Last October Japanese actress Kazue Itoh caused a bit of a stir among her fans when she posted a photo of her car on Instagram. They were surprised to see the star driving a 30-year-old Nissan Cima that she’s owned since new. After seeing Itoh note some of its imperfections, the fans took to social media, imploring Nissan to restore the car for her. The company agreed, and on April 26 they held a small press conference at Autech headquarters before taking possession Itoh’s beloved Cima to begin the process.
Technically, Itoh’s car is an FPY31 Nissan Cedric Cima, the brand’s luxury flagship at the time. By 1990 Itoh, then age 23, had already appeared in many movies and TV programs in Japan, so even the top-spec Type II Limited at ¥5 million was within reach. With features like air suspension, a floating hub steering wheel, and tiny wipers on the door mirrors, it swathed owners in utmost comfort.
Itoh’s father had worked at a Nissan dealer so she’d always owned Nissan cars. Prior to the Cima, Itoh drove a C33 Nissan Laurel, but when it came time to choose a replacement, she thought of her first car, a silver Nissan Pulsar EXA. In an interview with GQ, Itoh revealed that she originally wanted a sportier option than the Y31.
A European car was ruled out due to their fragility, and Nissan happened to be making the hottest car on the market, the R32 Skyline GT-R. However, her mother, who had only acquired her driver’s license at age 50, didn’t know how to drive a manual. Itoh wanted her mother to be able to use the car, so Godzilla was out.
As a luxurious range-topping sedan, the Cima was considered an “uncle’s car” but Itoh fell in love with it anyway. It served faithfully as a plush highway coach, taking the Tokyo-based Itoh on long-distance trips to Kyoto or Nagano.
At the time it was common for owners to dump their cars after three years, when they were scheduled for their first Shaken. The notoriously stringent inspections usually incurred so many costs that it wasn’t much more to just trade in for a new car. Itoh soundly ignored that advice and kept driving her Cima. “I didn’t have any other car I wanted,” she said.
Around the 20 year mark, the Cima’s air conditioner went kaput. Itoh wasn’t able to find the new replacement part, so she had it made from scratch. In fact, she made two, for ¥600,000 (approx. $6,000 USD), and still keeps the second one as a spare.
Although it looks good in photos, the car is a 20-footer. Up close, the unevenness of the paint, from when Itoh herself attempted a patch, and a cut-up pair of jeans covering the front seat reveal the car’s age. The 3.0-liter DOHC turbo V6 turbo has clocked 266,500 km (165,595 miles), isn’t as smooth as it once was, and returns just 4 to 5 km per liter (9.4-11.7 mpg) of high-octane fuel, Itoh says.
On the day Nissan announced they would take on the restoration, Itoh’s Twitter followers jumped by 10,000. Apparently, there are still car enthusiasts out there. The project will take place at Autech, Nissan’s specialty car division, with company volunteers donating their time and elbow grease.
On the night before she took her car to Autech, Itoh said she had trouble sleeping. “The Cima is like a member of the family,” she explained. “It feels like just yesterday that my daughter was born, and sitting in the Cima with her car seat.” Last year Itoh’s daughter turned 18, the age it becomes legal to hold a driver’s license in Japan. Itoh posted a photo of the Cima with a yellow and green wakaba mark, an unusual sight for a three-decades-old luxury sedan. “Now, she’s also driving the Cima. I feel like I have my soul in the car,” Itoh said.
At the press conference, Itoh handed over the keys to Nissan representatives. “I may go to see the work on a daily basis,” she joked. “I’m very sad to say goodbye to my Cima.”
“Don’t do anything that would change the mileage on the odometer,” Itoh instructed the Autech team, proud of the mileage her Cima has accumulated. As she was about to leave, she shouted, “Wait a minute!” and rushed back to the car and gave it a gentle pat on the trunk.
Autech estimates that it’ll take about six months, and during that time Nissan will supply Itoh with a new car to drive, a brand new Nissan Kicks. Her car is equppied with Nissan’s E-Power technology, which drives the wheels with an electric motor. There’s a small internal combustion engine on board, but its only function is to charge the battery (the system isn’t available on US market Kicks).
Itoh called it cute and liked the color-matched orange trim in the cabin. “The Kicks is also a good car, but it’s incomparable to the Cima that I have been with for 30 years,” she later wrote. One of her favorite things about the Cima echos a common complaint about limited sightlines in new cars. “I really like the Cima’s wide field of vision,” she noted in an earlier interview.
We’ll continue to follow the progress on the restoration. When asked what she’ll do once the restoration is complete, Itoh said she plans to take the Cima on a trip somewhere far away. Further down the road, she has long-term plans for it. In Japan, elderly drivers typically surrender their licenses when they are too old to drive. “Even after I return my license,” Itoh wrote on her blog, “I want to pass the Cima on to my daughter and to my grandchildren.”