Home » Daihatsu Once Made The Successor To The Nissan Pao Sort Of: Cold Start

Daihatsu Once Made The Successor To The Nissan Pao Sort Of: Cold Start

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As someone who daily drives a Nissan Pao, and who has always adored that strange retro little car from the first time I saw one in some car magazine around 1990, I’ve always sort of lamented that the Pao – along with all its other Pike Factory siblings – was such a brief glimmering moment in automotive history. If you’ve ever wondered what may have happened had fortune taken a different path and Nissan had continued to develop the Pao over the years, then I think you’re sort of in luck, but no thanks to Nissan. No, instead it was the ever-daring and charming Daihatsu that stepped in and made the one car that really feels like the successor to the Pao, as a concept car in 2009 called the Basket.

Before we get to that, if you’re somehow so deprived of joyful things in your life that you’re not familiar with Nissan’s Pike Factory cars, I’ll give you a quick reminder.

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Back in the late 1980s, Japan was in something we now call the “Bubble Era.” When we talk about Bubble Era Japan we mean the period from about 1986 to 1991 when real estate and stock market speculation, cavalier lending, and loose government policies all conspired to make that period a really good time in Japan, with everyone flush with cash and carmakers feeling free to try all kinds of bonkers things, until it all came crashing down, because, you know, bubble.

But, before that bubble burst, we got incredible cars like Nissan’s Pike Factory quartet, the Be-1, Pao (you know, like mine!), Figaro, and S-Cargo, as well as cars like Mazda’s gullwing’d Autozam AZ-1 or Honda’s fun little Beat. These were all cars that were designed to be fun over everything else, built on tried-and-true platforms but highly experimental and open with body styles and character. It was a fun time for cars, with a significant but not-too-serious retro flair. But right now I’m mostly focusing on Nissan’s Pike cars, specifically the Pao.

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That’s my 1990 Pao up there; I’m showing it to you because I want you to see the similarity in this Daihatsu concept from almost 20 years later, the Basket:

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There had to be some inspiration from the Pao going on here: the corrugated body panels, those wheels, the proportions, that color, the interior design and materials. pretty much everything feels like it’s a development of the fundamental character of the Pao, translated into the design language of the late 2000s. Like the Pao, there’s also a strong emphasis on flexibility and utility, but where the Pao did its best with a roof rack and a fold-down tailgate design, the Basket took this concept and didn’t just run, but absolutely booked it.

Cs Basket4The Basket was a convertible, and with the roof up, it felt even more like the Pao. But this thing really shone when you started to fold the top and other parts down.

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With the top down, you have a nice open four-seat convertible with a rollbar, kind of like a VW Rabbit convertible, but with an open rear cargo area. The interior materials and design feels a lot like the Pao, with similar use of coarse-woven seat fabrics and how that fabric wraps around the seats, as well as the interior colors and layout:

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But things get even more fun when you realize that the rear seats can fold down – in separate halves, even – and had hard panels on them so the Basket could convert into a really useful looking little pickup truck with a tailgate and everything:

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It looks like a rear window can roll up inside that roll bar, and a midgate can be raised or lowered to extend the length of the bed. This thing would be such a flexible and useful little car! It’s got a three-cylinder sub-660cc engine, so I think it was intended to fit into the Japanese Kei class but, sadly, it never went past the concept car stage. I wonder if Nissan felt this was close to the Pao as well? It absolutely feels like an evolution of the Pao design and spirit, and I wish these had made it to market.

I mean, look at all the wicker this thing can haul!

 

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Scott
Scott
10 months ago

I’d have liked it to come to market as well, so that I could try to live long enough for it to become legal to import (but even then, you probably still couldn’t register it in CA).

The way the Basket transforms into a (very) light duty pickup with a shallow bed is adorable! And yes, all those things: the color, ribs, fabric, etc… have to be Pao inspired, whether or not Daihatsu will admit to it.

