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7 Weird Japanese Cars From the Late 1980s

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

I'm fully willing to admit that my Nissan S-Cargo is one of the strangest cars on the road today. But back in 1989, it had a lot of strange-car competitors in Japan -- largely because strange was the norm in Japan back then. For proof, here are seven other weird Japanese cars that hail from the S-Cargo's era, the late '80s and the early '90s. And no, I don't plan to import any of these weird vehicles.

Daihatsu Leeza Spider

Daihatsu Leeza Spider

The Japanese have always done an excellent job cramming a lot of car into tiny dimensions, largely because various taxation methods in Japan are based on the vehicle's overall size or the engine size. The 1990 Daihatsu Leeza Spider is an excellent example. The standard Leeza hatchback's diminutive length of just 129.7 inches -- and its mere 660-cubic-centimeter engine -- didn't stop Daihatsu from creating a drop-top version, which was optimistically called the Spider. Featuring a 3-cylinder engine and weighing in at just 1,500 pounds, the Leeza Spider looked like a normal hatchback with the roof cut off. Early Leeza models used a 2-speed automatic (in the 1980s!), but the Leeza Spider offered a 5-speed manual or a more appropriate 3-speed automatic.

Honda Today

Honda Today

Although the early 1990s Honda Today might not look that weird on the outside, it has a particularly unique trait on the inside: Its interior is asymmetrical. Specifically, the driver's seat is larger than the passenger seat, as the Today's designers figured it would primarily be purchased by those who drove alone and rarely carried passengers. If that's not the strangest thing about the Today, this is: It isn't a hatchback. I'm serious. The rear trunk -- the panel that contains the license plate -- opens right up, but the rear window is fixed.

Mitsubishi Minica Lettuce

Mitsubishi Minica Lettuce

Let's just get this part out of the way first: This is a Mitsubishi called the Lettuce. I'm not kidding. Mitsubishi came out with a new generation of its tiny Minica hatchback in 1989, and a certain version was called the Lettuce. So what distinguished the Lettuce from the normal Minica? No, it wasn't a green interior, a lettuce-y shape or a nice, fresh taste when you licked the turn-signal stalk. The Lettuce model looked like a completely normal hatchback in every way, except it had two doors on one side and one door on the other. And you thought the Hyundai Veloster was original.

Figaro

Nissan Figaro

The Nissan S-Cargo isn't an only child. In fact, it has four siblings, all of which debuted at roughly the same time as the S-Cargo -- and all of which were produced in Nissan's specialized Pike Factory. While the other siblings (the Pao and the Be-1) are certainly weird, perhaps the weirdest of the non-S-Cargo group was the Figaro, a tiny convertible with fixed roof rails and a retro design. Like the S-Cargo, the Figaro was only available with an automatic transmission and only sold for a short period of time: It was offered in 1991, with only around 10,000 examples built.

Subaru Vivio T-Top

Subaru Vivio T-Top

Like the Daihatsu Leeza Spider above, the Suzuki Vivio T-Top was a tiny Japanese kei car transformed into a tiny Japanese kei car convertible. Looking at the picture above, you might think the best thing about the Vivio T-Top is trying to guess which end is the front and which end is the back. But you're wrong! The best thing is its name: "VI, VI, O" was a reference to the car's displacement of 660 cubic centimeters. And then, of course, there's the roof: The top part comes off, and you can remove the rear glass, too. But since the Vivio is just 129.7 inches long and weighs just 1,500 pounds, there is, of course, nowhere to put those items. Maybe you can strap them to that little luggage-carrier on the trunk.

Suzuki Mighty Boy

Suzuki Mighty Boy

Behold, the smallest pickup truck of all time (probably): the 1983-1988 Suzuki Mighty Boy. Featuring front-wheel drive, a 3-cylinder engine with about 30 horsepower and a 4-speed manual (or optional 2-speed automatic) transmission, the Mighty Boy is anything but mighty. But you could see how it would easily be popular in a place where there's a need for a pickup truck and a need for a small, city-friendly vehicle. Kudos to you, Mighty Boy, for existing. And kudos to Suzuki for dreaming up yet another strange variant of the tiny Japanese kei car.

Toyota Sera

Toyota Sera

I've always felt that the Toyota Sera is one of the strangest Japanese cars of any era because, well, look at it. It's just a normal Toyota coupe, with a normal Toyota coupe 4-cylinder engine and normal Toyota coupe parts -- and oh yeah, the doors are hinged on the A-pillar and open up like they do in a McLaren F1. Actually, that's unfair to the Sera: It debuted all the way back in 1990, while the F1 didn't show up until 1992. The Sera's other weird feature was its giant glass canopy, which I'm sure was a total joy on especially warm days. Unfortunately, the Sera died in 1995, and Toyota never replaced it. Maybe one day.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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