Overlooked Race Cars: The Dominatin' Nissan Stanza Wagon!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
overlooked race cars the dominatin nissan stanza wagon

When shopping for a car to thrash all weekend long on a hairy road course, most of us don’t consider the Nissan Prairie. Why not? The Team Sputnik ’86 Stanza Wagon proved at last month’s Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons that you don’t need an RX-7 or E30 to do well in low-buck endurance racing.

All the members of the team hail from the ex-USSR— hence the team name— and they are very proud of their race machine’s pass-through double-sliding doors. And we here at TTAC think the Stanza Wagon is actually a pretty cool vehicle.

And who wouldn’t be? Of course, the roll cage reduces its grocery-hauling abilities to some extent, but this Prairie can still haul a bigger Costco load than 99% of all road-race cars!

To create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, Team Sputnik gave this nice diecast Prairie as a judicial bribe during the BS Inspection.

The Sputnik Stanza Wagon was nothing more than a dead-stock 200,000-mile beater at the end of its useful life… with a roll cage. One of the front struts blew out before the car finished even one lap, the brakes acted up, and various nickel-and-dime breakdowns made for frequent pit stops.

Team Sputnik never gave up on their steed, however; they found a way to drive with the bad strut (no parts store within 500 miles had a Prairie strut available), and they kept grinding out laps. They weren’t the slowest thing on the track— quite— but their 1:08 best lap was about 7 seconds off the pace of the quickest cars.

Before they figured out that their wagon needed to be driven very cautiously with its bum suspension, Team Sputnik made a few appearances in the Penalty Box for spinouts and off-track excursions. Here we see them receiving the Bubb Rubb “Whistles Go Whoo-WHOO!” Penalty.

The battle for the Index of Effluency came down to three cars: the Sputnik Stanza Wagon, the NSF Racing 1962 Plymouth Fury, and the Speedycop And The Gang 1967 Parnelli Jones Ford Galaxie. The Stanza ran the most laps of the three (441 against the Fury’s 218 and the Galaxie’s 243), but the IOE balances the car’s accomplishment against its inherent terribleness; a stunningly bad car need not complete as many laps as a very bad car in order to grab the IOE. In the end, LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm decided that the Fury— which was essentially a vaguely car-shaped rust pile with barely functioning engine, transmission, and brakes— running 218 laps was nothing short of miraculous (the Galaxie was actually about 90% as bad under its pretty paint, but it didn’t run much at all during the first day’s race session). It was a tough decision, however, and Team Sputnik almost took the race’s top prize home with them. Another 20 or so laps for the Stanza Wagon probably would have done it.

But don’t count Team Sputnik out of the IOE race just yet! They’re going to work out some of the car’s bugs and return for another shot at some major trophy hardware.

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3 of 4 comments
  • Diseasel Diseasel on Mar 16, 2011

    The whistles go woo woo! What a cool LeMons car. Gotta love the original mini-minivan.

  • Slavuta Slavuta on Mar 16, 2011

    I had one of these wagons. And I have to say, we loved it. The highlights were, the comfort, fuel efficiency (36mpg hwy), utility! How about 2 love-seats fit in? Excellent driving position. Yes, it was a slow mover. 0-60... must of been around 10sec or more. But boy, was it a great cruiser. Here is the funny story. I worked @ pizza shop back then. And somebody just parked their Stanza Wagon behind the shop right where delivery people park and it was annoying to them. We didn't know who would park their car like that and there were no one around to ask. So, I went to that car and tried to open the door with the key from my Stanza Wagon and it opened! So I moved the car 100 yards away, wiped out potential fingerprint points and locked it. I am sure the owner was surprised!

    • Alex_rashev Alex_rashev on Mar 16, 2011

      I think this is a pretty big 80's/90s Nissan problem as they age. I remember I was walking on the street once, and some guy locked his keys in a mid-90's Altima. I had a key from my old '93 Sentra with me, and what do you know, worked like a charm. I wonder if any of the drivers noticed that the car had a "Captain Slow" sign for every time we had one of our inexperienced guys (as in, all but one) behind the wheel on Saturday. And speaking of utility, I think it's one of those few race cars where utility actually increased after the transformation. Almost like a pickup truck now, haul anything you want without worrying about spills and scratches. Racing minivans FTW!

  • Dusterdude When there is a strike the union leadership talk about “brothers and sisters “ . They should give up that charade . Bottom line is they are trying to wring out every last penny they can and could care less ( putting it politely) about the future of the industry 5 - 10 years+ down the road
  • Ronin They all will back off, because the consumer demand is not there. Even now the market is being artificially propped up by gov subsidies.
  • Keith Some of us appreciate sharing these finds. Thank you. I always have liked these. It would a fun work car or just to bomb around in. Easy to keep running. Just get an ignition kill switch and you would have no worries leaving it somewhere. Those OEM size wheels and tires are comical. A Juke has bigger wheels!
  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.