Nissan Figaro: Rust-free retro chic with celebrity style

For cuteness and power, this ticks all the boxes, says Elizabeth Skerritt

One day I will, when I live near some country lanes along which I can drive it and have a garage to keep it in so the rain doesn't rust the paintwork. Isn't that always the story?

Well, maybe it doesn't have to be. Walking along the street the other day I came across something rather smart, a very cute soft-top car with muted paintwork and curvaceous Fifties lines. At a glance you would swear it was from that era. In fact it was a 1991 Nissan Figaro. You don't see many in this country: fewer than a thousand were imported.

There are two things that have added to the Figaro's profile. One is that it seems to have acquired a bit of a celebrity following. Vanessa Feltz once said, "If I had to consider something else, I think it would be the number 22 bus, because there isn't another car as perfect as this." And on its release the car was 10 times oversubscribed.

Here's a bit of history: Nissan wanted to develop a car to compete with a booming American market that wasn't just seen as Japanese and functional, but which, according to the press release in February 1991, would "allow owners to enjoy a delicate feeling of stylish elegance in everyday life".

Only 20,000 Figaros were built, between May and September 1991. It was declared that "a lottery will be held in the event the number of orders exceeds the planned sales volume". Some 250,000 orders flooded in for the little car that went on sale in Japan for ¥1,870,000, about £8,000 at 1991 rates.

It is not really surprising then that Figaros still sell in the UK from £5,000 to £10,000, depending on condition, colour (some, such as Topaz Mist are rarer) and spec.

Former celebrity owners are said to include Eric Clapton, Frank Skinner and Athina Roussel. The model Nancy Sorrell says she has her husband, Jim Moir, the comedian Vic Reeves, to thank for her introduction to the Figaro.

"He came home one day and said he had seen this car that would really suit me," she says. "It was love at first sight! I think some people suspect that it is not as satisfying to drive as it is to look at, but it's great.

"I like to drive automatics, but it is a turbo and you are not struggling on the motorway - you are there. As soon as it's sunny the roof comes down, and despite having all the mod cons built in, the interior doesn't let the car down as it is based on the styling of the 1950s Nissans."

Now, as every driver knows, you can't move for idiots that get a kick from running a key down the side of your car or, in my case, throwing a brick through your windscreen at 3am, so it seemed a little risky to leave this little gem parked with such careless abandon. True, but the beauty of the Figaro is that it is built around the chassis of the Micra. Parts are cheap and most of them can be sourced through Nissan dealers, although there are quirky extras, such as cup-holders and boot trays, which are highly coveted and harder to find.

So, if you, too, hanker after a car from another time, with bags of personality (and some modern luxuries thrown in for good measure), you can find more information and a list of UK dealers on the fan-club site, www.figarist.com. And, if pulling up at the lights next to Vanessa Feltz is putting you off, don't despair, I hear she has now disposed of her Figaro!

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