By on March 15, 2018

A special day has finally arrived. It’s the day where we present a Rare Rides that checks the boxes of coupe, convertible, t-top, targa, and wagon all at the same time. There can be only one car in the world that meets all these criteria, and it is, of course, the Nissan Pulsar EXA Canopy.

But you’d know it as the Sportbak. Come check it out.

This is one of those times where your author had been eyeing listings here and there, waiting for an example of the right quality to come along. One which was not a wreck, was not rusty, didn’t have a questionable sale/title issue, and which was still presented with all the panels it came with from the factory.

Given the ownership pattern these vehicles seemingly fell into a couple of decades ago, that’s a taller order than one might think.

Like all historic Nissan names in America, the Pulsar started out as a Datsun — more specifically labeled as the 310. Though several body styles were available internationally (six to be exact), the United States received three: the 3- or 5-door hatchback, and the coupe. The first generation was short lived, from 1978-82.

A second generation arrived for the 1983 year, and the transition to Nissan badging also saw the introduction of the EXA name abroad. Known in the US market as the Pulsar NX, the sport trim compact was available only in two-door coupe format. The desirable engine option here was the turbocharged and fuel injected E15ET.

The 1987 model year brings us to our Rare Ride, and the third-generation Pulsar NX. Available through 1990, the official configuration was the three-door coupe. And that’s where things get interesting with the panel configurations. Most basic of them all were the removable T-top panels over the front seats. What you did at the back was up to you. Make it backless if you like, keep the panels in the garage, and you had a targa-style convertible on your hands.

Swap in the rear panel for a bit less wind and the sporting coupe look. But what if you want to have fun and haul cargo?

Here we are — just install the Sportbak roof. Now, a commodious two-door wagon is at your disposal. You’ll be looking rad with the graphic stripes over the taillight lenses, a standard feature of Pulsar NX. The hatch lifts up on struts for easy access to the cargo area. This may be the most flexible compact car ever made.

Two trim levels were available to the forward-thinking consumer of the Pulsar NX in 1988. The XE had a 1.6-liter inline-four with throttle body injection, and the SE we have here had a larger 1.8-liter four with dual overhead cams and electronic fuel injection. That 1.8 is paired with a five-speed manual transmission.

Good things never last long though, and after 1990 the Pulsar NX was replaced by the rather less interesting (and equally forgotten) NX1600 and NX2000.

But this is now, Sportbak is here, and it is spectacular. This one looks to be in good to very good condition with a pristine interior. Located in the rust-free region of Georgia, it’s yours for $3,700.

Before typing “that’s too much” in the comments, go find another one for sale. Speaking of, I’d like Nissan to go all DJ Khaled and another one the Pulsar NX Sportbak. Call it a Crossover Active Vehicle, you’ll sell millions. I’m off to have a chat with the seller about taking landscape oriented photos for auto listings.

[Images via seller]

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35 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Glorious 1988 Nissan Pulsar Sportbak, Where EXA Meets Canopy...”

  • avatar

    Wasn’t that just about in line with the Pontiac Fiero? The body styles were quite similar though Pontiac made some serious mistakes that first year that crippled what was finally a decent little sporter.

  • avatar

    Back in the 80s I was a Nissan fanatic – my family had one of the few Nissan trucks around, which really stood out in a town that had a lot of GM workers. And the Pulsar – I loved those 80s-riffic taillights! – were even rarer. As a teenager I had to do a double take when I saw an attractive blonde drive by in red one. Her hair was flying above the open t-tops. I was in lust.

  • avatar

    There was one on campus at Defiance College in the late 1990s. I only ever saw it with the Sportbak on it. Perhaps that was an intentional choice. No place to store the other top as a college kid and the Sportbak will carry far more cases of beer!

  • avatar

    This was one of my favourite cars growing up. Never had a chance to sit in or ride in one… but I always loved the look of the NX… even more so as a sportback.

    • 0 avatar

      Same here. Everything about this thing was awesome sauce, it’s so 80s with pop up lights and the slashes over the tail lights. Being a removable shooting brake style with T-tops makes it perfect. Its hard to believe such a modular concept was even built.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wondered whether you could order the Sportbak as a standalone model without the hatchback roof – a solution for someone with limited storage space.

  • avatar

    Why mention the stripey taillights but not the more important POP UP HEADLIGHTS??

    The last time I saw a Sportbak in the wild (the normal backs are still not uncommon here) was a really nice one in the parking lot of a pick-and-pull last year.

    As for the followup NX, it did have that sweet digital cluster, and also available with a SR20, so it wasn’t a complete dud.

    The Juke and GTR notwithstanding, Nissan has gone to hiding its quirkyness and interesting engineering under otherwise bland Infiniti offerings. Oh well.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The Pulsar started out in the US as the somewhat notorious Datsun F-10. The 310 was the succeeding (N10) late-70s model. The regular Pulsar (N12) was available in the US for 1983, but was quickly dropped for being redundant with the newly-FWD Sentra.

    The N14 easter egg did end up being fairly unpopular, but it did have a full digital dash option, and the NX2000 had some extra kit versus the SE-R.

    I always liked the N13 EXA body (designed in California!), and I picked up a single-cam beater last year. No Sportbak, though.

  • avatar

    These were neat vehicles, but all that interchangeability made them heavy. The higher-powered twincam helped, but it was still quite a bit slower than, say, a Corolla FX16.

  • avatar

    Those drew stares back in the day and helped Nissan shake off that Datsun stank.

