By on February 24, 2012

Just about the time Datsuns were getting Nissan badging, the suits at Nissan HQ decided that they needed a cheap sporty car to compete with the likes of the Honda CRX and (cringe) Ford EXP in the American marketplace. A little cutting and pasting on the Sentra and voila! Pulsar!
The 70 horses of the E16 engine wasn’t much, but it was comparable to the competition. I remember reading a review of this car that suggested the best way to get the automatic to accelerate was to neutral-drop the transmission. Argh!
The crazy Sportbak option wasn’t available for a few more years, but the early Pulsars still managed to look science-fiction strange.
I’ve never heard anyone refer to a “Datsun Pulsar,” but Nissan was still slapping Datsun badges on most of its American products in 1983.
Such a red interior, though it’s not quite up to the whorehousey standards of the later Dodge Dynasty.
Genuine Datsun AM/FM sound! This option probably cost plenty back then.

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Nissan Pulsar NX...”

  • avatar

    Pulsar schmulsar, now if you find one of those mid 80’s RWD Isuzu Impulses (with handling by Lotus, of course) I will be impressed.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny you mention that. I hadn’t seen one in years and years, when all of a sudden one blows by me on the interstate. I was trucking along about 72, so this guy was moving. Red. Super clean. Looked to be in mint condition. Windows down, sunroof open…this guy was enjoying life. I couldn’t help but say out loud, “Faster than a speeding…well, you know,” from the old Joe Isuzu commercials back in the day.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew a guy in the early ’90s for whom the original Impulse was his dream car, I kid you not. Must’ve been the “eyebrow” semi-hidden headlights.

      • 0 avatar

        Ahh, the original Isuzu Impulse.

        It was a very stylish car let down by poor quality materials and an unsophisticated engine and chassis. Based on Giugiaro’s “Ace of Clubs” show car design commissioned by Isuzu, the original Impulse was sold as the Isuzu Piazza in other markets.

        Along with the Audi 5000, the original Isuzu Impulse was the first car available in the U.S. to feature flush-mounted side glass which helped improve its aerodynamics and generate a low (for the time) coefficient of drag. Aside from the Isuzu badges on the nose and in the rear, the car used no chrome trim, something that most people do not notice. The original Impulse also featured a very stylish interior (made from very cheap materials that did not wear well).

        I recall the car being featured in commercials for a perfume called “Impulse” and remember a short-lived TV series about lottery winners where one winner ran out and bought a new Isuzu Impulse after collecting his cash prize. Apparently on impulse.

        Sadly it was built on the GM T-car chassis, shared with Isuzu’s own I-Mark sedan (the Buick Opel Isuzu), the Chevrolet Chevette and the Opel Kadett. The original engine was a bit… um, agricultural.

        A mid-life facelift eliminated the eyelid headlamp covers and featured narrow exposed headlamps. It added a hood bump on one side to accomodate a turbo-charger which improved performance. The chassis was retuned by Lotus, then a division of GM. Before it was replaced by the front-wheel drive version, it was a case of a something close to being a silk purse being made out of a sow’s ear.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Back in the 80’s I worked with someone who owned a 1st gen Impluse. Neat car but for some reason the insurance was quite high for the time. I think it was because the bumper standard was reduced from 5mph to 2.5mph and they lumped them in with other sports cars.

  • avatar

    From the cobwebbed corners of my memory, wasn’t there a turbo version of this little doorstop?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, and I drove that torque-steer monster, and I’m happy to say other than that, it was a hoot to drive. I measured 0-60 in about 8 seconds via spedo and then new and cool digital watch.

      • 0 avatar

        There was a turbo option; I somehow recall that they destroked/debored the engine to 1500 so that it could put up with the boost.

      • 0 avatar

        No. I bought one new in ’91 – an Impulse RS. It was a 1600 turbo with AWD. It had a NACA duct in the hood and a sticker across the back of the car that said “Intercooled Turbo/ All Wheel Drive” that I thought looked sooo cool at the time. Most of the Impulse models were the pedestrian non turbo cars, but I found several for sale (one year old, but brand new) at Cerritos Isuzu. It only came is a few colors – I got a grey one. They were parked waaaay in back, and the dealer was dying to get rid of them…I think I paid about $9k with a $15kish window sticker. I was originally looking for one of those Mitsu AWD turbo coupes, but found the Impulse and it seemed so much better. AWD, ABS and and air bag (a big deal in 1990). It was not that fast stock, but what was back then? I kept it about 2 years and traded it in for a Ranger pickup truck.

  • avatar

    This is what happens when an auto manufacturer thinks “young driver’s car!”.

    It has to be cheap.
    It has to be small.
    It has to be look like something those kids think is really cool!

