Nissan went a bit silly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and started churning out some truly oddball stuff. All based on the Nissan Micra K10, other Pike Factory products included the curvy Be-1, the distinctly retro Pao and the even more retro Figaro.
All were sold in Japan only, but many have since made it to British shores – the Figaro especially. I must admit that the Figaro has plenty of charm. Sure, it’s not exactly butch but remember I own a 2CV. I don’t feel the need to compensate for inadequacies by driving around in something covered in bulges and air intakes.
When I got the chance to sample one a while back, I was overjoyed. I love quirky machines, and the Figaro is still more than capable of turning heads. It’s got masses of retro appeal, while managing to look like nothing else that’s ever been made. The canvas fold back roof is a nice touch, as are the wheeltrims – which combine classic-style hub caps with modern plasticky surrounds. It somehow works perfectly.
Then there’s in the interior. Wow!
They really did go the whole hog with this one. A spindly steering wheel and barely any black plastic to be seen. There are one or two chrome toggle switches and even the CD player is bespoke and designed as part of the dashboard. The dials are a rather blatant nod to British classics too.
I clambered aboard and prepared to cruise the mean streets of Peterborough in this stylish machine. That was a mistake, not just because Peterborough is a festering boil on the flatness of the fens. It was also a mistake because the Figaro is, in fact, rubbish. Absolutely bloody hopeless in fact.
The problem is that under the skin, it’s a 1980s supermini. There’s the unusual combination of a 1-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine but also a power sapping automatic transmission. There was no manual option. It sounds utterly dreary and accelerates with all the urgency of a sleeping cat.
Twirl that fancy steering wheel and the car changes direction. Er, that’s about as exciting as things get. The ride is also woeful. If that wasn’t bad enough, rust protection is entirely inadequate – Japan doesn’t hurl salt all over its roads in winter – so that pretty bodywork is also very prone to simply falling apart.
To say I was disappointed would be to understate things somewhat. I was less disappointed by the appalling mess that was Quantum of Solace – a Bond film that merrily urinates all over the famous 007 format by having a plotline that’s as interesting and believable as a party political broadcast.
You see, a car is more than just about quirky looks. A 2CV has quirky looks but it delivers a quirky driving experience. A Scootacar is quirky and also pretty horrific to drive, but you forgive it because it was nailed together by people in a shed. The Figaro has looks that are entirely unmatched by the driving experience. It’s like finally plucking up the courage to speak to that girl you fancy in the office and discovering she likes X Factor. And shoe shopping. And nothing more.