  • avatar

    Two tops but neither of them match the paint on the rest of the car, makes me wonder what happened. I understand picking up one of them used, ie the “sportbak” to complete your car but what happened to the original hatch?

    • 0 avatar

      Those were the factory colors. Take a look at the advertisement included in the article, the hatch was a dark black and the sportback was a dark gray, both on a silver body. If my memory is correct this is the way I saw them in the wild back in the day as well.

  • avatar

    My buddy in the service bought a used Pulsar coupe. He thought this would be suitable transportation for him, his wife and two small children. Add me as a 3rd adult passenger and you have the makings of a roadtrip adventure!

    The day he bought it we drove that damn thing from Jacksonville NC to southern Illinois non stop to visit their family, then back again. Didn’t even check the oil.

    They fought the whole time, we blew a tire, the kids cried, screamed, puked, you name it. I stayed childless for almost 20 years after that.

    • 0 avatar

      Having put me (driving), my 4′ 10″ wife and infant daughter in my 1988 Pulsar, I find the idea of 3 adults and 2 kids in one ridiculous. Admittedly, my daughter was in a rear facing car seat. At that time there were simple, small rear facing seats available, but even using one of those my wife had the seat all the way forward and the backrest vertical.

      I had 4 adults in the car once and we all had our knees at our chins. That back seat is very tiny.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine from the Australian armed forces called these, “Clip-on Nissans”.

  • avatar

    Love these. Was too young to appreciate them when new but now it’s a total “They don’t make cool stuff like this anymore” car.

    Also, the seller needs to not put the different hatches right on the pavement, come on now!

    • 0 avatar

      He made several egregious mistakes in his post.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, your last line was “I’m off to have a chat with the seller about taking landscape oriented photos for auto listings”. Can you elaborate? I thought the pictures were fine for amateur photography when just trying to sell a car. IMHO the verdant green of the Georgia countryside is a much better backdrop than the usually scraggly brown hills I have around here in Southern California

        • 0 avatar

          My reference there was to turning your phone to the side, to get landscape orientation. In the ad he used portrait (north-south) orientation. All the photos have lots of dead space, and must be shot further away to get the car in frame.

          I had to edit all of these pictures and chop them off at the top and bottom where there was blank space, effectively turning them into landscape photos.

          • 0 avatar

            Ah, thanks for the explanation. However, since you already fixed them it was hard to understand what you were talking about.

  • avatar

    Given how unique this is, I’d pay $3700 for this fine 80s-mobile. Friend of mine had one, she was driving down the San Diego freeway when a piece of the car dropped off, bounced off the pavement and pierced the floor, barely missing her leg. Fun times.

  • avatar

    Throttle body fuel injection…from hell’s heart, I stab at thee!

    -1990 Sentra owner.

  • avatar

    Sweet cars. Always wondered if it was also equipped with the 310’s transaxle whine.

  • avatar

    Pulsars (I keep thinking of the JDM hatchback, as in GTi-R, when I use that name) are surprisingly numerous still in Ontario, moreso than almost all of their contemporaries. Even still see a few being driven as winter beaters. Only ever seen 2 or 3 with a Sportbak though, including one which resides in my town at a house that owns two of them, the Sportbak’d one being the driver and the other one lives on the side of the street permanently.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw a 90’s NX, I love them too though. Both of them are incredibly of their time. And I’ve only ever seen one previous-to-the-Pulsar NX, now those are oddly proportioned vehicles

  • avatar

    The real problem with the Sportbak was that it lacked an opening rear window. If you wanted to access the cargo area, instead of being able to flip up the rear window, you had to lift up the entire rear roof section with rear and side windows. It must have been heavy and awkward in practice.

  • avatar

    I’d spring the $3700 just for that clean interior alone. Outside could use a little love, but still…an overall nice find. Rather liked these back in the day. T-tops, five speed and an uncluttered interior. Oh, and pop-up headlights FTW!

  • avatar

    $3,700 is a fair price for the nostalgia alone. You probably won’t lose much at that price when you go to sell.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I liked the NX 2000.iirc it won a few comparison tests .It had LSD and pseudo rear steer with T tops!Actually I’d rather have the Mazda the coupe with tiny v6.Can’t remember the name.My cousin had a 4cyl version which was fairly generic

  • avatar

    I owned a clone of this car, minus the Sportbak, from 1992 to 1995. My hatch was body color.

    The twin cam in the SE made for good acceleration, for the period, and it was a decent handler. I took the hatch off once for the full convertible experience and found that it wasn’t all that different than just removing the t-tops.

    I paid $5K for it with something like 76K on the clock and it cost me another $5K in repairs over 3 years. It was simply one of the worst cars I’ve had, and I drove a 1980 Chevy Monza in college. It needed a couple of coil packs, the spark control computer, an alternator, two exhaust systems, 2 or 3 sets of tires, a clutch and an exhaust cam. The last one cost me $1,800 because two dealers misdiagnosed it as a skipped timing belt and a bad crank position sensor. After replacing both twice, they finally found the worn spline on the cam that drove the sensor. When I traded it in it needed another exhaust, another set of tires and a steering rack.

    When I bought it I noted that Motor Trend had started a long term test on one but never published a wrap up. I later wonder if theirs was as bad as mine and Nissan convinced (paid?) them to skip it.

    Still, it was a great looking car, great fun and the t-tops, pop up lights and taillights are all awesome. It’s replacement was a base 5 door 1993 Escort 5 door, 5 speed. It was slow and boring but simply bullet proof in reliability.

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