The Little Japanese Car Which Conquered Great Britain



In Great Britain, it’s loved for its personality and eccentricity. Nicknamed ‘The Fig’ by its owners, this four-seat coupe was produced in 1991 only, but it feels like it’s been around for thirty years more. In pastel colours (Mist Topaz, Emerald Green, Pale Aqua and Lapis Grey to be precise, each of these colours referring to a season of the year) and with a white passenger compartment, this curved city car is miniature in size. It’s at once elegant and pleasant and, what’s more, has a big sunroof which opens fully.

Despite its almost toy-like look, it offers all the comfort you could need (for the early 90s at least): CD-K7 player, leather seats, electric windows, power steering, chrome-plated accessories… There’s not a huge amount of space in the back, but enough for it not to be a problem. Now, the car’s promoters make it in various different colours from black to candy pink, and add options according to their customers’ wishes.

As the New York Times notes, in a long article dedicated to the Figaro, it’s not so much a functional object as an object of devotion. Perhaps it’s the fact that the design makes it look as if the car is smiling that means people treat these cars as if they were humans, giving them nicknames like ‘Ms Figgy’ or ‘Lagy Grey’. Figaro fans often own more than one, too.

The car manual is only available in Japanese… It’s fair to say that nobody at Nissan expected the car to be such a success. In 1988, they only intended to produce 8000 copies of the car and no more, and aimed it at an exclusively Japanese audience. But the car was quickly adopted by celebrities (including Eric Clapton, who brought one back with him from Japan), 12000 more were made and lots were drawn to determine who would get one, so considerably the demand exceeded the supply.

The New York Times explains the success of the car by way of economic analysis, due to the fact that few cars make way for the importation of products. There’s another reason why the car may have won over the British public, and a very pragmatic one at that: the steering wheel is on the right, like in English cars. It’s also simpler – and therefore less expensive – to approve.

At the start of the 90s, Nissan also launched the BE-1, the Pao and the S-Cargo alongside the Figaro. At the time, it became the forerunner of the ‘neo-retro’ movement which would, years later, see the reedition of old models of car (Mini, Fiat 500, etc.).

If the car hasn’t been spotted in the USA, though, it’s because it was banned until 2016 because it didn’t conform to environmental and safety rules.