    So they take a two door economy car, give it a new roof line, and give it a Star Wars styling. It would be available in bright awesome cool colors, big bold decals, and SELL LIKE CRAZY!!


    Uh, right?

    Geez – these kids have no idea what is cool. What a bunch of duds. How did this become a girl’s car? Sure it looks like a purse, but c’mon – “Star Wars!” – it looks like something a sporty guy would want, right? What do you mean, “geek chic”?

    This is what all the young Japanese guys are driving. Right after they shave off their body hair, put on eye liner, put down their Nintendo virtual girlfriends and drive to see the new “Sailor Moon” cartoon.

    Oh. Hmmm. Perhaps this is a girl’s car…

  • avatar
    fintail jim

    and a little later we had the Mazda MX-3. Also, be on the lookout for a Plymouth Horizon TC3 or a Dodge Omni 024. Those too seem to fit the formula that Vanilla describes.

    • 0 avatar

      The Mazda MX-3. Its claim to fame was the smallest sports car to offer a V6, which gave it barely more HP than a turbo four, sucked gas like a big boy and made it so nose heavy on 14″ wheels it was scary to drive.
      Dodge countered with the Shadow ES, which originally came with the 2.2L turbo attached to a 3spd auto to a V6 (3.0L?). Don’t forget Ford’s EXP turbo and Escort GT with a whole 1.9L of screaming fury under the hood. But the worst of the bunch and winner of the biggest let-down of the small sports car era had to be the GEO Storm.

  • avatar

    I wonder sometimes if Nissan/Datsun used to slap both badges on the car to get around taxes. I know it was partially to not have a jarring transition, but Nissan did put the Stanza name in small decals on the first Altimas. The Altima badge was metal. Presumably it made the Stanza badging easy to remove.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember when the Altima came out. Calling it a Stanza Altima meant they did not have to crash test it as an all new model (which would have used significantly more cars.) Apparently, at the time, redesigns didn’t have to go through as many crash tests as all new models did.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Man this brings back funny memories! Fresh out of college my cousin bought one of these and I bought a Honda CRX Si. Although I tried to talk my cousin into getting the Honda, knowing that 90% of the time growing up I was right, he stubbornly got the Pulsar instead. There was no comparison to his Pulsar and my rev-happy tossable CRX. The Pulsar had the power and handling of a lawn mower – it was horrendous! When I was a passenger he would rev the engine like I used to with the CRX. It sounded like the engine would come flying through the firewall unlike the silky turbine in the Honda. I used to love burning him at the stoplights and curves and his shiny red “sports car” became the joke of the family. He ended up crashing it and bought a red Lebaron convertible instead. To this day he still has terrible taste in cars and still crashes every one.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Pulsar had the power and handling of a lawn mower – it was horrendous!”

      I remember test driving one of these for a friend of a friend back in the ’80s. When I commented on the shift action and handling, the salesman replied “It’s a sports car – they all do that” I said “this is no sports car”, at which point the girl who was considering the Pulsar said “Yes it is – sports are dangerous”.

      No sale.

      • 0 avatar

        I test drove one in 1984. I was 17 & me & my best friend put on suits & WALKED to the Nissan dealership by the Salem Mall in Dayton OH. The best thing about that anemic car was the new car smell. Nevertheless, I fully expect that in 25 years rich guys form my generation will be buying pristine examples of Pulsars, OMNI GLH’s & Sciraccos!! LOL

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a new CRX 1.5 at the end of 1983, and I agree that it completely embarrassed the Pulsar in every way.

      • 0 avatar

        VelocityRed3, the VW Scirocco was a fantastic little sports hatch that has no business being compared to the lowly Pulsar or goofy Omni. It had styling, speed (okay if you got the 16V 1.8L four), reliability and yes, gas mileage. It shifted well, gave great feedback through the wheels and was so low to the ground it cornered like it was on rails. It also had the distinction of having that cool whale tail spoiler on the rear hatch and one in good condition can still fetch good money.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    My first car was a 1986 version of this, it was light blue. Why did I buy it? Well it met my 3 criteria when buying a car at 16, it had pop-up headlights, a sunroof and was 2 door. It also met my father’s criteria, it was painfully slow. In 1992 a teenager with $3500 to spend could get one of these, a first generation RX7, a Corolla SR5-GTS, or a base Civic. My father nixed the SR5 and RX7 so the only thing left was Pulsar for me.

    Indecently you left out the best part of that stereo, the non-integrated front loading cassette deck, and by 1986 they had switched to a digital clock.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    That dashboard’s been spray-painted. I used to sell Nissans at that time, those dashboards were never color-matched. Slate gray, IIRC.

