With the recent and not surprising news of the Nissan Maxima’s planned demise in 2023, it’s time for a Rare Rides retrospective on a nameplate that was once lauded as one of the best sporty sedans on the market. From its origins as a rear-drive Datsun to the eighth generation that’s a shadow of its former self, the Maxima persisted with its unique value proposition: That it was a step up from the standard Japanese family sedan. Our story begins in Japan, with the Bluebird range.
The PU11 Nissan Maxima was among the Japanese sedans to experience a complete identity shift in the mid-Eighties. Nissan was rebranding itself from a discount Datsun identity and took Maxima upmarket. Packed with technology and on its way to the 4DSC identity that defined the model, the Maxima deserves a place at the table with the V20 Camry and CA Accord. Let’s get technical.
Even as Toyota kept the Cressida a rear-wheel-drive first cousin to the sporty Supra (sales of that car continued here well into the 1990s), Nissan moved the formerly-Z-based Maxima to a front-wheel-drive platform for the 1985 model year. The new, roomier Maxima continued to be loaded with futuristic electronic gadgetry and a Z-Car engine, and sales of the wagon version continued all the way through the 1988 model year. Here’s a well-traveled ’86 Maxima wagon in a Denver-area car graveyard.
The 1980s were confusing times for figuring out badges on U.S.-market Japanese cars.
You had the Toyota Corolla Tercel (which wasn’t related to the Corolla). You had the ever-shifting miasma of various Mitsubishi-based Chryslers. You had the Nissan Stanza Wagon (which was a non-Stanza Prairie at home). And you had all the brand bewilderment of the Datsun-to-Nissan changeover of the early part of the decade (to be fair, Detroit was doing the same sort of badging sleight-of-hand, e.g., front- and rear-wheel-drive Cutlasses in the same showroom).
The Datsun 810 became the Nissan Maxima during the 1981-1984 period, but it didn’t happen like flipping a switch; here’s a Datsun 810 with “by Nissan” and Maxima badging that I spotted in a Northern California wrecking yard a few months ago.
The Datsun 810 wagon was a fairly common sight on the streets of Northern California during the Middle and Late Malaise Eras, sort of the semi-sporty wagon choice for families who wanted a family hauler with a bit of 280Z in its genes. The Datsun 810 became the Datsun Maxima by the early 1980s and the Nissan Maxima by 1984, and all of the rear-drive members of this family have become rare finds these days. We’ve seen this ’82 Maxima and this ’78 810 wagon so far in this series; those two cars and today’s 810 were all shot during trips to California wrecking yards. I don’t know if they even existed outside of a 50-mile radius from San Francisco.
I find lots of Malaise Era Cressidas for this series, but what about the Cressida’s main competitor, the second-generation Datsun/Nissan 810/Maxima? As you can see by the confusing names for this car, Nissan was going through some marque- and model-name gyrations during the early 1980s, which makes today’s Junkyard Find a car of some historical significance.