Bangerwatch: 1989 Nissan Prairie

When I were a lad, Prairie meant one of two things. One was the frankly awful Little House On The Prairie TV show, which quite literally made we want to go outside and do something less boring instead. And the other was the Nissan Prairie, a car which – to my young eyes at least – deserved even less attention than the American Western.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s not hard to appreciate the first generation – or M10 – Nissan Prairie. Seriously, this thing deserves its place in the PetrolBlog hall of fame. Bear with me on this one, OK?

It was inspired by the 1978 Lancia Megagamma, a Turin Motor Show concept designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. So this makes it cool, right?

In fact, with the Prairie launching in Japan in 1982, Nissan can justifiably claim to have successfully launched the first modern interpretation of the MPV, easily beating the Renault Espace to the chase. Sure, history will show that Renault was the first company to bring mass appeal to the people carrier party, but the Prairie started the journey.

And don’t let Ford convince you into thinking that the B-Max pioneered the pillar-less opening and sliding rear door arrangement. The Nissan Prairie got there first, too.

Nissan Prairie sliding doors

At the time, Motor Week was clearly very impressed with the sliding doors, leading its reviewer to say the Nissan Prairie has got “van-sized sliding doors…on both sides!”.

It’s the “both sides” part that amuses me. Like anyone would make the mistake of only putting a rear door on one side of the car. Oh wait, the MINI Clubman. Right, well moving on.

Motor Week also referenced the Nissan Prairie’s “mind of its own handling”, which doesn’t exactly inspire you with great confidence. But then, you only need to look at the proportions of the Prairie to guess that it’s not going to handle like an MG6. Because nothing handles like an MG6.

Rear of 1989 Nissan Prairie Anniversary II

But let’s look at the plus sides. The absence of a B-pillar and those sliding rear doors provide terrific ease of entry. You could hold dog agility courses using the Nissan Prairie, watching as Buster chases a ball through one side of the cabin and then out the other. Just make sure you slide open the door on the other side, because remember, the Nissan Prairie has van-sized sliding doors…on both sides.

Let’s also remember that the British public hadn’t seen anything quite like the Nissan Prairie, or indeed the Toyota Space Cruiser, before. Sure, van conversions were nothing new, but purpose-built people carriers were a whole new kettle of sushi. In the Nissan Prairie, you could work, rest and play, the latter of which took on a whole new meaning, thanks to the rear seats which would fold down to make a double bed.

Nissan Prairie Anniversary II

It was reasonably cheap, too, with a 1983 1.5GL setting you back just £5,799. To put that into context, a Nissan Sunny 1.5GL estate – upon which the Prairie is based – would cost £5,519. An admittedly larger Toyota Space Cruiser came in at £7,981.

Look, nobody is pretending you would look good arriving at the Ambassador’s Reception in a Nissan Prairie, not even with a boot load of Ferrero Rocher. And with a subsequent 30 years worth of safety technology behind us, you’d probably think twice about taking your family on holiday in one. But let me remind you about another chapter in the history of the Nissan Prairie.

Back in 1985, Rod Brotherwood – founder of Brotherwood Automobility – converted a Nissan Prairie for a friend and neighbour who had just been paralysed as a result of a motorcycle accident. A brand new Prairie was stripped back and re-built for wheelchair use, essentially providing the blueprint for today’s wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

You see, there’s far more to the Nissan Prairie than meets the eye. It’s at this point PetrolBlog normally tells you that you’ve got a limited chance of finding one and the car is facing extinction in the UK. But not so the Nissan Prairie. Although admittedly many of the cars left will be the far less interesting second generation models, numbers are good for a car with an horrendous reputation for rust.

See exhibit A:

Nissan Prairie rusty arches

Which brings me on to the next point. There’s one for sale and it’s beige-brown. Yes, you heard that right, it’s a Nissan Prairie in beige-brown. Swathes and swathes of beige-brown on the outside and a veritable cacophony of beige-brown on the inside.

Now you’re seriously tempted, aren’t you? And best of all, at the time of writing, the price is a mere £250. It’s even got an MOT, a wheelchair ramp and a stainless steel exhaust. Oh, and it’s beige-brown.

1989 Nissan Prairie interior

Yep, beige-brown.

Sadly, it doesn’t have the wing-mounted mirrors found on the early Japanese-market cars, but it is beige-brown, so that makes up for it. Beige-brown makes up for everything. You can view the Nissan Prairie for sale ad here.

I’ll leave you with this TV ad from Japan. If you happen to know what on earth the ad is saying, please let me know. So far, all I’ve managed to work out is that the ridiculously happy family are off to a restaurant. A beige-brown restaurant, obviously.

With grateful thanks to badgers4sale for permission to use the pics.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

8 comments

  1. August 8, 2014
    Darren Leslie

    Is it really wrong to want one? Just love the sliding pillarless doors…….on both sides!

    Reply
    • August 9, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      No, because it means that I don’t feel so isolated sat on my island. I was fearing I could be alone in my appreciation for the Prairie.

      Reference the ‘both sides’ thing – for maximum effect, that has to be delivered in a proper American TV ad style. So…’van-style sliding doors…(big pause)…(still paused)…ON BOTH SIDES’.

      Reply
  2. August 9, 2014
    rotation

    What ever happened to forward mounted wing mirrors? Have they disappeared down the same plug hole as pop-up headlights?

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good point. Everyone loves pop-up headlights…

      Reply
  3. August 11, 2014
    Ed Rattley

    M10 Prairies were a small stroke of genius from Nissan which has somehow since been forgotten by just about everyone. These days, it’s often Chrysler’s Dodge Caravan that’s credited as the first modern MPV but the Prairie beat it to the market by a year. Although it’s often stated that the Megagamma was a strong influence, the car was apparently in gestation for nearly a decade before it arrived, so I expect it maybe had more influence on the shape than the actual concept.

    It’s amazing how nearly every single clever idea that went into the M10 was missing for the replacement M11 model. The low, wide and almost totally flat load area, made possible by clever torsion bar suspension went in favour of cheaper strut suspension. The pillarless doors went, I’d guess, in the name of crash protection and numerous other extras and clever little features, like the drawers under the front seats, were lost as the whole thing was butchered by the bean counters and it’s purpose skewed away from that of a true multi purpose vehicle (in Japan you could even get an optional awning and camping set!) to being a people hauler, more akin to a tall estate.

    Anyway, as you might gather, I’m a self confessed Prairie-aholic. I’ve had a turbocharged M10 and currently have a standard 1.8 SGL which is still chugging along nicely with 160,000 miles on the clock. The delightful golden-brown beauty above has also just joined my fleet of forgotten old crusty Nissans where it’ll get the attention it deserves and it’s grotty bits made metal once more.

    If anyone else feels like indulging in an ungainly looking, but amazingly useful and utterly reliable chunk of 80’s sensibleness, there a very tidy red one on ebay right now!

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good man. You’ve just bought that Prairie?! Excellent, be really keen to hear your thoughts post-collection. Good luck with the restoration.

      You’re right about the Prairie. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves. We’ll happily fly the flag!

      Reply
    • December 13, 2014
      Mick

      good to see that my old Nissan has gone to a good home and that it is going to get the tlc it deserves.
      I had it for around 2 years and always intended a running restoration but sadly never got round to it and had to sell earlier this year.

      Reply
  4. August 15, 2015
    Chris G

    I have a 1991 Prairie in good condition . I can’t find any you get an idea of value. Help please I want to sell it as I think it may be sought after

    Reply

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