Rare Rides: The Glorious 1988 Nissan Pulsar Sportbak, Where EXA Meets Canopy

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

More by Corey Lewis

Join the conversation
4 of 35 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Mar 17, 2018

    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

    • See 1 previous
    • Sub-600 Sub-600 on Mar 17, 2018

      @Corey Lewis Wow, that’s around 110 c.i. or so. Very small for a V6. A friend of mine had a 1.8L in her Passat, but it was a 4-cylinder with a turbo, even then it was only like 170 hp.

  • Salguod Salguod on Mar 17, 2018

    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.

  • Master Baiter Not sure why I can buy an iPhone made in China but not a car. 🤔Automotive lobby, I guess...
  • Tassos Jong-iL Mr. Healey, honesty is key and there have been several accusations about your biases towards different brands. We hope you can prove these badactors wrong and show us the proper way.
  • Redapple2 37% USA Canada content. This should pass you off ! THIRTY SEVEN.
  • Theflyersfan I guess I should have kept my first ever car which was also a 1987 Nissan. Probably could have sold it for $50,000 by now if I was living in this fantasy world where used up 37 year old Nissans sell for the same price as a new Versa. I wish a link was here so all of us can check out this treasure among junk 200SX. The only way this car is even remotely worth that kind of money is if there are illicit substances hidden somewhere in the frame that, as part of the sale, you have to drive across the border and "make a delivery." Otherwise, get that thing off of my lawn.
  • Sobro Needs moar Roots.