Consider the Following: Nissan Stanza Wagon

9096_nissan-prairie-m10-640x426

With the prices of the most popular models entering unattainable status for a lot of younger JNCers, we felt it necessary to highlight some painfully overlooked — often for no good reason at all — yet still affordable (for now) nostalgics. Welcome to another Consider the Following installment, in which we ponder the Nissan Stanza Wagon. 

nissan Stanza 4wd nordica

Following the trend of things Japan did first but didn’t get credit for (like the Kurogane compact 4WD), the Stanza Wagon is, for all intents and purposes, the first production minivan. The Stanza Wagon — or Nissan Prairie or Nissan Multi in some markets — beat the Dodge Caravan to market by two years, but was classified as a wagon, as the term minivan had not been invented yet. Still, it had a transversely mounted, front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout with conventionally hinged front doors, sliding rear doors, and a top-hinged rear door.

Short shorts

Simply put, it was too far out of left field for most people. People looking for a wagon would stop by the Nissan dealership then they would see this 8-bit interpretation of an automobile with sliding doors and 4WD, and unless they encountered a shrewd salesman they’d carry on.

The reception from journalists at the time can be best described as “confusion,” as seen in Motorweek’s review. To be honest, I don’t envy them either; to describe this car in laymans terms when the term minivan had not been invented was an arduous task at best.

Lancia Megagamma

One of the most surprising things about this strange little box on wheels is that it has been touched by the combined genius of Giorgetto Giugiaro and Naganori Ito. The Stanza Wagon was originally conceptualized as the Lancia Megagamma by Giugairo, the father of cars such as the DMC DeLorean and the Lotus Esprit, and given life by Ito, the man that would be responsible for raising Godzilla back from the sea and naming him GT-R. While the Megagamma was never put into production, Nissan did take inspiration from it, then made some major changes when creating the Stanza Wagon (as opposed to just writing Nissan on the bootlid and calling it a day).

Nissan Prairie Promo

What we saw was the beginning of a whole new class of vehicle. The archaic, wagon-style third row of sideways- or rear-facing seats in the cargo area were now oriented forward. The pillarless sides open up to a giant portal for a completely uninterrupted ingress experience. While there are many modern vehicles like pickups, FJ Cruisers and Honda Elements with suicide doors, these doors are better. They don’t lock into each other, instead latching to the chassis so they can be opened independently.

Stanza Engine

Looking at the original Lancia design, it was to be powered by a 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder putting a triumphant 140 horsepower, quite well for the era. It would be a different story on the show floor though. The production Stanza Wagon was powered by a much more conventional CA20 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine variants that put out 97 horsepower in top trim.

stanza-wagon-full-hoon

An automatic or 5-speed transmission could be mated to a 2WD or 4WD drivetrain. A torsion beam rear suspension was utilized to keep a flat floor in the rear. However, this lead to less-than-optimal suspension characteristics including understeer and snap oversteer during braking. One positive performance trait of the Stanza Wagon was that after you spent your afternoon getting to speed, the brakes were surprisingly quick to stop, provided you kept the car pointed straight.

While a Stanza Wagon won’t win any races, what it does excel in is its intended purpose as a people mover. In fact, this moves people quite well, and with a low entry cost, could be quite a fun JNC cruiser for taking the crew around town.

Despite it’s tragic performance figures from the factory, all is not lost. To the enterprising owner, the CA-series engine means that a CA18DET should be swappable. As far as lowering it goes, the torsion beam in the rear won’t be an issue and can be simply adjusted downward. For the front however, there is a rumor about U30 Presage, or possibly even S13, coilovers fitting. As we’ve seen, it is in fact possible to plummet the ride height on these vans with relative ease.

nissan_prairie top hats

Aesthetically, the Stanza Wagon is exactly what you imagine when you think “1980s family hauler.” It’s the sort of car you find on a synthwave album cover. While it’s a boxy, tall, slightly awkward looking vehicle, the shape somehow works. There are no random character lines attempting to mask what it is. It is the antithesis of what we see today, just honest styling to serve an honest function. What lines that do exist are strong and bold, drawing your eye to features like the subtle chrome trim along the headlights.

