By on May 5, 2015

14 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

A front-wheel-drive Nissan Maxima in the junkyard must have something special to induce me to shoot photographs. We’ve seen this gig-rig ’86 wagon with pleading note to the tow-truck driver and this super-weird ’86 sedan with brake fluid used as coolant and washer fluid in this series so far, and now I’ve found this extremely rare 5-speed-equipped ’85 in a Northern California yard.
08 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The body is pretty dinged up but there’s no rust. Just over 100,000 miles on the clock of this 1985 Nissan Maxima.

10 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

By the middle 1980s, almost no luxury-sedan buyers had any use for a manual transmission. You’ll see the occasional BMW or Audi from this era with a 5-speed, but a three-pedal mid-80s Maxima is about as easy to find as a two-headed snake.

01 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Interestingly, this car has a solid-state version of the phonograph-based Voice Annunciator System used in earlier Datsuns. The harness connector is identical to the one on the early-80s units, but the box is full of digital circuitry.

03 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Naturally, I had to buy it.

I haven’t hooked it up to power and a speaker yet, so I don’t know if the voice is the same as the one on the tiny phonograph in the 1982 version.

Ah, the cult of the Talking Nissan.

06 - 1985 Nissan Maxima Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

In addition to being the Turbo Decade, the 1980s was the Cassette Equalizer Decade as well.

In Japan, schmaltz was applied heavily to the ’85 Bluebird ads.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Nissan Maxima...”


  • avatar
    VW16v

    This Maxima takes me back when Nissan actually made great cars. I am surprised that it only has 107k miles on her when it was put to the junk yard. As I remember it, 100k miles was just breaking in a the Maxima. I had a well used 1985 300zx 2+2 back in 1990 with over 200k miles what drove like it was new.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This car was probably caught between CARB smog check rules and Nissan’s policy of discontinuing parts support for cars a few years after they leave production. Need a new catalytic converter in California? It MUST be OEM. Need one for an old Nissan? It’s NLA.

      • 0 avatar
        dartman

        Not exactly correct on the cat; it has to be either OEM or CARB approved; units run about twice the price of Fed versions, i.e. $250 – $500. Replacement aftermarket cats are readily available.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          About 5 years ago, my then-gf’s Nissan Sentra(2003, 88K miles) needed a catalytic converter that was part of the exhaust manifold. I don’t know how it wasn’t covered by emissions warranty, but it wasn’t. The dealer didn’t want to deliver the news that her car needed a $1,200 repair, purchased new from and serviced by them as it was. They suggested that she go to a Dualtone muffler shop down the street for an aftermarket cat-manifold. They’re available for a fraction of the OEM price.

          Dualtone informed my gf that it wasn’t legal in CA to do anything but install a Nissan OEM manifold, which they regularly had to tell people since the Nissan dealer sent everyone that experienced this common failure to them for the bad news. Maybe there are cars where the aftermarket gets CARB certification for their cats, but it wasn’t the case for the regularly failing Sentra manifold-cat.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Today’s Rare Ebay Find

    Pristine big body Jimmy!

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/171776440139?forcerRptr=true&item=171776440139&viewitem=&autorefresh=true

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    My father bought an ’87 stick-shift SE in black at my urging. Basically this car with a raked nose.

    We both loved it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Wait, what was the point of the commercial? And what’s a schmaltz.

    The Maxima just after this one was my favorite, and had the big 4DSC stickers in the back windows. It was a well-equipped, nice looking, and very solid car which rode exceptionally smoothly!

    (Even though the example I was in was about 14 years old at the time.)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      schmaltz – excessive sentimentality OR in Hebrew – rendered goose or chicken fat.

      I knew someone with the last name Schmaltz, the name always made me chuckle.

    • 0 avatar
      zaxxon25

      Yeah, I had a 1993 SE 5-speed … clocked 250K in our family before the paper carrier bought it 2 years ago. My father still has an 1984 (auto, unfortunately) with 250K so far. He disconnected the voice warning module right after he bought it. Last time I was down there I asked if we could reconnect it but he claimed ignorance.

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      It really was a great car.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Yes! Graphic EQ and you bought the voice module! The only thing missing from this post is a crab spirits story…

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    As a completely random aside, the front calipers on this car are an easy upgrade for the S13 (’89-94 240SX) and were stock on the JDM turbo versions. Rotors are different, of course (’93-01 Altima).

