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Nippon Nuttiness: 1987-90 Nissan Pulsar NX


Baby got (more than one) back!

For generations, car designers have dreamt of creating a vehicle that can be transformed from one type to another, like from a sport coupe to a wagon or a pickup. Some concept cars, like the 1976 Ford Prima, managed to pull off the automotive chameleon thing quite well, but very, very few production cars have featured modular body designs. However, one was briefly sold in the U.S. Its name? The Nissan Pulsar NX.

While the first generation Pulsar NX (which was known as the Pulsar EXA in much of the rest of the world) was a fairly conventional two-door coupe, its successor set out to be something more. Based on the mechanicals of the Sentra of the era – known within Nissan as the B12 platform – the new KN13-series Pulsar NX featured a standard T-top roof over the front seats, plus a unique modular rear section. The standard rear section was a hatchback, though with the hatch closed the car looked like a conventional notchback design with a trunk. American and Japanese customers could change out the hatch for windowed shell that turned the car into a shooting brake. The third and final option was, of course, not installing any back section, leaving the car without a back window or a lid over the cargo area; Nissan called this the cabriolet configuration, but it could just as easily be called the pickup configuration (Reports of Nissan test drivers constantly uttering the phrase, “Hold my sake and watch this!” while the vehicle was in this state could not be confirmed.), especially after a large Sesame Street resident of the avian persuasion made a trip to Japan. But while the body was unorthodox, what lay underneath was not: Buyers could choose from fuel-injected SOHC and DOHC 1.6L inline-fours and a DOHC 1.8L four, depending on the model year and trim level. All engines drove the front wheels through either a 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission.

These odd little runabouts show up on eBay and Craigslist fairly routinely, and will seldom run you much more than $2,000 for a nice one. Mechanical reliability is generally pretty good, but with so much weatherstripping on board, check to see if it’s dried out or suffering from some other malady. If you want a car for all (Okay, most.) occasions that doesn’t cost a heck of a lot to own and operate, the second generation Pulsar NX is definitely worth consideration.