green/cream top combo. I always liked these cars and this little Pao is as I said, “adorable”. How about dropping in a small block Chevy?
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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  10. DetroitGary

    I used to see a Pao, same color, California plates everyday in a parking structure in downtown Eugene, Oregon. It is, drop dead cute, even cooler than the CL pictures here. I promised myself if I ever found one for sale I would buy it. Hmm,Bellingham is only a 6 hour drive….

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  11. dbigb1 Member

    So no mention of the mopar retro models ???. Prowler, 97 Same year as the beetle. 00 Pt cruiser . six years before the hhr. It seems if mopar and Vw wouldn’t have done this we would not have any reto models in the states

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  12. Adam

    Horse Radish- I call horse apples on your high mileage comment. This is not a motorcycle engine. Just because the displacement is the same means nothing on their service life. Find me a water cooled 4 cylinder single overhead cam low performance motorcycle engine to compare it to. This is not high strung, nor does it rev to 9,000 rpm or more. In the late 1980’s 1000cc 4 cylinder sport bike engines were already making over 100 horsepower. This makes between 50 and 55 horsepower. Nor does it share it’s engine oil with it’s transmission like a bike. Nor does it have a wet clutch rolling around in that mix. Or friction modifiers in motorcycle oil that makes it less slippery so the clutch can operate. Also if you are at all aware of Japanese car culture, this car would have been very well taken care of during it’s life in Japan, not abused or neglected. I once had a Honda CRX with a 1.3 OHC engine similar to this. The car weighed a few hundred pounds more than the Pao with similar horsepower. I sold the car still running well and it had 260,000 miles on it!

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  13. Jason

    Very cool car. Does anyone know if it sold?

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I’m guessing it did sell Jason since the seller deleted the ad. There was another one that just sold on eBay. We will have to keep an eye out for them for ya!

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  14. Adam

    The car was for sale for almost 2 months, where were you? The other car that had been on ebay went to Mexico.

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  15. Leon

    What Japanese company made the retro VW van model ???

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  16. Adam

    @Leon. Those are modified Subt Samba vans from the late 1990’s. Not quite ready to be imported to the U.S. yet.

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