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The Carchive: The 1984 Nissan Prairie

It’s back to brochures for this Carchive installment. The last one we covered was the 1980 Dodge Imports – ostensibly rebadged Mitsubishis that sold on value and economy, yet somehow image and fun, too.

Today we look at a machine with absolutely no sense of vanity, no illusions of grandeur, no upmarket pretentions. The Mk1 Nissan Prairie is a car the likes of which we just don’t see any more – the honest all-rounder.

(Images can be enlarged for a fighting chance of reading the text)

“The Nissan Prairie is an entirely new concept in space and versatility”

We’ve got Italdesign’s Lancia Megagamma concept car to thank for the Nissan Prairie (or Stanza Wagon / Nissan Multi) – or the way it looks, anyway.  The ‘box  it came in’  style was translated to modest underpinnings derived from the Nissan Sunny, with power units from the Stanza. It was mechanically about as conventional as they came, with front-wheel drive and a transverse ‘four’, but it was bodily rather innovative – despite its rectlinear appearance.

“The Nissan Prairie adds a new dimension to your motoring.”

It was that missing ‘B’ post that made the Prairie. In place of conventional hinged rear doors, they slid, and with an absence of structure between front and rear door – true open access was granted to the passenger compartment. This was made possible by front doors that latched to the sills and roof, while the rear doors tucked neatly behind the fronts when closed. There was some clever design put into those doors, even if side impact protection was ranked rather low in the Prairie’s priority list.

The Prairie scored extremely well for practicality, though. No, it didn’t seat seven like later MPVs would, but five were seated in stretch-out comfort, and could get away from being egregiously tall or wearing substantial hats before headroom became a problem. The boot was a decent size, too, and the tailgate opened right down to the boot floor.

“Whilst the new Nissan Prairie will benefit all the family, it will be a particular pleasure for the driver”.

Ah, a little bit of fantasy creeping into an otherwise ‘just the facts’ brochure, there. The thing is, the Prairie wasn’t a rewarding car to drive when evaluated from any objective perspective. That said, despite its considerable height and greater bulk, it wasn’t grossly less capable in corners than the regular Nissan Stanza hatchback or saloon, though losing that ‘B’ post did have consequences vis-a-vis rigidity. The low-speed ride was comfortable, thanks in part to diddy 13-inch wheels and decidedly non-sporting tyres, but the primitive suspension made for rather untidy handling.

A more powerful 1.8-litre engine was later to be available, as was a 2.0-litre and four-wheel drive in some markets. Unlike the Bluebird, there was no ZX Turbo version, and I think that’s rather a shame.

“It’s an outstanding new multi-purpose car designed and equipped to make the most of your motoring”

This double page is the other bit of misleading publicity to be found in this brochure. To the right we see a Prairie outside what looks like a country house, disgorging or collecting a group of handsomely dressed young bluebloods, and to the left we see said wagon helping windsurfers to practice their youthful pursuits (while remaining spotlessly clean). I’ll wager that an infinitesimally small percentage of Prairies were ever exposed to situations this salubrious or that fashionable.

In real life, the Prairie lived a far more drab existence. It was never a ‘lifestyle’ vehicle, it was merely a ‘useful’ one. This brochure dates from ’84, towards the very end of the Datsun years, and the far less innovative (but markedly more ‘stylish’) next generation would arrive in 1989. And today, if British motorists want a simple, spacious useful car that will soak up family punishment, we must head to our local Dacia dealer and get ourselves a Duster or Stepway. Dacia, coincidentally, being tangentially related to Nissan.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Nissan. I really want to drive a Mk1 Prairie one day. I reckon it would be hilarious on a country road)