Cars like the Stanza Wagon are some of my favorites, personally. Most have never heard of it, its price range is about what I have in my pocket at the moment, and by sheer force of parts bin engineering there are options for some level of performance beyond what came stock. For those who like to tinker, it could be a load of good times. Could this car be an automotive Van Gogh? Probably not, but it’s the canvas he would have purchased.

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32 Responses to Consider the Following: Nissan Stanza Wagon

  1. Banpei said:

    Three years ago I passed two of them in my hometown parked next to each other on a big avenue (big for our standards). I really couldn’t believe my eyes: I thought they had become extinct! I could still remember that the Prairies (as they were called in Europe) were swarming the streets. Everyone simply loved them, as they were very practical and spacious cars.

    They collectively disappeared around the late 90s, so stumbling upon two of them in the same hue was an amazing discovery. I immediately took a u-turn and shot a couple of photos of the pair:
    https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7419/12852205453_6231f940f4_z.jpg

    That made me wonder if some collector, who really loves these cars, parked his pair on this avenue. I’ve never seen them again, so it must have been a once in a lifetime chance.

  2. BlitzPig said:

    I remember we use to get those twin ignition Stanzas, no matter the body style, in the shop all the time with fried rotors and caps. The system didn’t work well at all. Probably Nissan’s worst car ever from a reliability standpoint. I won’t even go into how quickly the bodies dissolved in our northern climate… I think this one is best left on the scrap heap of history.

    • Randy said:

      Maybe that’s why they’re not around anymore? Too much hassle to keep them going, and once out of warranty, they may have become: “The next frickin’ thing that goes wrong, it’s gone!”

  3. Scotty G said:

    Yes, please! They aren’t out there, at least that I’ve seen. I have been looking for a nice, original, AWD with a 5-speed and it would be easier to stumble upon world peace than to find a Stanza Wagon / Prairie in that configuration. Great article as always, Ryan!

  4. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    Great article.

    When I was shopping for a good 4WD or AWD car for work in the winter, I looked at a bunch of them. I naturally gravitated towards the small boxy 80’s including the Stanza, Civic, Justy, Samurai, Sidekick/Tracker, or Montero. I wanted a later Justy but felt the supporting parts inventory wasn’t strong enough so I went with a TinTop Samurai. I think if they survive the American salt, they’re all great cars.

    Then there’s this 1985 Delica; awesome…
    http://www.cars-directory.net/pics/mitsubishi/delica/1985/mitsubishi_delica_2847190.jpg

    Sidenote; I am dismayed that my local municipality switched from sand to salt in the wintertime, all because of declining driver skills and judgement. This will wreak havoc on a bunch of running, everyday classics. Thanks, now my Samurai is a ticking timebomb. :-/

    • Negishi no Keibajo said:

      Wait… that can’t be an ’85…

    • Randy said:

      If I hadn’t had the ego I did back then, I might’ve gone for the Justy;I liked them then AND now (pref. 1st gen.). I bought a Fiero… My dad wanted me to get a Samurai, but at the time, I couldn’t drive a stick. Later, he was glad I didn’t, when he heard about the CR test with the whole tip-over thing. (Yeah, I know it was rigged; you can’t put massive outriggers on a tallish vehicle and not mess with the handling.)

      Wouldn’t mind having a Samurai, or Sidekick/Tracker nowadays…

  5. Taylor said:

    Much like the Civic wagon (the shuttle), if I could find a clean example and get it tastefully low enough, I’d totally rock it.

  6. Ant said:

    As the market is waking up to JNCs (and they slide further from my grasp as a result…) I’m becoming increasingly interested in the less popular models. The great thing is, so many of them are still flying under the radar, and thanks to the bubble economy a lot of the 80s and early 90s stuff in particular is usually quite interesting in some way or another.

    Not quite sure I’m feeling the Prairie just yet. The Mitsubishi Space Wagon, on the other hand…

  7. Mike said:

    (Lack of) side impact protection and rigidity must have been an issue in the North American market for these vehicles. Perhaps why the second gen had regular doors/B pillars. The larger 2.4 L engine was a good improvement too.

  8. Randy said:

    Any articles coming out about the Eagle Summit/Dodge Colt/Mitsubishi Expo LRV?

