By on September 6, 2017

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

Nissan and Datsun brought quirky, interesting, innovative vehicles to North American shores in the years prior to roughly 1994. Commenters — okay, I — brought up our subject Stanza in a post the other day about AMC Eagle creator Roy Lunn. Mr. Lunn used American Motors’ rather slim budget to create what was arguably the very first crossover vehicle from an assemblage of existing parts.

Let’s see what Nissan did with its early proto-crossover vehicle idea.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

First, let’s settle some naming confusion. Though the Stanza carried the Prairie name (which I prefer) abroad, and the Multi name in Canada, the American market knew it simply as Wagon.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

Debuting in 1981 for Japanese customers, it made the journey to North America in 1982. You could choose from a couple of four-cylinder engines, and either a three-speed automatic or a four-speed manual transmission. In true crossover fashion, the Stanza Wagon was front-drive based, with an optional four-wheel drive system.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

Five seats was the standard arrangement, but room for up to seven occupants was an option in this compact MPV. Sliding rear doors on either side beat minivan offerings to the dual-door punch by about a decade.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

Structural integrity be damned, the Stanza Wagon skipped over a B-pillar. This allowed for an impressive aperture when both side doors were opened, and easy access for loading and unloading of people and cargo.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

The rear seats also folded down, creating a small double bed when combined with the reclining front seats.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

The first-generation Stanza Wagon continued through 1988 until its replacement by the Axxess for 1990. An Axxess would also qualify as a Rare Ride; it was sold in the United States for only the 1990 model year. The little Axxess fared better in the frozen land of Canada, where it remained on Nissan lots through 1995. If you find a clean one listed for sale in the US, let me know on Twitter or something.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

Our example today looks rust-free and is located out in California with the rest of the rust-free Japanese 1980s vehicles. There’s some UV damage present, but the seller (who indicates just 50,000 miles on the odometer) is selling this derpy box for $2,700 reasonable dollars.

Image: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon, via seller

It’s high noon in the Prairie.

[Images via seller]

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56 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1986 Nissan Stanza Is a Van and Wagon for the Prairie...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I worked for a Nissan dealership in the late ’80s. Let’s just say the stint was less than successful. As punishment for my lack of success, the sales manager took away my first demo – a cool red 4X4 pickup – and gave me one of these to drive.

    I can tell you they’re rare for a reason, folks.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    There was the ill-fated adventure with the Nissan Van in between. And IIRC the Axxess was offered through ’92 before the Quest/Villager showed up.

  • avatar
    cicero1

    excluding old commie cars, this is one of the top 3 ugliest cars ever built. it makes the Pontiac Aztek look like a supermodel.

  • avatar
    240SX_KAT

    I own a ’90 Axxess. 5 speed with AWD. It totally kills it in the winter.
    It is far from clean though, you can see the ground through the sill panels.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you in the US? I was unsure whether the AWD version of the Axxess was available in the US.

      • 0 avatar
        240SX_KAT

        Nope, I’m in the Vancouver BC area.

      • 0 avatar
        ShoogyBee

        I’m fairly certain that the Axxess was available with AWD in the US market. I sold Nissans for several months in 1990 and 1992, in between semesters while I was in college. I liked the Axxess as a practical vehicle, but the two major demerits (in my eyes) were: 1. the automatic seatbelts for the front seat passengers, which were common in many cars back then. But for a taller vehicle with larger doors, those seatbelts made ingress/egress rather clumsy, and 2) the ride was surprisingly rough on bumpy roads.

        Back to the automatic seatbelts for a moment – I’m assuming that the Axxess was classified as a car by the feds, otherwise it would not have had those automatic belts.

        Our dealership also sold Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles, so you can imagine that most people looking for a family hauler gravitated toward the Plymouth Voyager… not sure if the Chrysler T&C was around back then. The Nissan Quest started hitting showrooms in 1992 and it generated a lot of interest when it first came out. It was a terrific minivan, as long as you didn’t need the extra space that the LWB Chrysler minivans offered. The funny thing was that there was a Mercury dealership next door, so shoppers would often hop over to one dealer then the other to look at the Quest and Villager.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I drove one of these once. I remember the gear shifter (was a manual) was extremely loose and I didn’t know if I was in 1st or 3rd. Didn’t matter, it would eventually fall out of gear if not held into place. I’m sure it was an issue on that particular car, not characteristic of them all. At least I hope that’s the case.

    Other than that, it was quite underwhelming. Safe to say it was a penalty box, as were most economy cars of the era. A presumably useful penalty box, if credit is given where it’s due.

