A roadster that’s stylish, rare and clockwork reliable? We look for the catch
As roadsters go, Nissan’s wilfully retro Figaro is a remarkable success story. Built on K10 Micra underpinnings for the Japanese market, all Figaros are lavishly equipped, which makes the many examples littering the classifieds for less than £5000 look like astonishing value for money. Power comes from a blown 988cc MA10ET engine allied to a three-speed automatic gearbox. Only 20,000 examples, finished in one of four colours, were ever built.
Power (bhp@rpm) 76bhp@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 78lb ft@4400rpm
Top speed 100mph
Gearbox 3-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The rear wheelarches can rot sufficiently to require the entire wing being replaced, at a likely cost of £500. Check also the lower edge of the rear window surround and around the tail lights, where chrome embellishments can trap water and harbour rust. Corrosion also builds behind the headlight rings, upper and lower bodyside trims, grille surround and front and rear bumpers. Get under the car and make sure that the underseal that should have been applied upon arrival in the UK is present and correct, too – budget £400 for fresh application.
Check all hoses for cracks, hardness and weeping unions. Blue smoke at start-up and under load points to a worn turbo, while an excessively noisy top end is usually piston slap rather than tappet wear. Failure to start with the transmission in ‘Park’ is likely down to a badly-adjusted selector cable. Ask to see evidence of a recent cambelt change – it should be done at least every 60,000 miles, and the water pump and tensioner should be swapped at the same time.
Worn balljoints and/or track rod ends are betrayed by a loud knocking noise over uneven surfaces, and while the MacPherson strut/four-link coil spring suspension setup will inevitably wear over time, parts interchangeability with the Nissan Micra keeps repairs cheap. Springs can break, and wheel cylinders can be considered service items. Power steering should be smooth and quiet in operation – noisy and/or sticky operation could be down to old PAS fluid or a split steering gaiter, but could also indicate a worn pump or leaking pipes.
Anything other than smooth, silent operation of the electric roof should cause you to walk away, even if the car is super-cheap. Check for shrinkage and rips or tears in the fabric too. Cars with light-coloured interiors can look very shoddy very quickly, so avoid cheap cars with tatty trim; a leather re-trim is pricey. Remember, too, that these cars used the now-banned Freon 12
air conditioning refrigerant – topping up with the modern equivalent will damage the system.
If you’re in the market for something of the Midget/Spitire/MX-5 ilk, then the Figaro warrants closer attention, chiefly because it offers 99 per cent of the style and charm, but allied to greater reliability and luxury. Topaz Mist-coloured cars (as pictured here) were the least popular when new, but this in turn makes them the rarest, and therefore the most sought-after of the breed today. A super-enthusiastic owners club is the icing on the cake.