By on December 11, 2015

1988 Nissan Pulsar NX SE

Various companies and trade groups have discovered that focusing marketing effort on a short period of time can generate significant buzz, and thus potential increased sales. Discovery Channel has “Shark Week.” Restaurants in various cities have Local Dining weeks. New York hookers have Fleet Week.

TTAC, in the same clickbaity manner, has “Sorta Obscure Twentyish-Year-Old Japanese Hatchback Week.” I’m not sure if I can repeat this next year, but this week has brought very rough examples of oddball Isuzu and Mazda hatches. Today, however, I have a personal favorite that isn’t one busted balljoint from the scrapyard.

It’s no secret that I’m a Datsun/Nissan fanatic. When counting only cars that actually ran while in my possession, I’ve owned more Nissans than any other make. This distinction is important due to the many non-running Civics and Miatas I’ve parted out. If I had the spare time and cash, I’d be tempted to fly to British Columbia and bring this 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX SE back home.

The “SE” is the special bit. While most Pulsars carried an anemic single-cam four cylinder, the SE had a 130 horsepower twin-cam CA18DE under the hood. In today’s world, that doesn’t sound like much, but that was impressive in the late ’80s. I haven’t seen production figures, but it seems that very few were imported. Personally, I’ve only encountered two of them in my life, one of which was in a junkyard.

The vinyl graphics on the flanks are a bit hokey, but appropriate for the times. The interior is impressively spotless, though the hard-wearing tweed looks less than plush. My kids wouldn’t be comfortable in that rear seat/shelf for more than the two miles to school, but that’s why I have a minivan.

I don’t know if I could bring myself to spend $6,500 on this, plus the costs involved in bringing it 2,500 miles to Ohio. I’ve always wanted to fly-and-drive-back-home a new-to-me car, but the border crossing concerns me.

Plus, I’d have to find a Sportbak.


[Photo credit: By Tx3 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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26 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX SE...”

  • avatar

    Mine was red with the hatch rather than the sportbak. It was my third car, purchased from an accountant after a 16 year old blew through a stop sign and totaled my Isuzu pickup. It developed some sort of electrical (I think) problem that would cause intermittent operation. I didn’t have the experience or resources to diagnose and fix it, so it went to the crusher. I remember it being a fun drive.

  • avatar

    Now find a Suzuki X-90 and a first generation Datsun 200SX.

  • avatar

    Nice but you’d kick yourself at the 1st clean ’88 MR2 you spot. Here’s one that’s about the same price but supercharged etc.

    Did I mention it’s mid engine? Once you drive one, you’ll never look back. Total street legal go-cart.

  • avatar

    I love the wacko seats, and the 80’s super rear lamp slats, and flip-up lamps, and the Sportbak option, and how the rear speaker grilles mirror the lamp slats!

  • avatar

    Didn’t this also come with a ‘pickup’ rear swap like the Sportbak?

  • avatar

    I was high school college age in the late 80s and never thought the 130hp fours were impressive. Granted there were V8s with less but in the cars like a Cavalier, Beretta, Civic and so forth it was about average.

    • 0 avatar

      The highest performance Civic variants of the time had 108 hp. Cavaliers and Berettas around 130 hp had V6s. Their 4 cylinder engines were closer to 90 hp. The VW GTI 16-valve didn’t hit 130 hp in the US until 1990.

    • 0 avatar

      90 to 130 hp 4-bangers, they all felt close to the same. You weren’t gonna catch a 5.0 Mustang no matter how fast you could bang the gears. The question was, “Is it fun to drive?” “Turns on a dime?” “Low to the ground?” etc.

      But a 120 hp V8 would easily spank any 4-banger in a straight line, and in a much heavier car, if it was geared right (final drive, rear end). As close to 4:1 as possible.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Le sigh. I was sorely tempted to pick up a lower-mile beater Pulsar I found on CL, until dental work ate up my lost-puppy-car money.

    To cover the bases, the ’87 SE had a 120hp CA16DE, and the ’90 SE had the same throttle-body GA16i as the base car but you can swap the cam to get up to 110hp or so.

  • avatar

    I love these with the sportbak and the slotted tail lights, the graphics are actually pretty low key for the era. You could have a coupe or a big hatch, plus a targa, at the time this seemed like the ultimate car to me. It just full of win. Just look at the chunky but purposeful dash!

    While I owned a ’85 Civic S1500 hatch (JB and Murilee approved for sure) as well as ’89 Prelude Si back in the day I always lusted after these Pulsars. However even higher on the list was the Supra, RX-7, 300ZX and my true love… the beautiful Starion. I have a serious weak spot for sporty hatchbacks, if had a turbo then I can’t contain the drool. I finally owned one of the ultimate examples of my desire: an ’96 Eclipse GS-T.

    The sport + hatch thing is the reason I own a 350Z today. This love fest carries over to the rest of the family as well with my wife driving a Volvo C30 while my brother has a VW Golf R.

    • 0 avatar

      The ’85 Civic 1500S was the first car I bought on my own after I graduated from college. Great little car – and radically better than anything else on the market at the time.

      I seriously considered trading it on the fuel injected Si model, or a Corolla FX16.

    • 0 avatar

      You have great tastes! I’m still daily driving my 1995 Eclipse GS-T. 221k on the clock, 14b @ 15psi, modest supporting modifications. Love it!

      My very first car, 1987 Nissan 200sx Coupe, was a hand-me-down from a cousin after she had raped it. I loved the car for the transportation and freedom it provided me but was a complete money pit. Anyway, the front clip of the Pulsar and my 200sx look damn near identical. Cool looking little 80’s cars.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    In the words of Xzibit from “Pimp My Ride”—“They named it after a pulsar, which is a collapsed star, so they were doomed from the get-go”.

    That said, like all quirky cars, the Pulsar has a cult following among a select set of enthusiasts…

  • avatar

    There was a Nissan Pulsar SE Sportbak for sale in the Seattle area about 6 or 9 months ago. It wasn’t priced that bad, miles were low (like around 50K) and it was in good shape. Alas it was an automatic, not a manual. Had it been row your own…tempting piece of oddity.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I still think “Pulsar NX” is one of the coolest car names ever.

  • avatar

    One of my best friends in high school got one of these as his first car. Red, with the Sportbak(never knew that’s what it was called) keep in mind it was 2010 and I gotta say it still looked pretty good for its age. It’s old owner had obviously taken pretty good care of it. It wasn’t a rocket ship, but it took quite a beating from my friend and just kept chugging along. He goes to Kansas so I don’t see him much, but I’m pretty sure he still drives it today

  • avatar

    I had a 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX SE, it was a lot of fun but one of the worst cars I’ve owned and I also had a 1980 Chevy Monza. This one is $1500 more than I paid in 1992 for mine.

    Everything on the SE cost more. The spark control computer went out. The standard part was something like $75,the SE part was $250. This happened over and over again.

    I put 50K to 75K on it (odometer broke, so I have no idea) over about 3 years and it cost me about $5K just in repairs. 2 exhaust systems, 2 sets of tires, exhaust cam shaft, 2 crank angle sensors, spark computer and at least one coil pack. When I traded it in it needed more tires, another exhaust, a steering rack and the speedometer gear that requires a transmission removal and disassembly to replace.

    Fun car, and I kinda miss it, but man was it a lemon.

  • avatar

    Now find a Nissan 200SX V6. I’ve only seen one, but they exist.

  • avatar
    Matt Fink

    I had an 1988 NX SE (also in Columbus, OH!). Great when it was running! I too had lots of electrical problems. My SE had huge graphics along the side. Very 80’s. Man I miss the T-tops.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, Chris is in Columbus, you’re in Columbus and so am I, although I bought my Pulsar in Cinci and moved to Detroit shortly after. The Pulsar was never here in Columbus.

  • avatar

    I’m in CA and have this car. Been garaged for years now. Willing to sell.

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