Idiotking
Idiotking
10 months ago

If I had room in the garage, I’d totally buy a Pao, and if Daihatsu was actually producing these, I’d buy one too.

What is making me happy these days is seeing more and more Kei-trucks out and about around Baltimore; I passed a car carrier hauling about eight of them a month ago, and passed another on the highway this past weekend.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
10 months ago
Reply to  Idiotking

There’s a company that’s up in Frederick that has been importing kei trucks for years…can’t remember the name offhand but their lot always has some neat stuff. I agree, they are neat to see. I personally love the Pao and Basket…that sort of not-serious design language is such a breath of fresh air in the sea of generic and entirely-too-serious crossovers that clog our motorways

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
10 months ago

Daihatsu seems to have a thing for building awesome and readily produceable concept cars, then never doing anything with them. See also DN Compagno

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
10 months ago

Jason, I believe that the Pike cars were intended as JDM only. Given that, I’m curious as to how yours is holding up in NA in terms of rust and different environmental variables. Are you doing anything special to protect the fragile steel?
I saw an Autozam outside Toronto a few years ago and when I talked to the owner he pointed out a lot of rust and rot, despite him telling me he only drove it in warmer months and garaged it the rest of the time.

Phuzz
Phuzz
10 months ago

Quite a few Figaros made it to the UK, and I still see the odd one or two around. We got the Micra here too, so spares won’t have been as much of a problem as NA

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
10 months ago

How I feel about this lil fella:

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!

Gene1969
Gene1969
10 months ago

I wish they had made it so you could’ve bought one and named it, “Lil Deputy”.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
10 months ago

I love that interior! You could still do it today, with the obligatory screen in place of the radio buttons.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
10 months ago

Proof that you can do minimalism without looking like absolute shit like a model 3 or that cheap Volvo EV from yesterday

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
10 months ago

Funny, this interior reminded me of the EX30 (which I love).

Martin Witkosky
Martin Witkosky
10 months ago

Local town car show this past Sunday had a decent group of JDM vehicles. There was a Toyota Sera, a Nissan Figaro, and two Hondas (a Beat and an Acty truck). Pretty good for southeastern PA. I’m fixated on the late 90s second-gen Honda Life right now, myself, and a good friend of mine lusts after the original Copen and can’t wait until they’re finally available for import.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
10 months ago

Semi related side note…..just spent some time on San Juan Island and saw many Figaro’s driving around. They appeared to be rentals but I couldn’t seem to find where they were from. Made me really sad to be driving around in my plain Buick rental.

Torch, I think you need to go do some investigative reporting and find out why the Figaro is 100,000 times more common on San Juan than the rest of the US!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 months ago

Let’s face it, Torch is a Basket case.

Dsa Lkjh
Dsa Lkjh
10 months ago

Back in the late nineties, before I could even imagine the need for an internet alias, I test drove a Honda Beat in the UK. It was covered in Mugen goodies, and was utterly hilarious to drive on tight winding b-roads which suddenly felt wide and inviting.

But then the insurance quote came back as three times what I was paying for my mk1 MR2, which was an actual car sized car with a proper sized engine, and moderate hilarious to rip up and down b-roads in, so I didn’t buy the Beat.

I’m older and wiser now, and I think I’d have paid the extra to have something a bit silly and charming, even if it was slow and hard to get parts for.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
10 months ago

Except! Except, Torch, Daihatsu in fact did go on to make the successor to the Pike cars.

The Daihatsu Copen!
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cf/Daihatsu_Copen_007.JPG/800px-Daihatsu_Copen_007.JPG

Buzz
Buzz
10 months ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Daihatsu Copen: the “We have Audi TT at home” of cars.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
10 months ago
Reply to  Buzz

Fun fact: that’s intentional. 100% intentional.
Basically the design brief on the Copen was ‘mash up a Figaro and an Audi TT.’

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
10 months ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

…and the Naked.

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