  9. Realist said:

    Just NO.

    If you have to resort to one of these, it’d be best to purchase a really nice bike instead.

    The resale values are never going to increase and parts scarcity will cause you endless daymares. Not to mention, it’ll NEVER actually look good…It didn’t new and (surprise, surprise) it still doesn’t.

    Take deep breath and reevaluate your situation. Sometimes you just have to wait and save your money for the good stuff. In the end, it’ll likely cost you less money and suffering.

    • Negishi no Keibajo said:

      Buying cars as an investment is usually a poor strategy. Buying cars for their utility and everybody’s enjoyment is a better idea I think. While it’s an exciting idea to see our JNC’s show up at Pebble Beach, it would take beyond my lifetime to make it an investment grade purchase. I think its a lot more satisfying for a teenager to come up to my car and say “hey, my dad had one of those” than being criticized for a body panel mismatch of .05mm and the orientation of a screw head (yes they would because that’s how they roll). [Just my opinion. See a certified planner for prudent and legal strategies. Batteries not included.]

      • Ant said:

        Yep, it’s not really about resale. The opposite, really – it’s about enjoying something cheap rather than being disappointed about not being able to afford something expensive.

        Not a fan of the Stanza Wagon personally, but I applaud anyone who wants to preserve the limited number of remaining examples, or develop a quirky project car from one.

        • Realist said:

          I’ll simply nod in reluctant agreement to the remarks above.

          Yet, my sentiment adamantly remains the same.

          The half-baked, unilaterally-compromised/warm and fuzzy pat-on-the-back scenarios are valid. However, it’s the exact same logic that poseur buyers of V6 Mustangs have used for decades. Yeah, I said it…POSEUR. The word exists for a reason.

          Sure, if you’re given a free car and feel compelled to convince the world of its superficial value…by all means go ahead. Also feel free to put your money where your mouth is and pay to recitify the all the platform’s inadequacies.

          Coincidentally, anyone can feel free to purchase all the irrelevant, outdated, or even faulty appliances and electronics they want as well. A Gameboy can cost a person a hundred bucks in batteries a month and their refrigerator from the fifties can inordinately inflate a their electricity bill…all before the fridge burns the house down with their child locked in it! Such are the freedoms enabled by the market. Choose wisely.

          This isn’t to say that all vintage cars are worthless, but it’s also important to choose wisely.

          Additionally, what a car represents to the masses will never coincide with an individual’s personal opinion. So, arguing personal preference is pointless.

          However, a platform CAN be judged on real-life tangible and practical, performance and cost data.

          Can the Stanza be justified fiscally in any way???

          -Replacement parts cost, quality?
          -Projected value/collectibility?
          -Running costs?

          Unfortunately, the Stanza can’t be rationally justified in ANY category. If it could, it would be indicated by Nissan stocking an adequate supply of reasonably priced parts for all those happy owners to keep their great cars going!

          Really, you don’t have to take my word for it though. Go to ANY car meet, show, club gathering, etc and please argue the virtues of the Stanza. You will be instantly identified as a raving lunatic and escorted to the nearest padded-wall facility. There you will not have access to the internet and this debate will be rendered null and void.

          • Randy said:

            As far as: “. . . it’ll NEVER actually look good. . .” that’s a matter of taste, and there ain’t NO accounting for that…

            I’d say it’s what somebody likes… Maybe what has some meaning to them… Go to a car cruise/show, and you’ll see 100 Corvettes – most of them red. What gets noticed? The silver Gremlin. At a certain point, among row after row of Celica GT-this, and Supra Turbo-that, that little Tercel will grab the attention. Eventually it’ll be the not-beat-to-hell Yaris that’ll be the “audience favorite,” among the rows and rows of World Rally Blue WRXs, with the black wheels and fart can exhausts.

            Having said that, I will agree about parts availability. Parts for even “semi-popular” vehicles can be hard to get, so for something that was an appliance is gonna be a challenge.

            I doubt that MOST old cars can be justified fiscally… From that standpoint, it’s an old car – an appliance – and when something expensive breaks, trade it in on a newer appliance.

          • Ant said:

            “The Stanza can’t be rationally justified in ANY category”

            Probably true. But buying a car isn’t always a rational decision, and the automotive world is arguably a better place for that being the case.