  • avatar

    I was initially attracted to the 1986 Pulsar “sportback” when I saw it in the auto mags, but the more I read about it, the more my interest waned. It was heavier than most small cars, got worse gas mileage, was more expensive, and the extra room in the sportback was mostly wasted. Moreover, if you bought both the sportback and the other back (I can’t remember what they called it), you’d have to find a place to put the one you weren’t using. Still, Nissan got brownie points for trying something different. The first Generation Acura Integra came out about the same time – now that car got just about everything right. I still kick myself for not buying one.

  • avatar

    Nice car – that one is cleaner than many in my office parking lot.

  • avatar

    I wish this were a Sportback – according to one car mag (remember those?), it was essentially a 1:1 scale Transformer for adults!

    This model? They looked to me like the greenhouse was laterally compressed in a vise. The proportions just didn’t look right.

    • 0 avatar

      The sportback came on the second generation of this car (just called the NX)

      I remember, being a young college kid, thinking the second generation was ‘cool’ because of the sportback and being disappointed that the 3rd gen, the NX2000 didn’t have the transformer stuff.

      Now I would take a non T-top NX2000 in a heartbeat (minus Nissan’s 5th gear issues of that generation Sentra SE-R)

  • avatar

    These always seemed a like a bit of a lame substitute for a Toyota MR2. The Sportbak ones are neat but otherwise … meh.

  • avatar

    Wow, interior plastics have held up really well – and ahhh yes – the mid 80’s was all about the red interior.

    Don’t be hatin’ on the Ford EXP. Was my first car. Why with 68% of its weight on the front wheels (I believe it is the car with the worst weight distribution ever built for North America) it was an under steering mess – but in the snow with the meager weight all up front, it was pretty much unstoppable. At least it got 40+ MPG real world and the hatch held a full three day weekend of camping supplies, plus the dog and the girlfriend of the era.

  • avatar

    I took driver’s ed in one of these.

    I also used to have a Tomica model of one, and I distinctly recall running over it with my bike. Looking back, I’m sad about that.

  • avatar

    Question for the B&B. Exactly why did the company change its name from Datsun to Nissan? I grew up with Datsun and remember the great cars they made such as the Fairlady, 240Z and the 210. It seems to me they took a big risk from a marketeer’s perspective. It’s like Coke changing its name to “Brown Soda”.

    • 0 avatar
      Rob Finfrock

      I think Datsun derived from the original name of a company Nissan Motor bought out before WWII. (A quick check of Wikipedia “confirmed” that, such as it is.)

      All Datsuns that made it over to the States were really Nissans, but not all Nissans were/are Datsuns. In the end it was probably cheaper to only have one name across the board.

  • avatar

    Nissan eventually learned. Only 9 years after this, the NX2000 had the guts and handling to back up the “chick car” looks. Take the T-Tops off, add some stiffer springs, an intake and a cat-back, and it was an absolute hoot (and an autocross monster!)

  • avatar
    Rob Finfrock

    Dear Lord, the moment I saw the headline I remembered the music that accompanied the TV ads for these.


    I was 8 when these went on sale.

  • avatar

    Yay! A car in the “Junkyard Finds” category that I actually owned, the 1984 version.

    Not a bad all show, no go econocar with something to set it apart. had that pocket cassette deck mentioned.

    Only maintenance in it’s 6 year life in our family was a radiator that corroded in our coastal area and welding the exhaust manifold to the outbound pipe.

    Outgrew it and bought a minivan. Used a Sharpie to touch up some paint chips (it was black), got a good trade in I recall.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    The red interior, so malaise era . I wonder if red was a less durable color for plastics in those days . My 1980 Rabbit , in red / red suffered from the same discoloration as this one . Within 2 years, in my memory, the “Tabasco red “interior hsd faded into ten different shades of red- to everything from orange to magenta to purple , despite always keeping it garaged. Of course back then VW had only recently opened up its ill-fated Pennsylvania plant and the mechanical and interior pieces came from the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Canada and Mexico.

  • avatar

    Dollars to donuts this got driven to someone’s job at the Tater Junction in the mall at some point. Maybe Orange Julius.

  • avatar

    Actually, when the Nissan Pulsar NX came out, it was a competitor to cars like the Toyota Corolla Sport, Ford EXP, Mercury LN7, Plymouth TC3 and Dodge 024. This was before the Honda CRX, Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero, although maybe the boys at Nissan had a hint that these cars were in the pipeline.

    The Pulsar NX was part of Nissan’s Pulsar line which replaced the previous Datsun 310. Other Pulsar models that lacked the “NX” suffix were boxy 2 and 4-door hatchbacks with exposed headlamps and completely different sheet metal than the Pulsar NX. The original Pulsar NX was considered to be a “coupe.” It featured a conventional trunk and was the replacement for the Datsun 310 hatchback coupe.

    Meanwhile the Nissan Sentra (Nissan’s replacement for the Datsun 210) was built on the same chassis and used the same drivetrains as the Pulsars, but was available as conventional 2 and 4-door “notchback” sedans, a 4-door station wagon, and a hatcback/fastback coupe.