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    I thought all SE models came with 5 speed transmissions so they are not all that uncommon.

    • 0 avatar
      Zelgadis

      You are correct. There were a lot of SEs out there and all SE Maximas had manuals. My parents had an 86 Maxima GL, which was the automatic variant. They still have the brochure stating as such.

      • 0 avatar
        kooden916ku1

        Not true. I had an ’87 Maxima SE that had an automatic. It also had the manually adjustable electronic suspension. Engine was still strong at 200K miles and didn’t use a drop of oil but automatic finally gave out.

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          You are both correct. In 1985 and early ’86, the Maxima was offered in two versions. The GL was the luxury version with standard 4 speed auto, as well as velour loose-cushion button tufted seats in your choice of three colors, the pushbutton keyless entry on both front doors, and lots of chrome moldings. The SE was the “sport sedan” version available only with a 5 speed manual transmission. It had blackout grille and window moldings (mandatory for sporty versions of ’80s American or Japanese cars), and a plainer interior in grey only. It gained a 3 position adjustable suspension but lacked the pushbutton entry and some other luxury features found in the GL. A substantial minority of Maximas in this generation were SE manuals. The wagon was offered as a GL only.

          The 1987 model was introduced early in mid-1986 and had a sloped front end and new taillights and wheels. The GL was replaced with the GXE which had a toned-down cloth interior replacing velour. The SE continued but was now available with either manual or automatic transmissions. It also had those annoying motorized shoulder belts at least in later models.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    In that era, Nissan made the best cars/pickups/SUVs out there. What the heck happened?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Only a guess but I imagine the Japanese real estate bubble bursting in the 1990s and the fallout since made it harder for Nissan to build a good car at a price point. Back then, with import quotas and the Japanese Yen where it was at; Japanese builders could go hog wild on both quality and technology.

      American buyers also revolting against the rising prices of cars in the 1990s; forcing all the car builders to decontent their automotive offerings so they could lower prices.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Nissan ran themselves ragged in the ’90s trying to compete with Toyota in
      every
      single
      market
      segment.
      Selling GT-Rs below cost didn’t help either.

      Finances finally hit a wall at the end of the decade, they ended up being bailed out by Renault, and Ghosn reorganized Nissan into what is in many ways a very different company now.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      That’s not the way I remember it, and I had far more involvement with Nissan than I wanted to during the era. Nissan had a few very good designs, and the potential to deliver a flawlessly built car, but they also produced more complete turkeys than the other Japanese companies and were as prone to making lemons as some non-Japanese manufacturers. They also made running changes to cars with no documentation and shoddy parts support for cars that had superseded parts during production runs. Overall, I wouldn’t wish a Nissan on a Ford driver.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    My dad almost bought one of these with a stick shift. It screamed high-tech to my 14 year-old self, but he decided to go with an Thunderbird Turbo Coupe instead.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    My first serious girlfriend had one of these, also with a 5-speed, but in beige. By the time she got it from her ultra-commuter father, it had well over 200k on the clock. The front end was the worse for wear — looked like it had been through a sandblaster — but the thing ran great for several years, outlasting our relationship, until the engine finally gave up the ghost.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I could never get why someone would want one of these, they have all the style of a calculator, and after driving a 300ZX from the time I can see why “talking cars” never became a thing.

    The early 90’s Maxima looks much better, same stoic-look but with some small touches to liven it up and no annoying gnomes trapped in the dash.

    I can’t say if these cars were of “superior quality” or not, only drove that one 300zx, I doubt they’re anywhere close to a Benz 190E.

    Honestly, I’d rather have a Datsun 510 for my “sports car wannabe sedan”, those were pretty snazzily-equipped for cheap 70’s econo cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      I don’t think there were any Nissan sedans below the Maxima with performance considerations until the SE-R in 1991. Even in the 70s 510s needed a lot of aftermarket work to get to the level their legend has assumed today.
      As for comparing a 80s Japanese car against the German premiums I would guess people chose the Nissan for the same reason my dad switched in the 70s. Price and reliability with enough wiggle room to toss in a light flywheel and Konis.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        That is true

        Whenever I compare older cars I look at them from a modern perspective, as used battered clunkers that’ll demand a bit of wrenching to get going.