    Hip to be square? Not in this case.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Clean? Hardly, but not bad for $500

    https://boise.craigslist.org/cto/d/nissan-axxess-1990-minivan/6256157624.html

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    I have to assume Nissan did not employ stylists back then. Just draftsmen with T squares.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I cross shopped the Nissan Multi with the Toyota Tallboy wagon, Colt Wagon and Isuzu Trooper before pulling the trigger on a Honda Wagovan with a 6-speed, Realtime AWD/4WD and dealer A/C and sunroof.

    Traded the Honda for a Caravan when the Honda became too small. So in reality the Multi would probably have suited us better as it was a ‘half size larger’. And the Multi’s reputation was not bad. And I for one do not dislike the looks. It looked like what it was, with no pretensions, an honest people mover with great visibility/sightlines. Certainly not the ugliest car of its era.

    The seats in the Wagovan also folded flat to make a ‘bed’. Its seats were comparable in their configuration to those in the fit. And the first generation CRV’s were basically a ‘raised’ wagovan.

    When it was time to trade the Honda, we also looked at the Axxess which was more comparable to the Mazda 5 than a minivan.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’m not sure there’s ever been a worse car name than “Axxess.”

  • avatar
    Russycle

    My ex-wife had one of these when we met. Put a gajillion miles on it hauling clothing samples to stores across 3 states, and Canada. Hard to beat if you needed to haul a lot for cheap, and her friends loved to borrow it for ski trips. I never did get to drive it, she traded it in shortly after we started dating.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Nobody can stop the mighty Monarch!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I never understood the lack of a B-pillar in these. The door latches must be in the floor and roof.

    • 0 avatar
      Menar Fromarz

      A coworker had one that he took to the repair shop and left both slide doors open when they put it on the lift. He was rather alarmed when the roof panel buckled. And this was when it was new ish. Eeek!

  • avatar
    ncmark

    We used to call these “Casket Haulers or Aardvarks”.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I owned one of these. Light blue, MT, FWD. I still think of it as a great car of the time. 36 – mpg highway. Amazing storage configuration with forward folding rear seat. Once I put inside two pretty bulky loveseats and closed the door behind them. I also liked elevated upright seating and upholstery.

    But it had mechanical problems and rust. Another interesting feature not mentioned here – 2 spark plugs per cylinder. It also had interesting instrumentation https://i.ebayimg.com/thumbs/images/g/nfwAAOSwMpZUqEA1/s-l225.jpg

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    Never owned one but drove this and the competition, the Mitsubishi Nimbus.

    Pretty much the precursor to modern day people movers, slow but practical and economical.

    hated them

    i notice that there’s a fair few modern reincarnations that are just as forgettable… the toyota avensis and mitsubishi grandis also short lived and forgotten

    the kia rondo is one still around?

    the problem with these is that they are able to hit people where they want them and can see themselves in them – they are vehicles of last choice

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    So this is where Ford got the idea for the B-Max, okay…

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    See 1980s Tercel wagon. SR5, 4wd, and ATM on the back.

    Car names; Humber Super Snipe. Go on a hunt!

  • avatar
    azulR

    My mother had the Nissan Prairie version back in the UK. My memory has it that there were three trim levels, and only if you went for the top of the line would you get such desirable upgrades as a 1.8 engine (standard there was a 1.5) and also, wait for it, power steering.

    I think hers was the base rather than mid level model, it certainly had manual steering which was the thing about it that she disliked the most. It replaced her much loved Reliant Scimitar GTE when she decided to get an Irish Wolfhound to go with her Irish Setter. The setter could just about manage to scramble in to the Scimitar, a wolfhound demanded more space.

    The euro versions had the rear bumper attached to the tailgate, so that when you swung that up you had really easy access to the low load level floor. It really was ideal for dogs.

    I drove it a few times and found it competent but uninspiring. The vague gearbox and heavy steering were the worst aspects and it had its share of rattles but the rest seemed decent. I think rust got to it in the end, replaced with a Citroen CX wagon.

  • avatar
    geo

    This is definitely the car Calvin’s parents drove.

  • avatar
    scott25

    One of my dream cars for sure. Saw a clean one a few years back and haven’t seen one since. I see Axxesses around every few months, but never one I would call clean. Also don’t forget the arch-rival of the Axxess, the Eagle Summit Wagon!

  • avatar
    smapdi

    Reminds me of my Sidekick, pure windows… amazing visibility if slightly goofy looking.


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