        • Ben Hsu said:

          Not everyone out there loves GT-Rs and Supras.

          A Mustang V6 (and now available in a turbo four!) was considered a “poseur” car because there was a V8 available. In the case of the Stanza Wagon, no one was buying it because it resembled a conventionally cooler performance model.

          Given the Stanza Wagon’s design history and innovative packaging, it is an interesting model that deserves consideration.

          You can even buy a diecast version, so apparently there are enough people out there who like them for the company to have justified the tooling costs.

          If getting props from other people at car shows is the metric, then you’re right. It probably won’t get more likes, real-life or virtual, than an NSX. But at least two of the photos above are from car shows and were heavily photographed by us and others, so it’s not exactly loony-bin material.

          • Realist said:

            To everyone who wants a Stanza; all I can say is…
            “Go get ’em tiger!”

            I can only imagine that you’ll be able to pick one up for a VERY good price. Hey, the owner will probably even throw in all six seasons of Highlander VHS tapes and even an autographed photo of Alf as well!

            The point is, it’s very easy to rationalize virtually ANY purchase. However, reason (and critical thinking) separates connoisseurs from poseurs and amateurs.

            Believe me, I won’t stand in the way of anyone who truly adores and must own a Stanza. However, I may be inclined to consider them a bit odd or illogical at best. Maybe even slightly idiotic or foolish at worst.

            That’s not because I’m a cruel or insensitive person. It’s just because I have a decent grasp on reality, accepted classifications and language. Until there’s a new, accepted term or classification for someone who behaves irrationally and outside of societal norms…I will likely continue to consider them “idiotic”.

            The argument against the Stanza is far too strong to justify purchasing it. In fact, it’d neccesitate unraveling the very fabric of logic reasoning to make an argument in its favor.
            Don’t believe me? Go ahead, give it a shot.

            There’s no logical argument in favor of the Stanza, ergo I’ll fabricate a fictional scenario to support the “emotional argument”.

            If Carlos Slim bought every single Nissan Stanza ever produced would their value increase? If so, by how much? Since he’d own them all…he could easily dictate the market price.

            INCLUDING emotional purchases…how much do you think a person would pay for a Nissan Stanza? What is the emotional, sentimental or nostalgic value of the Nissan Stanza? $500? $1,000,500? If it’s more than a better car (or bike) wouldn’t it make sense to buy one of those instead?

            Perhaps, he’d refuse to sell them. Then what?

            There’s a fiscal value that can be applied to an overwhelming majority of things in this world. You may love a car or you may need a car, but you’ll likely still have to pay for it. You may love electricity or you may need it, but you’ll likely need to pay for it.

            Frankly, the sad truth is that if every Nissan Stanza ever made disappeared from the face of the Earth…nobody would care. Certainly, they wouldn’t care enough to pay an outrageous price for one…or ignore other options in the marketplace. They’d just move on.

            If the world can lose 55 million human lives EVERYDAY…surely, it could also afford to lose the Nissan Stanza.

            Just like Highlander and Alf…you can choose your obsessions. Just don’t expect everyone to get on board.

            So, go get ’em, tiger!

          • Randy said:

            Not being a smart-alec here, but what cars would you say “Yes” to? I actually AM curious, since we’re talking about taste and fiscal sensibilities.

            I can’t comment on bikes; not my area.

            (BTW, Highlander and ALF would be preferable to a LOT of the schlock that’s on right now… 🙂 )

            – Just out there: Did ANYONE see this instalment becoming this contentious? –

          • Realist said:

            Whoa, whoa, whoa!

            Who’s being contentious?
            Admittedly, it could very well be my mistake.
            I think everyone may be referring to a different vehicle.

            I’m talking about the Nissan STANZA. That car in the image with the people on a cartoon beach.

            Ya know, that boxy, generically-styled box without a structural pillar between the front and sliding doors…

            In the scene there’s all these people gawking at it wearing matching, white, whimsical outfits and top hats. Oh, and they’re all wearing roller skates in the cartoon sand…except for the floating couple in the sky.

            That car.