        Compared to the 300ZX I drove (2+2 NA t-top model) the 190E was slower, but the steering was weighted much better, the car itself more nimble, suspension tuned better, and needless to say the 190E was in better shape (though still not perfect by far).

        Maximas strike me the same way as FWD Mazdas, people say they’re fun to drive but I still cant figure out how.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Less durable than a 190E but more reliable and a lot more fun. These were really nice cars to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Say what you want on reliability, I’d hate to end up sorting out an ancient “Sonar Suspension system”, or any number of their complex gadgetry nonsense.

        I haven’t driven one so I cant say how “fun” they are, they look like they’d be good highway cruisers, but a bland V6 FWD sedan “fun”?

        Must be Mazda-syndrome, take a bland FWD car and make the suspension stiff to make it seem “fun”.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          FWD can be very rewarding. “Fun” in a car consists of a lot more than drifting. I recall my ex-girlfriend’s Maxima as being light on its feet, quick, torquey, with good body control and grip. My 2004 Acura TSX stick kind of reminded me of that Maxima in the way it drove.

          That Maxima had adaptive dampers, but not really any other complicated tech. Her dad was a decent shadetree mechanic and he was able to keep it in good shape. (Actually, both parents were — her mom had an old Volvo P1800 she wrenched on.)

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            I’ll just have to drive one when I can, I don’t doubt the fun factor of FWD itself (my dumb base Dodge Omni could be fun), just it being a V6 family sedan.

            For the record I’m equally skeptical with RWDs, I’ll never “get” stuff like the super legendary AE86, or really any of the old Bimmers journalists constantly cry for in the mags.

            Your ex-girlfriend has some cool parents with an interesting taste in vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            IndigoCoyote

            “I recall my ex-girlfriend’s Maxima as being light on its feet, quick, torquey, with good body control and grip.” If only your ex could be described the same way, she might not be your EX!

  • avatar
    Joss

    I recall eighties Maxima bland in style but way better than anything from the big 3. And way more reliable than anything from Europe. It held its value better too.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    These cars with sticks were not at all rare in New England, along with everything else in the near-lux class. We stingy Yankees out to save a buck on our expensive cars. $1000 was real money in the ’80s.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    The lines on this look OK to me today, but back in the late ’80s the design seemed ancient — a matter that wasn’t helped any by the contrast with the ’89.

  • avatar
    Pebble

    I would like any car I have to have a voice. My PT Cruiser telling me “Fuel Low” or “A door is ajar” would be the shiznit! can this be added aftermarket?

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    A 5th and 6th-Gen Accord nearby. Not something you’d expect, unless they were in accidents. (Well, unless the 6th-Gen was a V6 that had just dealt its @Crabspirits-story owner an umpteenth transmission replacement.)

  • avatar
    timer555

    Voice box? Nice. Looks very futuristic in early maximas. Up until which year these were put in maximas?

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Eddie Murphy on talking cars: “I bought an ’82 Datsun, only I got it in my neighborhood. Once I turned the ignition and it said, ‘yo man, someone stole your battery.’ Three seconds later it said, ‘I say we go get the m—–f—–s!\'”

  • avatar
    JohnPhantom

    I created an account here just to say this, I am not a huge car fan, though I do love my 2000 convertible black Trans Am with less than 100k miles. My mom bought a 1985 black regular 4 door 5 speed stick Nissan Maxima new off the lot when I was 16. When I was 21 it had been used a good bit by 1990. My dad died and I went on a suicidal rampage, doing 125 mph in it over 3 counties before blowing the motor. Here is a warning for you and the reason why I came here: this car by a long shot is the most unstable car I have ever driven, at over 100-110 mph and literally bounces around at 125.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • alan996: Shades of Truman vs steel..
  • Josh: I saw a ’98 Car and Driver review of the V6 CE 5-speed and they called it the Plymouth Road Runner of the...
  • CoastieLenn: Looks like a blobfish.
  • Lou_BC: @SoCalMikester – I agree. Uncontrolled wildfires in multiple places around the globe put needed...
  • eggsalad: And also bears some similarity to the Prius C.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber