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1991 Nissan Figaro: A JDM Classic

1991 Nissan Figaro:  A JDM Classic

I discovered a large cars and coffee event last Saturday.  Big shows like this one organized by Exotic Car Connections allow you to uncover the latest trends in the car hobby.  I’m noticing a shift from 60s and 70s muscle cars at these shows to more modern sports cars from the 1990s and newer.  

In addition to hundreds of muscle cars, classics, hot rods and exotics at the show, Japanese Domestic Market cars are also beginning to make an appearance.  One particular JDM car last weekend caught my eye.

Japanese Domestic Market

So what is a JDM car?  Simply put, these cars are built and sold for only use in the Japanese market.  They feature specs that may be unique for those buyers in Japan, items like right hand drive and none of the safety and emissions requirements for the United States.

In 2004, importing JDM cars became popular in Canada as highly sought after vehicles became eligible to import under Canada’s 15-year rule. In contrast, importing grey market vehicles into the United States is much more difficult.

To avoid regulatory problems, most private owners wait until EPA and Department of Transportation restrictions no longer apply to the desired vehicle (these restrictions expire on a rolling 25-year cycle).  In the U.S., that means only cars from 1998 and older may be imported as of 2023.

front of green car

Nissan Figaro

During the ECC Cars and Coffee show last week, I only saw one JDM vehicle–a 1991 Nissan Figaro.  Ironically, I saw this exact car about two years ago in downtown Farmington (MI).  I stopped to talk with the owners of the car, Glenn Rader and Karen Bartos, to get their story.  Glenn and Karen were very generous with their time and clearly love their Figaro.

Since that show, Glenn sent me an email with more details about how they found the car.  It’s a great story, which deserves to be told in Glenn’s words.

Finding the Right Car

“We had always thought that having a small (even micro) summer car would be a  lot of fun. In the 1990’s we considered importing a circa 1960s Mini Cooper from  the UK, but put it off due to other priorities. Fast-forward to 2018, the subject of  getting a summer car was back on the front burner. 

Rather than restricting our search to the small cars we were familiar with, we  decided to take a broader view of the small car market. In the process, we  stumbled on a car we had never heard of – a Figaro. When we first saw a picture of the car, we thought that it was, perhaps, an early 1960’s Italian vehicle. We later learned that it was a 1991 Nissan Figaro. It was love at first sight!”

Figaro Uniqueness

“The retro-modern Figaro was introduced by Nissan at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show under the slogan “Back to the Future”. The Figaro is a limited-production custom vehicle that was only built in 1991. Production was limited to 20,000 vehicles and it was sold exclusively in Japan. 

The Figaro is based on the Nissan Micra platform. It has a 1.0 liter (987 cc)  turbocharged engine that generates 76 hp and 78 ft-lb of torque through an  automatic, 3-speed transmission. The Figaro can reach a top speed of 106 mph. It  was only produced in four colors. 

The Figaro became very popular in England and surrounding countries due to its styling and right-hand drive. It was not imported to the US until 2016 (Due to US DOT import restrictions). Our Figaro, which we purchased in England in 2019, was  restored to like-new condition by the world experts in Nissan Figaro restoration – The Figaro Shop – Didcot, England. 

We imported the car from Southampton, England to Baltimore in the U.S. Then, trailered it from Baltimore to our home in the Detroit, Michigan area. It is a big hit at all of the car shows we participate in.”

I can attest to the attention this car gets at a car show!  It’s a great looking car with an even better backstory.  

rear view of green car
interior view of Nissan Figaro

Final Thoughts and Questions

You meet the nicest people at car shows, and can learn a lot of unique information talking with car owners.  All you have to do is ask!

Speaking of asking, let me know your thoughts or if you have any questions. You may email me at, or message me through the Vehicle Nanny Instagram or Facebook pages.

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