          • Randy said:

            I don’t mean anyone was getting difficult – just not used to seeing this much “spirit” in a disagreement… Sorry if it sounded that way…

            I’m just thinking that not everyone’s going to go after the same thing, and if someone’s into something else, that’s their thing. I don’t really care what anybody thinks about my choices… I wouldn’t mind having a Stanza SEDAN, either… There was really nothing “special” about them, either. No performance editions, etc., that I’m aware of, but there’s just something I like about them. Haven’t seen one of THOSE in forever, either.

            The Stanza Wagon/Prairie isn’t going to be a big-buck vehicle, EVER, but they’re rare now, so that gives them kind of a cool vibe, especially among all these melted-looking vehicles out now.

            I’d compare it to the MOPAR Caravan/Voyager/T&C minivans, in a way. There’s actually a FORUM for THOSE things, and I’d say they have just-above-zero collectability, with the possible exception of the turbo/5-sp variant.

            I think I tripped over a Camry forum, as well… Other than repair info, who’d think they’d have an actual following?

            Like I said: No accounting for anyone’s taste… Hell, I could live with a REALLY clean ’84 Camry myself…

            You’re not wrong about fiscal/cash-value considerations. You’re not wrong about it being a boxy underperformer. You’re not wrong about parts availability, or the lack thereof.

            . . . But people are gonna like what they like.

            I thought the Civic Wagon from the hallowed ’88-’92 period was about the dumbest-looking thing on the road, but over time, I could see owning one (RT4WD) – as the appliance I still think it is. Would I launch a world-wide search for one? Nooooo… Same applies for the Tercel Wagon. I don’t care if it WAS the “automotive star” of Breaking Bad.

            The appeal of the Stanza Wagon/Prairie – at least in my eyes – is that they did the minivan before Iacocca put one out there, so it holds that distinction in history, and THAT is where it has its value.

            I’m thinking the closest thing to it today, is the Ford C-Max, except that the C-Max doesn’t seem to have the option to seat 7.

            If there was one in really good shape – REALLY good shape – maybe from an estate, for under $3K, I could see it selling to a JNC fan.

            Maybe a little more for the 4WD version…

            I gotta tell ya though: I LOVE the idea of taking one to a local car show/cruise! Set up a mic and camera, and pick up what people say. The thing would have to be CHERRY, though. 🙂

  10. Jeff Koch said:

    Hey, I have those as 1/64 scale as Tomica Limited Vintage diecast cars, says the_toy_pimp (on Instagram) by way of a cheap plug.

  11. _John said:

    I’ve been wanting one of these since before I got my 510 due to the quirkiness and utility of these cars. I think the sliding rear door is pretty damn nifty on a vehicle as small as the stanza wagon. They are pretty hard to find and unless you got one in good shape I imagine without a parts car or two it’ll be difficult to maintain. Having said that I remember seeing a pair of beige stanza wagons during a junkyard trip a few years ago. Broke my heart because I knew they’d be crushed within weeks. About a month and a half later they were gone.

  12. Anton said:

    Parents bought one new thanks to the 7-seats in a compact package, & the pillar-less sliding doors are memorable. Didn’t take dad long to customize it, badges went the first day. Later grille was filled in with a flat panel in body colour (plain white) raked slightly to reduce the bumper overhang, headlight covers flush with the non-grille wrapping around smoothly on the sides. Molded Fiberglass frt air-dam with air-intake over the lower bumper, also in while. 14″ Bluebird wheels with flat disc covers, more white. Really stood out in 1985.
    New Radio/cassette & speakers to flex the flimsy door panels.
    Nissan obviously wasn’t concerned about any of the Pulsars/Stanzas of this era feeling strong or secure in their pursuit of light weight… So the 1.5l was about all you would really want.
    Returned to standard so as not to frighten buyers when sold.

  13. Randy said:

    All this got me looking around…

    Tripped over one that was taken from 4×4 to 4×4.

    Hmmmmmm…

    http://caroftheday.com/2016/05/18/the-original-crossover/

  14. I like the side view mirrors on this car. So retro!

  15. Brock Johnson said:

    Although the 2wd version may have torsion bars in the rear. I can assure you that the 4wd version has struts in the rear, which sadly are unobtainium in North America.

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