The Mystery of the Figaro Is Solved!

Back when Marian and I were vacationing in Britain, I saw a surprising number of these cars:

It’s a Figaro, which looks like one of those cute postwar British cars that were manufactured in the gazillions—but obviously isn’t. For one thing, it’s made by Nissan. For another, it has a third brake light up in the rear window, which pegs it as a relatively recent make. So what is it?

I never found out, but today the New York Times reveals all. It turns out it’s an oddball car that, for some reason, Nissan manufactured only in 1991:

Nissan built the Figaro in pale shades of aqua, green, gray and taupe — one of a few idiosyncratic, limited-edition models the company made in that era.

The company originally planned to build just 8,000 Figaros, priced at about $8,300, and strictly for the Japanese market. Even before sales began, it was clear that demand would far exceed that figure, so Nissan held a lottery to choose its buyers. Celebrities were among those in the running, generating still more interest. Nissan expanded production to 20,000, but even so, most would-be buyers were turned away. Despite the unmet demand, the company stuck to its plan to make the car for just one year.

From early on, a very few appeared in Britain, as people visiting Japan — including Eric Clapton — bought Figaros and had them shipped home. The car required only minor modification to be street legal in Britain, and drivers here, as in Japan, sit on the right side of the car.

….More than 3,000 of the cars are registered as being in active use in Britain, but numbers are no longer rising, and the pipeline has slowed to a trickle. “There’s only so many, and they’ve been around awhile,” said Peter Pattemore, who drives a Figaro (named Jimmy), as does his wife, Sandra (hers is Sally). “But we’re going to keep them as long we can.”

The Figaro is now more than 25 years old, so it’s finally street legal if you want to buy one for use in the United States. Just don’t expect anyone to fit in the back seat.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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