    At some point the plain Pulsar hatchbacks were discontinued while the Pulsar NX continued on. The second generation Pulsar NX was a hatchback coupe that offered the optional sportback where the rear hatch was replaced with a giant hatch that when closed looked like a sport wagon in the vein of the Volvo 1800 ES or Lancia Beta HPE.

    It was a good idea poorly executed. The rear window of the sportback did not open. You had to lift up the entire rear roof section with the rear window and side windows to get into the luggage compartment. The second generation version was still called “Pulsar NX.”

    The Pulsar NX was replaced by the handsome NX1600 and NX2000 hatchback coupes, no longer offering the sportback option and no longer bearing the “Pulsar” name and collectively referred to as the “NX” line.

  • avatar

    Back in the day I had quite an experience with a red Pulsar, a 4 door. It was a rental car that I picked up at the Boise airport to be dropped a week later in Salt Lake. The grandmotherly Budget agent called it a Plissar and evidently considered it some kind of an upgrade. Ha. It was a small underpowered POS. Later, while exiting I-15 near Pocatello I was sideswiped (driver side) by a semi pulling a wide turn on the 2 lane off-ramp. The car was pushed in from front to back, the front door sprung open. I had to rope tie it shut (and for the rest of the week exit via the passenger door.) I called the rental company and they said if it is still driveable, to just keep it and turn it in as planned. I stayed at my usual Salt Lake hotel near downtown, in the open parking lot that surrounded the hotel. That night, there was an extremely strong windstorm. The hotel was being reroofed, and the workers had covered the work area with tarps held down with semi tires. One of which was blown off and landed square on “my” Pulsar. I’m not making this up. Total loss. But no great loss, really.

  • avatar

    Better Red than dead.

    Cold War era slogan.

    Oh, wait…. Better dead than Red… that’s it.

    Had two of the “sport back” add-ons in the Omaha warehouse of the bestest inventoried dismantling yard in the USA.

    Where I worked after departing California.

    Boss would not sell them.

    Unable to fathom the reason.

    Rather rare extra-cost parts.

    Never saw one in real-world use.

    Saw queries a few times on the computer network connecting a multitude of mostly “modern” yards.

    But… “Nope,” and those add-ons stayed put.

    Might still be there.

    Perhaps a desire akin to hanging on to NOS Superbird wing and a nose?

  • avatar

    The OEM radios back then had three presets for FM stations and two for AM, pretty cool and 80s-ish. Much like the Mazda GLS featured in this series. People really used to steal these?!

    P.S. I like how TTAC started listing the latest Junkyard Finds in a sidebar. Not sure if my suggestion to do so from about a month ago had anything to do with it, but regardless, nice.

  • avatar

    I know this thread is basically dead now, but it reminded me that I saw an entirely diffferent Pulsar when I bought my 1983 Sentra. I guessed that it was a non-US model car, probably Canadian. Any info would be appreciated.

  • avatar

    Hello, I have a Nissan Pulsar N12 and much needed spare parts to it, tell me whether you can buy parts for this showdown, or tell me another place, but just who is ready to send to Odessa. Thank you very much for your help

  • avatar

    I had a 1983 pulsar nx. A black one with the grey tape treatment. I was in my early 20’s. I drove the wheels off of that car. Bought it with 100,000 mile, speedo broke at 180,000. Probably had 240,000 on it when all was said and done. Nothing but 1 exhaust system (factory nissan, looked great like it was powder coated black from nissan), two cat converter bolts and rubber hangers for the rest, 10 min install. Reg timing belt changes and valve adjustments. I broke 2 transmissions, my fault. There was actually a turbo version of this car that is forgotten but very important for nissan. It was their first turbo car and first and only front wheel drive turbo car that they manufactured. These cars had awesome leg room (front only, none in the rear at all) with reclining seats. Great gas mileage, and a/c that would make the windows condensate. I have been looking for another 83 for many years. They are all gone. I bought the last available nissan motorsports front spoiler. It made the car look totally different. That was one of the best cars I have ever owned. I would have put another tranny in it if not for the rust issues. Engine still ran like a top the day I took her to the junk yard. This car was completely toss-able and with the 5 speed wasn’t slow considering what was out there in ’83. I used to live in Point Pleasant Pa by the mountainside Inn. Every once in awhile I would catch a tourist with a Beemer, Benz, jag, Porsche, or vette. They didn’t like the idea of a lowly datsun hanging with them. They would try to out run me but never could. I would run 80-90 mph on some of the straights of rte 32 by the Delaware canal. It was mostly the driver and knowledge of the road but the nissan was a very capable corner burner. I would probably trade my whole fleet for 2 of these in daily driver shape. Thanks for the memories.

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