INQUIRE ABOUT THIS VEHICLE
Mileage: 140,800 Miles
Engine: 1.8 Liter 4-Cylinder Engine
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual Gearbox
Exterior color: Tan Exterior
Interior: Brown Cloth Interior
Before I extoll its virtues and wax poetic about how fantastic this quintessentially 1980’s wagon is, let me frame this conversation by stating that this car is a piece of junk. A very good piece of junk, but junk nonetheless. You’ve been warned, read on with caution.
At Glen Shelly Auto Brokers we are connoisseurs of 1980’s cars. We take the obsession beyond iconic examples like the original BMW (E30) M3, Magnum PI Ferrari 308, and 930 generation Porsche 911. Plain Jane sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons from that era are gold in our eyes. As the rest of the world lumbers along in modern info-tainment centric appliances that are riddled with safety nannies and festooned with stylish blind spots we long for the virtues of lightweight, good visibility, simplicity, and a visceral connected driving experience. Don’t get me wrong, modern cars are very good, perhaps too good, they just aren’t very fun. A modern Toyota Corolla I recently rented offered the driving experience of a toaster, be it one with a touch screen and electrically actuated bread release. A 1991 Corolla All-Trac wagon I recently sold was infinitely more fun and I would argue better. Its peppy, toss-able, high strung nature rewarded the driver with smiles while it offered all-wheel drive, excellent fuel economy, and unmatched reliability. Constantly searching for worthy surviving examples of normal ‘80’s cars brought us to another 4x4 wagon, this 1986 Nissan Stanza.
The Nissan Stanza came from an era where Nissan was still covering up Datsun logos with vinyl Nissan stickers. Introduced to the rest of the world as the Datsun Prairie, the U.S. spec Nissan Stanza Wagon was very different from its sedan-based counterpart. It was an early design in an evolutionary arc that led from Griswold-style station wagons to minivans to crossover SUV’s as people tried to avoid the inherent uncoolness of kid haulers. The current crossover fad has completed the circle making wagons cool again and increasingly rare. The Stanza wagon’s tall roof and sliding rear doors were unprecedented in its day. They provide cavernous cargo capacity for your choice of outdoor gear: snowboards, bikes, engines, Christmas trees, furniture, appliances, giant lizards, and even living space if you are so inclined. At 6’2” I can lay comfortably in the back with room to spare. Camping in it would be fantastic. The lack of B-pillars and a huge rear lift gate make loading easy too. Dogs love it; they will chew through their owner’s leashes just to go for a ride! The tall suspension and proper 4-wheel drive, the kind a truck has, give it serious 4x4 capabilities (see video below). The 1.8 liter engine has ample power and is reliable. Rowing through the gears with redline pulls brings endless smiles and engaging the 4WD via a shifter mounted button just feels right. So, you ask, why is it junk?
It may be hard to believe, but the dealer that sold us this car grossly misrepresented it. Yes even car dealers deceive other car dealers (we consider ourselves the anti-car dealers). We pride ourselves on being enthusiasts first and auto brokers second. As such, we may have been just a little too emotional about the potential of this Stanza wagon and bought it without proper investigation. Then we may have, rather embarrassingly, paid a stratospheric sum for it that certainly made the now slightly richer bastard who sold it to us fall over in his trailer park office out of shock. He literally offered to send us a Starbucks gift card after the purchase, which should have been a clear red flag. Well the buck stops with us - let me tell you how bad it is.
At first glance, it looks great - if you like the look of slightly oxidized tan paint on a boxy ‘80’s wagon (which I do). Its square lines are actually quite charming, devoid of any intention to stylize its purpose. Nope, it’s just an honest wagon. The skylight style rear windows are indicative of 1980’s Japanese Domestic Market trends and increase the already excellent visibility. The faded black work and bumpers are all present, although the rear spoiler appears to be held on by drywall screws. The faux knock-off style hubcaps are a hilarious choice for such a vehicle, but they do add character. Inside it gets a little worse, that is, once you get inside. The driver’s door works about half the time while the left sliding rear door likely hasn’t moved in a decade. The rear hatch opens, but only from the inside and not by way of its missing handle. Both passenger side doors work well so remember if you are going to roll over, land with the passenger side up. Once inside, the conspicuously absent rear seats add lightness and expose how voluminous its interior is. They are probably serving bench duty on somebody’s porch in a distant land. The front seats are good for their age and the dashboard is surprisingly not cracked, although it is missing many small trim panels.
Turn the key and the 1.8 liter engine starts right up and idles smoothly. A slight exhaust leak reminds you that it is best not to remain stationary for too long. The clutch and shifting are smooth and engine pulls well. The radio turns on, but does not produce any sound. You won’t miss it. Ample entertainment is provided by guessing which ominous sound will be the most catastrophic when the ailing component producing it eventually fails. The loudest sounds like a runaway wind up clock coming from a noisy speedometer cable behind instrument cluster. There are no cup holders, but you won’t have time to drink coffee because your arms will be busy doing the work of the inoperative turn signals. It’s wasted effort, as nobody knows what hand signals mean anymore. Highway speeds are much less terrifying than expected. The non-powered steering is nicely weighted at speed and it tracks mostly straight, although a strong crosswind could make things interesting. The brakes work well, although they do make a little noise. True to form, even with its many issues, the Stanza is peppy, light, and fun to drive. The dogs that inevitably find their way into the back seem to enjoy it too.
When it comes time to take those dogs off road, the Stanza truly shines. Press the 4x4 button and your selection is confirmed by a large illuminated 4WD light below the tachometer. Unlike some AWD systems, this 4WD is for off-road use or slick conditions only. When engaged all four tires hook up like cat claws on Astroturf. The stock lifted suspension and stubby overhangs allow significant approach angles. It’s amazing what the little Stanza is capable of. I drove it up and down very steep hills and even tested its rollover threshold on a slanted slope. I had so much confidence I even did it with the passenger side down too. Here is a video showing just a little.
All joking aside, the little Stanza wagon has its share of issues, but it’s got a lot of potential. The greatest destroyer of these cars is rust and none is present. It spent the majority of its life in California and is completely rust free. A cursory inspection revealed a small coolant leak, weeping gearbox seals, what sounds like a bad right front CV axle or wheel bearing, an exhaust leak, inoperative turn signals and the doors mentioned, and a sensor light (what sensor that is referring too, I’m not sure - O2 perhaps?). None of these issues are hard to fix, another thing than makes ‘80’s cars so great, but I am up to my elbows in other car projects. If I were going to keep it (which still might happen), I would fix the glaring items, mount up some all-terrain tires, metal bumpers, rally lights, and go find some dogs to haul around.
Now comes the really embarrassing part. Like ripping off a Bandaid, I’m just going to say it. We are into this Stanza well north of $3000, actually much closer to $4000. I think with some basic work, this could be a badass 4x4 wagon. It would be most at home in a Colorado mountain town or being lived in by a rugged individualist mountain biker, rock climber, or skier / snowboarder. Any reasonable offer will be accepted. Hurry before the dogs in my neighborhood pool enough of their bones to buy it themselves!